The Honda Classic

PGA National Resort, Champion Course, 7,110 yards, Par 70

Last year's champion: Rickie Fowler, -12, won by 4 shots over Morgan Hoffman and Gary Woodland.

Last week's winner at the Genesis Open at famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA.:  Bubba Watson. Bubba finished at -12 and won by 2 shots over Kevin Na and Tony Finau. Looked in Masters form with a sensational 4 rounds of golf going 68, 70, 65, 69 on the par 71 layout. When Bubba has his ball striking geared up and his putter dialed in, he's tough to beat. He has now won 10 times on tour. At 40, Bubba looks like he could add to his Green Jacket collection from 2012 and 2014.

The weather in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

 A tricky course with the wind. Thursday, Sunny, 83, wind 14-18 MPH; Friday, Sunny, 82, wind, 14-20; Saturday, Sunny, chance of a brief shower, 81, wind, 13-18; Sunday, Sunny, 83, wind, 9-15.

Jack Nicklaus redesigned this course in 1990. George and Tom Fazio designed it originally.

TV, All times Central

Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 2-5 PM; Saturday-Sunday, GC, 12-1:45 PM, CBS 2-5 PM.

Key stretch

The Bear Trap, Nos. 15-17, one of the toughest tests in golf

No.15, 179 yards, par 3

Not a long par 3, but the winds make it tricky. There's a lake in front and to the right and the diagonal green runs left to right. There is a large bunker in back of the green that is very difficult to get up and down from. Jack calls it a par 3, "that can make you swallow twice."

No.16, 434 yards, par 4

Jack says the players will mostly play an iron off the tee to get the ball in the fairway and to keep their balls out of the three bunkers on both sides of the fairway. The second shot is over water and tricky with the wind. The green is slightly elevated and there is bunker just in front of the water. 

No.17, 190 yards, par 3

Once again, the player is driving over water into the windy conditions they will face this weekend. There is a bunker on the left side. Jack said this hole will present a lot of problems as, he says, it always has in the past. 

No.18, 604 yards, par 5

This is a double dogleg, first left then right. Many bunkers surround this tight driving fairway. There is water to negotiate on the second and third shots. Unless a strong wind is behind a player and he can bomb it, the competitor will most likely take 3 shots to get to this green. The green is perched out over a lake, so the excitement will build on Sunday on this electric finishing hole.

Winner

 

The 33 year old Venezuelan native finished tied for 4th here last year shooting a 64 on Sunday. I like him to capture the crown. He's won 3 times on tour at the then Bob Hope Classic, now the Career Builder, in 2011, and back to back at the RBC Canadian in 2016 and 2017. I'll take this bomber to win at the Honda.

Jhonattan Vegas

Like Vegas to win at PGA National

Like Vegas to win at PGA National

 

 

Sleeper

Scott Stallings

Trending well. The 32 year old has won 3 times on tour, the last time at the Farmers in 2014. He finished tied for 4th last week shooting 71, 68,68,68, to finish at -9, 3 back of Bubba. He's got a real shot. 

 

Excellent News in Vanderbilt Sports

VU Football

Coach Mason and his staff added 2 more commitments for this exciting and highly promising 2018 class as 5.6/85 3 star wide receiver Amir Abdur-Rahman, and under the radar defensive end Lorenzo Surgers have dropped anchor with the Commodores. 

Amir is a 6'4",200 pound receiver out of Mays High School in Atlanta. He put together an awesome senior season catching 35 passes for 758 yards and 17 TDs for his Mays team that finished  11-2 overall and 8-0 in their region and reached the Class 6A third round in the playoffs in the second highest classification in Georgia. Georgia has 7 classes of high school football.

Really like this pickup. He chose us over other offers from South Florida, Iowa State, Maryland, Wake Forest and Florida International, all bowl teams except for Maryland, but Maryland has been recruiting well under soon to be 3rd year coach D.J. Durkin. Iowa State had a highly impressive Liberty Bowl victory over Memphis and defeated Oklahoma on the road and TCU at home this season. They're up and coming and pretty much there to be a big factor in college football. Matt Campbell is one of the top young coaches in football. He's outstanding.

South Florida under Charlie Strong was extremely impressive in their Birmingham Bowl victory over Texas Tech last season, 38-34. Their only losses came to what turned out one of the best teams in the country in Central Florida, losing 49-42 at UCF. UCF, of course, defeated Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Day. South Florida also lost to a very good at times Houston team. South Florida finished the season 10-2, losing a game to Hurricane Irma.

Wake Forest defeated Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl, 55-52, and finished its season at 8-5. Coach Dave Clawson has the Wake program on an upward trajectory. And Florida International, though they lost in their Bad Boy Mowers Gaspirilla Bowl Game to Temple, 28-3, is trending well. They lost their starting quarterback in the bowl game on the third play of the game, and that really devastated their team and diminished their chances of winning that game greatly. They still finished 8-5 and would have had a very good chance of knocking off Temple if their quarterback had not gotten injured. Butch Davis, a talented veteran coach, has his program trending very well.

