Sports, Thrill of Victory

Holiday season SEC football & basketball storylines to watch

We’re in that in-between time where bowl games haven’t started, nor has the Southeastern Conference basketball conference season, and yet there’s plenty to talk about with Christmas approaching. Chris Lee looks at what’s going on in those two sports in today’s SEC snapshot.

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES

A winter of discontent

Texas A&M lost Kyle Allen (pictured) and Kyler Murray to transfer. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS A&M ATHLETICS

The most visible position on the football field also seems to be the one where SEC players are the unhappiest, judging by some roster movement within the last month.

The biggest blows were dealt to Texas A&M, where former five-star recruits Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray have both announced their intention to leave College Station. This seems to be part of a recent trend under coach Kevin Sumlin; since he’s been there, the Aggies have lost these two, plus Matt Davis, Kenny Hill, Matt Joeckel and Jamell Showers, just in the last three years.

That leaves Jake Hubenak (12-of-27, 92 yards, one TD this year) to start the Music City Bowl vs. Louisville. He’s the only scholarship quarterback on the roster.

The Murray transfer is doubly damaging to A&M, given that he was supposed to play for the Aggie baseball team, and is considered by one reputable source as the No. 1 prospect for the 2018 MLB Draft. . That said, judging by some tweets from his teammates, plus, a sideline tantrum directed at offensive coordinator Jake Spavitol, his talent will probably be more missed than his personality.

News of Will Grier’s transfer from Florida hit out of the blue. Grier led Florida to a 6-0 record, hitting 65.8 percent of his throws for 1,204 yards, 10 TDs and three picks in his first six games, all starts. Then, Grier was popped for using performance-enhancing drugs, which carries a year’s suspension. After leaving his team in a lurch once before, Grier’s transfer makes little sense; he’ll have to sit out a half-season next year regardless of destination, and will have to sit out another year (after already redshirting) if he goes to another FBS school.

Florida's Will Grier announced his intention to transfer last week. PHOTO BY TIM CASEY, COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETICS

Florida’s Will Grier announced his intention to transfer last week. PHOTO BY TIM CASEY, COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETICS

This might really hurt the Gators, as some believe that Treon Harris, who started in Grier’s place, isn’t a long-term answer. UF expects to sign a pair of freshmen in February to go with graduate transfer Luke Del Rio (Oregon State).

The transfer of Kentucky’s Patrick Towles to Boston College makes perfect sense. Towles, who started 22 straight games until he was beaten out by Drew Barker at season’s end, graduates from Kentucky this month and will be eligible at BC immediately.

Ole Miss quarterback DeVante Kincaide, stuck behind second team All-SEC starter Chad Kelly, is leaving to transfer closer to his Texas home after his brother died in October. Though he played in spots, he appeared to be Ole Miss’s third quarterback. The Rebels are also bringing in a five-star QB recruit in Shea Patterson.

Faton Bauta, a backup at Georgia who played 12 games for the Bulldogs in 2015 and started one, has already transferred to play for Mike Bobo, his former quarterbacks coach, at Colorado State. Bauta has already earned his degree at Georgia.

More Gator departures

Coach Jim McElwain has dismissed defensive end Alex McCalister from the team. The junior has now declared for the NFL Draft.

Three other Gators—cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, running back Kelvin Taylor—have also announced they’re foregoing eligibility and declaring for the draft. Hargreaves is a slam-dunk first-round pick barring injury or something unexpected between now and the spring.

Between the departures, the Gators have their work cut out for them between now and next season.

Nkemdiche troubles

Now dismissed Robert Nkemdiche after picking up a sack in the 2013 Music City Bowl. PHOTO COURTESY OLE MISS ATHLETICS

Now dismissed Robert Nkemdiche after picking up a sack in the 2013 Music City Bowl. PHOTO COURTESY OLE MISS ATHLETICS

Since coach Hugh Freeze has been in Oxford, the Rebels have signed a number of exceptionally talented players, two among them being brothers Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche. Unfortunately, the Nkemdiches have been in the news for far more than football, of late.

Robert, the higher-profile brother, has been considered a top-five pick for the 2016 NFL Draft. That is, until a bizarre, evidently drug-induced series of events in Atlanta two weekends ago resulted in his arrest, and subsequent suspension from the Sugar Bowl. To nobody’s surprise, Nkemdiche then made official what most suspected when he declared for the draft. Some say that it won’t effect his draft stock unless there’s another incident.

Denzel was reportedly found unresponsive on Monday, and rushed to a hospital. He was previously hospitalized late in the fall for undisclosed reasons, missed a pair of games, and is no longer with the team. Neither was the first time Denzel has missed games for off-field matters.

Here’s hoping a pair of talented players get their lives in order.

Say goodbye to the Tad Pad

Ole Miss’s dramatic 83-30 overtime victory over Troy on Tuesday afternoon was the last game for the Rebels at the Tad Smith Coliseum after 50 years of playing there. The Rebels went 490-210 in that span.

Ole Miss will open The Pavilion, a 9,500-seat arena, for its Jan. 7 game with Alabama. The structure cost $96.6 million to build, and will host both the men’s and women’s teams.

BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, RPI)

  1. Kentucky (9-2, 16): Wildcats lost a stunner to Ohio State on a neutral floor on Saturday; they stay at the top of my ranking now based more on potential than results.
  2. Texas A&M (9-2, 11): Aggies’ 22-point whipping of Baylor was probably the most impressive game by an SEC team this year.
  3. South Carolina (11-0, 29): Gamecocks have mostly feasted on a weak slate, but being one of just five undefeated teams in the country does count for something.
  4. Vanderbilt (7-4, 41): Commodores are plenty talented despite missing Luke Kornet and Camron Justice, but with only one win over a Ken Pomeroy top 100 team (No. 79 Stony Brook, and that was in overtime), the résumé is short on accomplishments.
  5. Florida (8-3, 6): Florida’s Zach Hodskins got his first career points this week; that’s notable because Hodskins has just one arm. You can watch it here.
  6. Georgia (6-3, 30): As he did last year in a 37-point, “where-did-that-come-from?” effort against Mississippi State, UGA”s J.J. Frazier poured in 35 and earned SEC Player of the Week for the Bulldogs’ win over Georgia Tech.
  7. Alabama (7-3, 24): Taking nothing away from the outstanding job that coach Avery Johnson’s done, the Crimson Tide’s record is a bit of a fluke; ‘Bama is 4-1 in games decided by four points or less.
  8. Ole Miss (10-2): Rebels notched a big road win at Memphis last Friday.
  9. Tennessee (6-5, 123): Guard Kevin Punter is second in the league in scoring (22.0 ppg).
  10. Arkansas (6-5, 126): Razorbacks have had excruciating misfortune in close games, ranking 350th of 351 in Pomeroy’s “luck” metric.
  11. LSU (7-4, 139): The return of guard Keith Hornsby (17.4 ppg in four contests) should greatly help the Tigers.
  12. Auburn (6-3, 34): Tigers may be without injured guard Tahj-Shamsid-Dean, a reserve who suffered a separated right shoulder, for the year.
  13. Mississippi St. (5-5, 158): Bulldogs, with a combination of veteran returnees and talented freshmen, are debatably the league’s most disappointing team so far.
  14. Missouri (5-5, 85): Freshman Kevin Puryear (12.1 ppg, 50.6 FG%) one of the few bright spots in a bleak year for the Tigers.