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Free Form Friday: Stare-Off Of The Network Stars Edition.

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It's college football's offseason. That's not my problem. It's not your problem. It's our problem. And collective problems call for collective solutions.

Thus, for the second interminable offseason in a row, we present Free Form Friday. Until further notice, I'll spend Fridays posting a vaguely organized compendium of non-sequiturs, pop culture observations and college sports miscellany which you may discuss in the comments, or ignore in favor of your own topics. Think of it as your weekend open comment thread.

I assume by now that most of you have seen the new Tiger Woods Nike commercial with the creepy Earl Woods voiceover which is just bound to be sampled in a Fatboy Slim song one day. You may have even seen some of the many parodies of it that have emerged. If Nike wanted to get their most omnipresent pitchman back in front of America, they've definitely accomplished that mission. They've also accomplished several others, including:

  • Providing Urban Meyer with an opponent for a pay-per-view, beady-eyed, point and stare battle that would either tear asunder the space-time continuum or crack open the gates of Hell. The first person to make a youtube video interspersing images of Corch Meyers and El Tigre trying to out-intense each other will gain my undying admiration.
  • Reminding me that the guy who chose the Eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies should have done a more thorough job of casting. Step 1: Tiger. Step 2: Hobbits. Step 3: Oscar!
  • Making me think of Anthony Hopkins, fava beans and chianti instead of sneakers and golf clubs. Seriously, no one should stare at you that long between blinks. Unless they intend to lunge forward and take a bite out of you.There's just got to be some unspoken social convention against it.
  • Proving that Neitzche was right when he said "When you stare at the philandering pro golfer the philandering pro golfer stares back."
  • Making me wonder if Yakov Smirnoff was equally correct in joking that "In Soviet Union, you give Tiger Woods commercial the willies."

On the heels of his team's close loss in the NCAA Tournament Final, Butler coach Brad Stevens has been awarded a 12 year contract extension through the 2021-22 season. I have always been pretty skeptical of long term contracts for coaches, both college and pro.  As Dan Reeves said about the "lifetime contract" he was supposedly offered in Denver: "Once you start losing they call you in and declare you legally dead." Stevens, 33, also seems a sure bet to be in the running for every major coaching vacancy that emerges over the next few seasons, assuming Butler's little basketball engine keeps humming along. In three seasons at Butler Stevens is 89-15, a record for victories in a coach's first three seasons. One would imagine that at some point the big boys will come calling. Oregon and Wake Forest, for example, have job openings right now, and plenty of money to spend on the right coach. I like Butler's commitment, and Stevens is certainly saying all the right things, but pardon me if I don't believe that Brad Stevens is going to one day be the JoePa of Indy.

There's always a lot of talk in recruiting circles about "getting early momentum" and "closing the borders." Year in and year out, no one does these two things better that Texas's Mack Brown. But 2011 is shaping up to be ridiculous by even his standards. Texas recently received its 19th verbal commitment for the class of 2011. And it was the first commitment from a player outside the Lone Star State, Arizona offensive lineman Christian Westerman (who also had an offer from Georgia, as well as every other major program in the country).

Of course, Mack has a few built-in recruiting advantages. For one, Austin is further from the boundaries of the state of Texas than Athens is from most every college town in the SEC East, and a good part of the ACC. A kid from Atlanta going to Alabama or Clemson is moving 2-4 hours away from home. A kid from central Texas looking to go to LSU might as well be moving to another planet. Abilene, for example, is a solid 9 hour drive from Death Valley and almost 5 hours from Norman, Oklahoma.*

Also,Texas's run of success the past 5 years is as strong as just about anyone's. It doesn't take much of a salesman to convince kids that if they come to Texas they'll be playing with the big boys, and that the chance to play in the NFL will be there as well. But that success has likewise coincided with a drought at traditional rival Texas A&M which has made the instate competition for prospects pretty slim. Brown's biggest competition is Oklahoma. Instate he's fighting off . . . Texas Tech and TCU. Neither is a traditional power, neither is the state's flagship university. Though TCU has a nice campus, complete with Horned Frog statue and fountain. And TTU is in Lubbock. So there's that.

The biggest danger inherent in filling out a recruiting class early used to be that you didn't have room for the late bloomers who were often better players. And guys who locked up an offer from their dream school early would sometimes become a little lazy. However, now that players are being evaluated earlier and earlier the "senior sleepers" are a lot rarer than they used to be. Now it's more a question of whether you'll wait to see if a guy is able to get into school than whether he has the talent to play once he gets there. And with players now competing against their coevals on the camp circuit and knowing who their competition is coming in, there's probably less coasting through senior seasons going on. Bottomline, Mack Brown has built a machine in Austin, and I'm not certain the rest of us realize exactly how smoothly that baby is running. Must be nice.

Of course, some college football machines are in need of a tuneup. One of them is in Knoxville, where Nick Stephens, the only quarterback on the Vol roster with any game experience, just announced he's leaving the team. This opens up the job for former Louisville signalcaller Matt "Puff the Magic Dragon" Simms to take over in year one of the Derek Dooley era, assuming he can beat out true freshmen Tyler Bray and Nash Bridges Nance. Whoever wins the job will play behind an offensive line that could include 5 new starters, and in front of a running back corps that won't include Monterio Hardesty (or likely Bryce Brown). I'm setting the over/under for Tennessee's 2010 scoring average at 15.9 points per game. Who wants the over?

I'm not going to make it out to G-Day tomorrow as I have a ton of family responsibilities that need attending to. That may be all the better, because like Kyle, I never see anything at the spring scrimmage that convinces me good things are on the horizon. Watching us break in a trio of new quarterbacks and a fresh defensive scheme will look like the football equivalent of six year olds trying to build a nuclear bomb out of postage stamps and hedge clippings.

If you're headed to Athens let us hear from you in the comments below. What are your plans? What are you looking forward to seeing?

In the meantime, because Kyle subtly influenced me a couple of weeks ago, your weekend DBT, with the usual  healthy dose of southern gothic and PG-13 lyrics:

 

Here's wishing all of you a great weekend, whether you're in Athens, Augusta, Afghanistan or any of the other places you folks frequent these days. Until later . . .

Go 'Dawgs!!!

 

This is one reason I've always wondered whether we'd have a larger recruiting moat if Auburn were actually in Demopolis, Clemson in Florence, and Florida State in Ft. Lauderdale. Just something to consider.