So all those schools are high quality programs and watching Amir's film I can see why they wanted him. His size, at 6'4", 195, is terrific, and he catches anything within reach. His wingspan is perfect for catching the 50-50 balls in the air, and man can he take it to the house. I watched house call after house call on tape. He's a very physical wide out as well. Really love this pickup from the greater Atlanta area. Amir is our third stud wide receiver pickup to go along with 4 star signee Camron Johnson out of Brentwood Academy (TN) and 5.7 and 86 3 star C.J. Bolar out of Purvis, Mississippi. Camron is 6'0", 180 and C.J. is 6'2", 185. Coach Mason and the coaches like the length we're getting at wide out. We've got quite a receiving corps lined up for next season and beyond that. I like what junior Kalija Lipscomb (rising junior, 6'1", 200), Ohio State transfer Alex Stump (6'3", 210, eligible next season), a rising junior, explosive junior speedster Donaven Tennyson (5'10", 185 runs a 4.4 and shown he's got take it to the house ability every time he touches the ball), redshirt freshmen Chris Pierce (6'4", 208), redshirt freshmen James Bostic (6'3", 208) and redshirt sophomore Jackson Winrow (6'1", 195) all can do. Add these 3 talented freshmen in the mix and next season, along with the future, looks extremely bright. Add super talented tight ends Jared Pinkney and Sam Dobbs and the receiving corps has a chance to be spectacular next season, to go along with one of the best returning quarterbacks in the SEC in Kyle Shurmur. Kyle is not going to only make noise in the conference, he'll be a big name nationally. Love to see what Kyle will do next season.

The other addition to this class comes out of Cary, North Carolina. He is Lorenza Surgers, a 6'7", 225 pound defensive end. Lorenza is rated a 2 star by Rivals and not ranked by 247, but I'm seeing more of a 5.6, 85 3 star here. His film is super impressive. Lorenza is a sacking, tackling machine. He was a UConn commit, but switched to VU today. I'm high on Lorenza and he joins former 4 star Rutger Reitmaier in this defensive line class. Rutger was a 4 star by Rivals and ESPN out of high school and an 88, 3 star when he signed with Oregon in 2017. He wanted to be closer to home and he wanted to play for Coach Mason and Vanderbilt. Rutger is 6'3", 295 and will play defensive tackle for us, but can probably move over to the edge if need be because he's so athletic. I don't know why some people are saying on the boards that this team does not have enough defensive linemen. We've got 3 deep talent on the line and with potential superstars Charles Wright, Dare and Dayo Odeyinbo and a massive amount of younger talent. We've got the makings of a very talented defensive front. We'll have some youth out there at times, but I'm confident in this group. We'll see if Coach Mason adds another D lineman or another player of 2 before signing day Wednesday. There are still some other candidates and we have a good chance of getting more graduate transfers in. Will keep you posted. Apparently, we have some transfers that may come after signing day, so a lot to get excited about.

Our 3rd commitment of the 2018 class to go along with our 17 man signing class is 5.6 and 87, 3 star cornerback Rayshad Williams out of Memphis. Shad had opened up his recruiting, but everybody feels good that Shad will announce on Wednesday that he'll be a Commodore. That is the optimistic hope. Shad would round out a fantastic secondary class and we might add one more when all is said and done. Really want Shad coming our way. He's 6'4", 180. Love the height. We've got some guys in this secondary class that can help us right away. They are talents. Want Shad to be a part of that group along with 4 star safety Brendon Harris (6'0", 205), 89 and 5.7, 3 star corner Tre Douglas (6'2", 180), 87 and 5.6 3 star safety Deshaun Jerkins (5 11.5", 195), 5.6 and 85 3 star safety Maxwell Worship (6'1",198). So this is an exceptional secondary class and adding a corner of Rayshad's ability and possibly adding a commit/signee out of Andalusia, Alabama Bridges Anderson (6'3", 180), a highly underrated player who intercepted 7 passes this season and is impressive on film and can also play wide receiver. We'll see if the staff will add Bridges come Wednesday. Always like Alabama players. Some of the toughest and most talented pound for pound in the country. 

There are also going to be 4 new coaches on the staff next season. Jason Tarver, an NFL veteran and a coach who was co defensive coordinator with Coach Mason when they were at Stanford and had stellar defenses, is set to become the defensive coordinator. I like that Coach Mason has a guy he can rely on, so he can be more like a Bill Belichick, who can still coach defense, but be heavily involved in all aspects of the team and not be distracted when making major decisions in games like going for it on 4th down, onside kicking, things of that nature. I really like that for DMase. Tarver has a solid reputation as he has been defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders from 2012-14, and was a senior defensive assistant for the 49ers over the last 3 years. Like what we're getting here. He brings more toughness and intensity to this defense that Coach Mason and his staff has.

Aaron Moorehead will be our new wide receivers coach taking the spot vacated by Cortez Hankton who took the same position at Georgia. Moorehead has been the receivers coach at Texas A&M the last 3 years and coached the electric Christian Kirk, who will be a high draft pick come April, a 1st or 2nd round guy. Also like what we're getting here in Moorehead.

Shawn Mennenga will serve as our special teams and tight end coach. He comes to VU after serving the last 7 years as the Cleveland Browns special teams assistant. The special teams were the lone bright spot for the Browns over the last several years as their punting, kickoff and punt coverage and return games excelled in the NFL. He could add a lot to our special teams.

Finally, Terrence Brown is expected to coach our cornerbacks. Brown was a graduate assistant at Washington for their talented secondary the last 3 years. He had 2 All Americans, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, under his watch and the Huskies intercepted 49 passes over the last 3 years. Brown was a 2 year starter under Coach Mason at Stanford and started 14 games his senior year in 2012, a year in which Stanford went 12-2 won their first PAC-12 championship in 13 years, and won the Rose Bowl.

I really like what Moorehead, Brown and Tarver can do in recruiting also. Moorehead and Brown are young, energetic guys who will be relentless on the recruiting trail much like our younger coaches Chris Marve (inside linebackers), Marc Mattioli (safeties) and C.J. Ah You (defensive line) are. 

