By Steve Kaufman
Nick Saban really went off on the Alabama beat writers a couple of weeks ago.
“You guys make all the predictions, you guys know all the answers,” he said. “Why ask me any questions? Sometimes, I wonder why we even play the games.”
I’m with Saban on that one.
Earlier this month, the sportswriters laid out both divisions of the SEC, top to bottom. They’ve already picked the first three All-SEC teams.
Nationally, the writers named this year’s top five Heisman candidates. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson didn’t make the cut! Why not? He may or may not repeat, but going into the season he has to be the top candidate. It’s his to lose. It makes absolutely no sense to think otherwise.
In Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader, John Clay picked his pre-season Top 25. Much of it was chalk – Alabama, Clemson, Southern Cal, Ohio State. And much of it was mysterious, built on sand. Of course, the whole thing is built on sand, isn’t it?
On Number 16 LSU: “Les Miles is gone, but there’s no guarantee successor Ed Orgeron will do a better job . . . Coach O must prove he’s better than his 22-29 career record as a head coach.”
Ringing appraisal for a Number 16, don’t you think?
On Number 19 Notre Dame: “The football complex at South Bend was surely not a pleasant place to be after Brian Kelly’s Irish slipped all the way to 4-8 last year. . . . Notre Dame should be improved — it’s a low bar after 2016 — but the jury is out on how much.”
I’m a John Clay fan, but those don’t sound like Top 25 teams.
Every year, the writers roll out their national rankings and presumptive national champion before there’s been a single kickoff around the country. Hell, they even have the national basketball rankings figured out, and that sport doesn’t begin until November.
I understand why Vegas lays out odds on predictive winners. That’s strictly business, Michael. There’s hard money to be made if someone wants to put cash down on the Heisman winner or the winner of the SEC East or the Orange Bowl champion four or five months from now.
But what could it possibly matter whether or not a bunch of SEC football writers think Kentucky is going to finish above or below South Carolina or Vanderbilt? What does it matter if writers think Benny Snell or Jordan Jones will be on the first or second or third all-SEC team for the season that won’t be starting until this weekend?
A year ago, did any SEC writer pick Snell or Jones for honors before the first games of the year? Of course, they didn’t! Nobody had ever heard of either one. Eddie Gran would probably have told you to get help if you’d said, in August, that freshman Snell would gain 1,000 yards and score 14 touchdowns.
Well this year, there’s bound to be a future Snell or Jones lurking on SEC rosters. Maybe even on Kentucky’s roster. Landon Young? Lynn Bowden? Clevan Thomas? Jordan Griffin? Kayaune Ross? Maybe Matt Elam is this year’s breakout star.
And, by the way, those are not predictions!
The thing about predictions is that they’re harmless enough if that’s all they are, some late-summer fun conversation for college football fans who don’t care about the Cubs and Dodgers. But people take them and run with them. People associated with the Kentucky program were incensed that the Wildcats were picked so low in the SEC East. That’s okay, said someone, it just gives the Cats some extra incentive.
Why would a college football team in the SEC need extra incentive to go out and play well? Isn’t just being a college football team in the SEC incentive enough?
Some writers tried to get Kentucky’s kids to talk about the revenge factor Saturday against Southern Mississippi. Denzil Ware said it best. “I just want to play football. I’m tired of hitting blue and white. I want to start hitting some other colors.”
These kids are incentivized by the next game they play, by the next play they run. Fortunately, all the meaningless talk is finally coming to an end. The ball gets teed up in two days and it’s time to end the foolishness.
Who’ll win the SEC East? Will Kentucky finally beat Florida? Does Benny Snell deserve to be higher than third team All-SEC? Is there another bowl in UK’s future? That stuff gets settled for real, starting Saturday.
Let the games begin.