So I like what this team can do next season. I like it a lot. I see us being highly competitive in every game and winning quite a few. I like 7-9 victories in 2018. Hoping for better of course, but I like this team to do well regardless with the talent we have returning and the studs we have coming in. 

Basketball

We took another tough loss Saturday Night to Auburn, 93-81, at Auburn, but the great Jeff Roberson finished with 30 points and played a phenomenal game. JRobe and Riley keep playing at a tremendously high level. A friend of mine and I were talking about it, and we think we can do some damage in the SEC Tournament in St. Louis, March 7-11. This team was highly competitive with Auburn and should have defeated Kentucky on the road last Tuesday, losing in overtime, 83-81. But I like this group and what they can do the rest of this season. We can make a run to end this month and get to the tournament with a ton of momentum. I like the way Saben Lee is playing. Maxwell Evans, another freshman, played very well Saturday Night. Max is a competitor like Saben. Clevon Brown did some good things as did Joe Toye, and Payton Willis was awesome shooting the ball in overtime against Kentucky hitting 2 deep 3's. Like where Payton is at. Ejike Obinna is still developing as a freshman, but he can still help us a lot this season. He's big at 6'10", 234, likes to mix it up, will be a terrific rebounder and defender, hopefully this season, and can score down low. Like Ejike very much. I still believe in Djery Baptiste as well. Djery's massive size at 6'10", 235 is something you can't teach as they say, and he's shown some offensive skills. He just needs to get a little more confident down low, and if he does, he can be a dominant type player. He wants to be. So I believe in what this team can do going forward. While Tuesday and Saturday weren't the results we wanted, we went toe to toe with a good Kentucky team at Rupp, and an Auburn team that looks Final Four-like. So we can play with anybody on a neutral court. This week it's Georgia @ home Wednesday at 7:30 PM on the SEC Network, and @ Arkansas on Saturday at 7:30 PM on the SEC Network. So another important and challenging week for our growing team.

Women's tennis doin some massive work

Vanderbilt women's tennis coach Geoff McDonald is very careful about not getting too high or too low, which is a perfect demeanor for tennis, any sport for that matter, but his No.2 ranked Dores team just knocked off No.1 Stanford at Currey Tennis Center on Saturday, 7-0. The great Astra Sharma, who's not ranked nationally yet because she's been playing professionally most recently in doubles in something called the Australian Open, wow, won 3-6, 6-3,6-3 over No.13 (nationally) Michaela Gordon. No.4 Fernanda Contreras won at No.2 singles. No.19 Christina Rosca won at No.3. Emma Kurtz, No.96 Summer Dvorak and freshman Amanda Meyer all won at 4, 5 and 6 respectively. It was a masterful performance by this amazing group of women, who excel both on the court and in the classroom. The women also defeated No.16 Baylor on Friday, 6-1. Next up is the national team indoors starting Thursday. I'm going to catch up with Geoffrey in the next couple of weeks to get his insight on his program for the rest of this season. So far it's super good. Will also talk to Men's Golf coach Scott Limbaugh about his highly promising, talented team in the next couple of weeks. Be on the lookout for that.

 

Baseball

Also, I promise I will have the piece with Coach Corbin up in the next couple of days. Sorry for the delay, but I know you'll enjoy hearing the great Corbs talk about his exciting 2018 team. Just a preview of it. Our junior class will be our leaders and our freshman class was the No.1 class in the country as ranked by Perfect Game and Baseball America, so the talent is off the charts good this season. We've only got one senior in lefty Paxton Stover, but Paxton shows good ability and will help us, and our sophomore class will be solid also. So I'll have it for you in the next couple of days, I promise. 

The AFC and NFC Championship games in the National Football League

New England hosts Sacksonville in the first game at 2:05 PM CT tomorrow and the Vikings play at Philadelphia in the nightcap at 5:40 PM CT with the winners squaring off in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis 2 weeks from tomorrow, Feb. 4th, at 5:30 PM CT on NBC.

Last Week: 3-1

Won Philly over Atlanta, New England over Tennessee, Minnesota over New Ahlins, thanks to Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs, and took an L with Pittsburgh losing to Jacksonville. Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette and the Jax offense were super good against the Steelers. T.J. Yeldon from Alabama had some huge plays in the passing game including a clutch 40 yard catch and run in a critical part of the game. Mike Tomlin made questionable decisions throughout the game. The Steelers coach was down 7 after a TD with over 2 minutes left and 2 timeouts, but instead of kicking deep and giving his defense a chance to stop the Jags, he decided to onside kick it. Jacksonville recovered and went on to kick a field goal to go up 45-35 and won 45-42 as the Steelers scored a TD with 1 second left in the game. That was a major blunder on Tomlin's part. Why not give your defense a chance to stop'em, and get the ball back to your offense with over a minute left to try and score the tying TD. His offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, also made a couple of major mistakes on fourth and one, by instead of quarterback sneaking 6'5", 240 pound Ben Roethlisberger, he first did a toss sweep to Le'Veon Bell, and then had Ben throw a 15 yard pass over the middle. Both plays were stopped. It was really 4th and a foot on both plays. Of course, Tomlin set his team up for failure by predicting in week 13, that he was getting his team ready to play the Patriots twice beginning in week 15 at home vs the Pats. Tomlin predicted then that his team would play New England in the AFC Championship also. His attitude permeated to some of his players as Bell tweeted out last Saturday Night that his team loved rematches and that they would play 2 in the next 2 weeks. They lost to Jacksonville 30-9 in the regular season and to New England in week 15, 27-24. Well, they lost again to Jacksonville, 45-42, and Tomlin and Bell looked pretty foolish with their overconfidence. 

So here's a look at tomorrow's classics.

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) vs. New England Patriots (14-3, 6-2 home)

Gillette Stadium. Foxborough, MA. 66, 829

2:05 PM CT

CBS

Jim, Tony, Trace, Jay Feely

Studio: James Brown, Coach Cowher, Nate Burleson, Boomer, Phil

Whistles: Clete Blakeman, lead laundry, Replay: Carl Madsen

New England by 7 1/2

The buzz this week has been about Tom Brady's right hand. He received 4 stitches in it after a teammate hit Brady's hand with  helmet strap in practice on Tuesday. It was obviously not intentional. Brady is listed as questionable but he'll play. It is his right hand, so that's somewhat of an issue. But the great Brady will show up and play well most likely. Sacksonville can really get to the quarterback and are good on defense though the Steelers torched them last week. I trust the great Brady, the unstoppable tight end Rob Gronkowski,  and all their other threats in Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, a very good and underrated running back in Dion Lewis and a defense that finished fifth in the league in scoring defense, to get the job done tomorrow. Should be a competitive game, but the Patriots in Foxborough are close to unbeatable. Brady's hand is a concern, but I still like him to overcome that and get enough done, along with the defense shutting down Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette, to allow the Pats to move on to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII and play for their 6th world championship. 

Patriots 24, Jags 14

 

Minnesota Vikings (14-3) vs Philadelphia Eagles (14-3, 8-1 home)

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA. 69,176

5:40 PM CT

FOX

Joe, Troy, EA, Chris Myers

Studio: Curt Menefee, Terry, Howie, Michael, Jimmy. Wish Jerry "Alabama Getaway" Jones would join'em. That would be some good humor. 

Yella: Ed Hochuli, Replay: Tom Sifferman

Vikings by 3

The Eagles are 6-2 against the Vikings since 2001 and 2-0 in the postseason. The Nick Foles-Case Keenum matchup may not be considered a stellar quarterback duel, but these guys are pretty good and will be critical in their teams' respective success . Foles had a solid game last week completing 22-of-30 passes for 246 yards, 0 TDs but 0 ints also. He did a really solid job. His passer rating was an excellent 100.1. Keenum, who has had an excellent regular season, completed 25-of-40 passes for 318 yards 1 TD, the gigantic one to Stefon Diggs on the last play of the game to win it for the Vikings, 29-24, and he tossed one interception that could have been costly except for his late game heroics. He's been outstanding this season. The Linc will be rockin tomorrow and that will really help the home team. But the weather is pretty balmy for this time of year in Philly at 45 degrees with minimal wind at kickoff. I've had a tough time with this one. Minnesota is the number 1 team in the league in total defense and scoring defense, but the Eagles are right behind at 4th in total defense and 4th in scoring defense. The Eagles also have the top rushing defense in the league. The Vikings are second. So this is coming down to a low scoring, one possession game that could actually come down to the last drive by either squad. Both teams have excellent receivers on the perimeter with the Vikings featuring Diggs, Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph along with a pretty excellent third perimeter receiver in Jarius Wright. The Eagles have the great Alshon Jeffery, tight end Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor. Alshon caught 9 TDs this season, Agholor had 8 and Ertz had 8. I like the Eagles edge on the Vikings and I really like the Eagles in the Linc. But I'll stick with the Vikings to make it back to Minneapolis and play a virtual home game in the Super Bowl.

Vikings 21, Eagles 17

 

 

 

 

The Divisional Round of the National Football League

 NFC and AFC teams continue their march toward Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis on February 4th as the Divisional round commences today in Philadelphia with the Falcons visiting the Eagles at 3:35 PM CT and continues on into tomorrow as the Saints and Vikings finish it off at 3:45 PM CT. In between the Patriots host the resurgent Tennessee Titans tonight at 7:15 CT and the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Jacksonville Jaguars tomorrow at 12:05 PM CT. Here's a look at each game along with predicted outcomes.

Last year in Playoffs: 6-1

Lost Super Bowl 51 as I picked the Falcons, 38-35, only to see them fall to the Patriots, 34-28, in overtime in an all world comeback performance by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Falcons led 28-3 in the third quarter and looked to be in excellent shape, but the Patriots became the Patriots again and pulled off an improbable but typical Patriots clutch performance.

I was picking the Patriots all week at 38-35, but woke up that Thursday morning and decided on the Falcons. My heart was in it a little bit for Julio Jones. I learned not to do that again.  

Today

NFC

No.6 Atlanta Falcons (11-6) @ No.1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA. 69,176

3:35 PM CT

NBC

Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Laundry: Referee, Bill Vinovich, Replay official, Charles Stewart

Falcons by 2 1/2

This game has all the makings of a defensive battle. The Eagles are number 4 in the league in scoring defense, giving up 18.4 points per game while the Falcons are 8th giving up 19.7 per game. The Eagles are also number 1 in rushing defense so the great Devonta Freeman and stud Tevin Coleman may have a tough time getting yards. That will lay the onus on quarterback Matt Ryan, who finished off another solid year completing 65% of his passes (342-of-529) for 4,095 yards and 20 TDs. But Ryan also threw 12 interceptions. It wasn't even close to the MVP year he had last year. The difference in this year and last year is that in 2016, Ryan had Kyle Shanahan calling plays and this year he has Steve Sarkisian. Sark is doing his best, but Shanahan, who is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and finished off the season with 6 straight victories with October quarterback acquisition Jimmy Garappolo from New England, was a prolific offensive coordinator. The superb Julio Jones still caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards but only had 3 TDs. The conditions in Philly look tough for throwing the football today. It'll be 31 at kickoff, feel like 21 with winds at 12-16 MPH throughout the game and getting colder as the game progresses, which will have an impact on Ryan, Jones and offense that is used to playing in an indoor stadium in Mercedes-Benz. 

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who took over from the injured Carson Wentz who was lost for the season on Dec. 10th after throwing for 33 TDs against 7 ints and having an MVP caliber year, is serviceable and that may be all he needs to be today. LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi are very good running backs, so I like the Eagles to run it well and play solid defense and Foles to make enough plays to keep the Falcons honest on defense, and allow the Eagles to advance to the NFC Championship game which will be played at Lincoln Financial if the Eagles do survive today.

Eagles 17, Falcons 16

 

AFC

No.5 Tennesse Titans (10-7) @ No.1 New England Patriots (13-3)

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA. 66,829

7:15 PM CT

Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely

Aladdin: Ron Torbert, be ready for massive laundry; replay: Darryll Lewis

Patriots by 13 1/2

Tom Brady led the NFL in passing again this season completing 385-of-581 passes, 66%, for 4,577 yards, 32 TDs against 8 ints. His passer rating was 3rd in the league at 102.8 only behind KC's Alex Smith (104.7) and the great Drew Brees (103.9). Anything above 100 is considered excellent He's got a virtual fountain of youth inside of him at 40 years old. His career passer rating is 97.3, as good as it gets. He's also got 5 Super Bowl rings with ambitions to get more and play into his mid 40's. I can see him doing that. He keeps himself in such tremendous shape and never gets hurt, so both of those things are attainable for Brady. Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota played superb games last Saturday as the Titans came back from a 21-3 halftime deficit and defeated the KC Chiefs 23-21 in raucous Arrowhead Stadium where the noise can register almost 4.0 on the Richter Scale, earthquake-like. It was a sensational performance by the Titans and in particular Henry, who rushed for 156 yards and a 7, and Mariota who completed 19-of-31 passes for 205 yards and 2 TDs against 1 int. But this is in Foxborough where the Patriots are always difficult to defeat and the temperature will be 25 at kickoff and feel like 10 with an 18 MPH wind throughout the game. I like the home team to advance here.

 New England 24, Tennessee 14

 

Sunday

AFC

No.3 Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) @ No.2 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA. 68,400

12:05 PM CT

CBS

Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

Vogue: Brad Allen, Replay, Jim Lapetina

Steelers by 7

The Jaguars defeated the Steelers in week 5, 30-9, in Pittsburgh as Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 interceptions. There was talk that Ben, at 35 years old, should call it a career, but Roethlisberger finished the season completing 360-of-561 passes, 64%, for 4,251 yards with 28 TDs and 14 ints, and a 93.4 passer rating, all solid numbers. The Jags have a solid defense and awesome corner Jalen Ramsey won the game for them last week in the wild card game against the Bills with a game clinching interception in a 10-3 victory. Still, Blake Bortles had a horrible day throwing the ball as he only completed 12-of-23 passes for 87 yards and a TD. He ran for more yards in the game (88) than he passed for. The rushing yards were a major reason why the Jaguars won though. But again, the temperature will be 14 at kickoff and stay in the teens throughout the game. Not much wind, but the temperature will be tough on Jacksonville which is used to balmy northeast Florida. Leonard Fournette had a good year for the Jags rushing for 1,040 yards and 9 TDs, but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. He didn't do anything against a good Bills defense last week. It's hard to tell what you're going to get from Fournette week to week.

I like Roethlisberger and the Steelers to advance and face a much anticipated rematch with the Patriots next Sunday. The Steelers lost a tough one to the Patriots in week 15, 27-24, at home in which tight end Jesse James looked like he had caught the game winning TD in the last minute, but after review, it was ruled that James did not complete the catch through the ground when he fell into the end zone as the ball moved when it hit the ground. That rule has been controversial, but I like it. I contend that the best football players in the world, who are also extremely well paid,  should be required to hang on to the ball throughout the catch. It's a good rule no matter what other people may say. 

Steelers 20, Jaguars 10


NFC

 

No. 4 New Orleans Saints (11-5) @ No.2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

U. S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN. 66,655

3:45 PM CT

FOX

Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers

Yella: Gene Steratore, could be some controversy with Steratore, Replay: Paul Weidner

Vikings by 5

Drew Brees had a phenomenal 2017 season completing 386 of 535 passes, 72%, for 4,334 yards, 23 TDs against 8 ints and had a league leading 103.9 passer rating. That completion percentage is off the charts good. He also threw for 376 yards and 2 TDs last week including an 80 yarder to Ted Ginn Jr, that hit Ginn Jr right in stride and Ginn concurrently took it straight to the house. His passer rating was 115.2 last Sunday against the Panthers a 31-26 victory in the Superdome. But the Vikings have the No.1 scoring defense in the league giving up only 15.8 points per game. They also have the second best rushing and passing defense in the league, so Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and Brees may have some tough sledding. The Saints lost super offensive lineman Andrus Peat to injury last week. He's out this week and that hurts the Saints' cause somewhat

Case Keenum has been more than impressive in relief of Sam Bradford  as Bradford was injured after 2 games. In 14 starts, Keenum completed 325-of-481 passes, 67%, for 3,547 yards, 22 TDs against only 7 ints. He's been nothing short of spectacular and has found a resurgence in Minnesota under stellar offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who is a major candidate for job openings in New York (Giants), Detroit and Arizona. Latavius Murray rushed for 842 yards and 8 TDs. The dynamite receiving trio of Adam Thielen (91-1,276, 4 TDs), Stefon Diggs (the older brother of Alabama's Trevon, 64-849, 8 TDs) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (57-532, 8 TDs) make this Vikings offense versatile and highly formidable.

 Super Bowl 52 will be played at right there at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings take their first step towards getting there. 

Vikings 31, Saints 27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary football game

Spectacular ending to a spectacular college football season. Tua Tagovailoa put on a performance for the college football history books. Calvin Ridley, Da'Ron Payne, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Rashaan Evans, Terrell Lewis, Mack Wilson, Bradley Bozeman, Ross Pierschbacher, all the vets showed their heart and character in the 26-23 Crimson Tide scintillating overtime victory over the Georgia Bulldogs. It'll be thrilling to watch many of these guys in the NFL. So many there right now and many more coming through the pipeline.

Five national championships in 11 years under S. He's the greatest of all time and with the freshman in the program, Tua, Najee Harris, Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood and many more along with some excellent upperclassmen returning, a 6th national championship under S next year looks certainly attainable. This year is Number 17 in program history. Remarkable stuff.

Now S focuses on closing strong in recruiting like he always does. That'll be riveting to follow. 

Greatness never gets old. What a program, what a coach, what a thrill to be a part of for the the fans of Alabama football and the state of Alabama. S isn't going anywhere for a good while. His next venture will be retiring to Georgia and being a commentator on college football. But that could be 10 years away with the energy and passion he has for this football program.

Enjoy the victory and another amazing season for your Crimson Tide. There's recruiting to keep up with now, and spring football is just around the corner. But today, enjoy that spectacular game, this spectacular coach and this all time good college football program. 

Golf columns crank up tomorrow, NFL playoffs write ups and predictions beginning Saturday and leading all the way up through Super Bowl 52, and Australian Open tennis preview and predictions on Sunday. We've got plenty left to talk about going forward and for many years to come on this blog.

Alabama football and the 2018 college football season is not far around the corner either. Spring football is just 2 months and change away. A lot of interesting stuff to look at for the Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, the SEC and the national landscape for 2s018. Many riveting storylines. Can the Tide do it once again, can the Tigers challenge the Tide, what about Kirby and Georgia's team that is trending extremely well. New coaches at A&M with Jimbo Fisher, Tennessee with Jeremy Pruitt, Dan Mullen at Florida and Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State. Penn State looks strong next year. OU will be back. Ohio State, can Harbaugh turn Michigan  around, will Army keep trending upward in football after a 10-3 season. What about Kiff's emergence at Florida Atlantic, will it lead to a major job in the future. Scott Frost, the awesome Central Florida coach takes over at Nebraska and tries to revive a proud program and put them in the national hunt on a yearly basis. A lot of questions to examine in 2018.

Last night capped off a remarkable football season with what was a remarkably resilient football team in the Crimson Tide that never gave in, that always believed and battled through the adversity of massive injuries particularly at linebacker. They truly earned this national title with clear eyes and full hearts.

the Alabama football family is a happy group right now which they should be. The all time best coach in college football, and, quite probably, the best coach at any level ever. The best players year after year in college football, the best run program and a massively passionate and loyal fan base that never wavers in their support of their players and their all time greatest football coach. It's spectacular stuff.

Thanks again for reading this season. A lot to talk about coming up. S says there's always the next challenge. I hear him.  

Final record

Bowls: 18-21

Overall: 228-101, 69%

 

 

 

Predictions for 4 games today and 2 Monday

TaxSlayer Bowl

Louisville (8-4, 4-4 ACC) vs. No. 23 Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL. 67, 164

11 AM CT

ESPN

Tom Hart, JRodg, Cole

Whistles, Big Ten, Jerry McGinn

'Ville by 7

This has the makings of a blowout. Mississippi State is without its starting quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, who is out till the spring or maybe even fall practice of 2018. Lamar Jackson could go berserk in this one.

Louisville 42, State 24

 

Liberty Bowl

Iowa State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. No. 20 Memphis (10-2, 7-1 American)

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, 61,008

11:30 AM CT

ABC

Mike Patrick, Tubby, Paul Carcaterra

Refs: ACC, Duane Heydt

Memphis by 4

I like quarterback Riley Ferguson and the Memphis Tigers to have a big day, but in a competitive game. Iowa State can put some points on the board, too.

Memphis 45, Iowa State 40

 

Fiesta Bowl

No. 11 Washington (10-2, 7-2 PAC-12) vs. No.9 Penn State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten)

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ. 63,400

3 PM CT

ESPN

Dave Pasch, Gregory, Lugues

Refs, Big 12 Dan Defee, some serious artillery on those arms

Penn State by 3

I'm going with the slight upset here. Chris Peterson and the Huskies take down the Nittany Lions in a classic.

Washington 38, Penn State 35

 

Orange Bowl

No.6 Wisconsin (12-1, 9-0 Big Ten) vs No. 10 Miami (10-2, 7-1 ACC)

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, 65,326

7 PM CT

ESPN

Steve Levy, Grease, Molly McGrath, McShay

Laundry, SEC, Matt Loeffler

Whisky by 6

Going with the Canes in another upset.

Miami 35, Wisconsin 31

 

Monday

Outback Bowl

Michigan (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. South Carolina (8-4, 5-3)

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL. 65,890

11 AM CT

ESPN2

Adam Amin, Dusty Dvoracek, Molly McGrath

Refs, ACC,  Stuart Mullins

Michigan by 7 1/2

I like James and the Wolverines, but expecting a very competitive game.

Michigan 27, South Carolina 24

 

Citrus Bowl 

No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) vs. No. 17 LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC)

Camping World Stadium, Orlando, 65,438

12 PM

ABC

Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich

Refs, Big 12,  Cooper Castleberry.

LSU by 3

I'm looking at a blowout here. Derrius Guice and the Tigers run all over the Irish.

LSU 45, Notre Dame 17

 

Tomorrow afternoon

Previews, predictions

Playoff Semifinal 1: Rose Bowl

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

4 PM CT, ESPN

Playoff Semifinal 2: Sugar Bowl

No.4 Alabama vs. No.1 Clemson

7:45 PM CT, ESPN

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

No.7 Auburn vs. No. 12 UCF

11:30 AM CT ESPN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 bowls in the lineup today

The Belk Bowl pitting Wake Forest versus Texas A&M, the Sun Bowl featuring N.C. State versus Arizona State, the Music City Bowl pitting Kentucky-Northwestern, the Nova Loans Arizona Bowl featuring New Mexico State vs Utah State and the featured matchup of the day, the Cotton Bowl, pitting Ohio State vs USC are on the slate today for bowl season. Now we're into some major bowl action. It's all been good and it's getting even better starting today. Here's a look at the action.

Yesterday

Navy 49, Virginia 7, Military Bowl

Midshipmen quarterback Zack Abey, filling in for an injured Malcolm Perry, scored 5 TDs and ran for 88 yards in the Navy rout. Perry ran for 114 and 2 TDs before he left the game with an injury, and fullback Chris High added 101 yards. Super performance by the Academy. Navy finishes 7-5 while UVA fell to 6-7. Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo aims to get his Midshipmen squad back to the 8 to 10 win threshold next season and "Beat Army!"

Oklahoma State 30, Virginia Tech 21, Camping World Bowl

Mason Rudolph completed 21-of-32 passes for 351 yards and 2 TDs, Justice Hill rushed for 120 yards and a TD, and the Cowboys survived a super effort by Virginia Tech which was missing some players. Bud Foster and his Hokie defense gave Mike Gundy and his offense everything they wanted. Rudolph now looks forward to late April and the NFL Draft. Ok State finishes the season 10-3, VA. Tech dropped to 9-4, but building for a solid future. Ok. State even aiming for higher heights next year, a conference championship, a playoff or New Year's Six Bowl berth. The sky's the limit for both programs. 

Michigan State 42, Washington State 17, Holiday Bowl

Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke completed 13-of-21 passes for 213 yards and 3 TDs, and the awesome L.J. Scott rushed for 110 yards and 2 TDs as the Spartans capped off a stellar season finishing 10-3 by blasting the Cougars, which fell to 9-4. 

TCU 39, Stanford 37, Valero Alamo Bowl

The Horned Frogs (11-3) came back from a 21-3 first half deficit to capture the victory behind Kenny Hill's 314 yards passing. Hill threw a couple of interceptions, but also tossed 2 TDs. A gigantic 4th quarter, 76 yard punt return for a TD by senior Desmon White, was the game changing play that put TCU ahead 36-30. Stanford finished the season 9-5. The superb Bryce Love rushed for 145 yards and 2 TDs including a 69 yard gallop for a 7. Love is a junior and will decide whether to come out for the draft or return to school for his senior season. Proud of him for playing in the game. He could have easily sat it out like Christian McCaffrey did last year, but he showed a lot of character and played for his team. He wants to go to med school and become a doctor eventually, so there is a chance he will return to Stanford for his senior year. it would be sensational for college football if he did. Love represents the best of college football. Can't say enough about Bryce. He may want to go ahead and play in the league, but if he came back, look out for him and the Cardinal in 2018.

Today

Belk Bowl

Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4 SEC) vs Wake Forest (7-5, 4-4 ACC)

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C., 75,412

12 PM CT

ESPN

Jason Benetti, Kelly Stouffer, Kris Budden

Refs: PAC-12, Steve Strimling

Wake by 3

The Aggies will be commandeered by special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Jeff Banks as the team awaits the Jimbo Fisher era in College Station. Both Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond will play quarterback for the Aggies today in all likelihood. Starkel completed 81-of-142 passes, 57%, for 1,294 yards, 10 TDs and 5 ints while missing several games with a broken ankle. Mond, a true freshman, showed signs of being a really good quarterback for the Aggies this year and in the future, He was 117-of-227, 52%, for 1,375 yards, 8 TDs and 5 interceptions. He was inconsistent, but has a chance to do some super things under Fisher in the upcoming years. Of course, Starkel is a redshirt freshman, so this could be an audition for next year with both quarterbacks making their first statement to start in 2018. Wake is favored and they have a very good quarterback in John Wolford, who completed 207-of-325 passes, 64%, for 2,792 yards, 25 TDs against only 6 ints, but I like the fact that A&M has been through the SEC wars and they're probably fired up that Fisher is coming in and want to impress him today. Watch for the awesome Christian Kirk, a junior, who's returned a punt and a kickoff for TDs this season and now has 7 kick returns for TDs in  his career, 1 kickoff and 6 punt house calls, along with 22 TDs receiving, to have a massive impact on this game and be the difference maker. 

Texas A&M 38, Wake Forest 35

 

Hyundai Sun Bowl

No. 24 North Carolina State (8-4, 6-2 ACC) vs Arizona State (7-5, 6-3 PAC-12)

Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX., 51,500

2 PM CT

CBS

Brad, Gary, Allie

Refs, Big Ten, Mike Cannon

N.C. State by 7

I look for N.C. State's big, powerful defensive end Bradley Chubb to have a massive day. Chubb, a senior and a likely first round pick, has 26 tackles for loss on the season, 2nd in the country only to Northern Illinois' Sutton Smith, who has 29 1/2. He also posted 10 sacks, which is tied for 7th in the country. Joe Ostman of Central Michigan led with 14.  I see Chubb really impressing the scouts. N.C. State's Ryan Finley is a solid quarterback who completed 287-of-449 passes, 64%, for 3,196 yards, 16 TDs against 6 interceptions. Running back Nyheim HInes rushed for 1,040 yards and 9 TDs this season. So this is a potent team on both sides of the ball. The Sun Devils are going through a coaching change with Herm Edwards taking over. The Zona State administration gave Todd Graham a bad deal when they fired him after Graham had just beaten Arizona to go 7-5 this season and 46-31 in 6 seasons. . We'll see if Edwards can transition back to the sidelines from the broadcasting arena and be successful. That's questionable to me. 

N.C. State 35, Zona State 27

 

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Kentucky (7-5, 4-4 SEC) vs. No. 21 Northwestern (9-3, 7-2, Big Ten)

NIssan Stadium, Nashville, 69,143

3:30 PM CT

ESPN

Taylor Zarzour, Andre, Olivia Harlan

Refs, PAC-12, Chris Coyte

Northwestern by 8

This is a battle of running backs as Kentucky's Benny Snell Jr., who rushed for 1,318 yards and an SEC leading 18 rushing TDs, squares off against the Northwestern Wildcats' Justin Jackson, who rushed for 1,154 yards and 9 TDs, and became only the 9th player in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards in 4 consecutive seasons. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson completed 61% of his passes and posted 15 TDs, but he also threw 12 ints. Kentucky's Stephen Johnson was pretty erratic at times too, completing 61% of his passes, a good percentage, for 2,048 yards, 10 TDs against 4 ints. But he struggled down the stretch. 

This game looks like a Northwestern victory, but I'm going to go against the grain and pick the Kentucky Wildcats. Really believe in Benny Snell Jr.

Kentucky 35, Northwestern 34


Nova Loans Arizona Bowl

Arizona Stadium, Tuscon, AZ. 57,400

4:30 PM CT

CBS Sports Network

Dave Ryan, Corey Chavous, Melanie Collins

Refs: C-USA, Rodney Burnette

Utah State by 4 1/2

Like the Utah State Aggies over the New Mexico State Aggies in a battle of similar mascots again today.

Utah State 35, New Mexico State 30

 

Tonight

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

No.5 Ohio State (11-2, 8-1 BIg Ten) vs. No. 8 USC (11-2, 8-1 PAC-12)

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX. 100,000

7:30 PM CT

ESPN

Bob Wischusen, Brock Huard, Allison Williams

Refs: SEC, David Smith

Ohio State by 7 1/2

Classic matchup here. The Buckeyes and the Trojans are led by sometimes spectacular, sometimes not so swift quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Sam Darnold of the aforementioned Buckeyes and Trojans respectively. Barrett has put together a terrific year most of the time, completing 65% of his passes for 2,928 yards, with 35 TDs against 9 interceptions. Still he can be questionable with his accuracy at times. He can also be sensational. Darnold has been more erratic than Barrett, completing 64% of his passes for 3,787 yards, 26 TDs but 12 interceptions. He has also lost 7 fumbles for 19 total turnovers this season. NFL scouts will be watching him both for his assets and his deficiencies. Barrett will be watched closely, too.

There are some super running backs in this game as well. Freshman J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 1,384 yards and 7 TDs for the Buckeyes. Barrett, who can really scamper, rushed for 743 yards and 10 TDs, and Mike Weber rushed for 608 yards and 10 TDs. On the Trojans' side, Ronald Jones has put together a superb year, rushing for 1,486 yards and 18 TDs along with another TD receiving. Freshman Stephen Carr has been hurt a good bit of  this season, but he's electric. He rushed for only 363 yards and 3 TDs, but he was limited with injuries, and when he played was very explosive. He's the next great USC running back. 

At wide receiver for the Buckeyes, Terry McLaurin is a major target. He caught 28 passes for 434 yards and 6 TDs. Johnnie Dixon only caught 18 passes, but 8 of them were for TDs. Binjimen Victor caught 23 passes, 7 for TDs.

For the Trojans, Deontay Burnett caught 74 passes for 975 yards and 9 TDs. Burnett is an electric playmaker. Tyler Vaughns caught 51 passes for 690 yards and 5 TDs, and their super tight end, Tyler Petite, caught 22 passes for 305 yards and 3 TDs. Look for Darnold to be finding Petite some tonight. He's a weapon.

Sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa led the Buckeyes in tackles for loss with 14 1/2, and sacks with 7. Safety Damon Webb led the team in interceptions with 4. For USC, leading tackler linebacker Cameron Smith (102 tackles) is out with injury, but stellar defensive end Christian Rector is tied for the lead in tackles for loss with 11 1/2,. He is tied with the other bookend Rasheem Green. Green leads the team in sacks with 9. Rector is second with 7 1/2. They are disruptive forces coming off the edges.

Final Analysis

The Trojans survived a lot of injuries this season and won the PAC-12, which is always a regular season goal for them. Now they face a loaded Buckeyes team particularly on offense. They are still pretty banged up, but healthier, however I don't see them having enough explosiveness to defeat the Big Ten champion Buckeyes. J.T. Barrett ends his Ohio State career with an exclamation point and Darnold is shaky again. But I'm expecting an excellent game. 

Ohio State 42, USC 34