SCOTT: No spotlight for SEC this year

There will be no national championships. The spotlight will fall on other teams in other conferences. If everything goes right, Auburn or Georgia, or both, might slip into the final five in the national polls.

Unlike LSU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl or Auburn in the 2005 Sugar Bowl, the drama is missing from the SEC's postseason. Even the Sugar is missing from the Sugar Bowl now that it's been moved temporarily from New Orleans to Atlanta. Perhaps the interim Sugar Bowl can be filled with all those peaches that have been cast aside now that the Peach Bowl has decided to sell fast food instead of fruit.

 

So why watch the SEC teams in the bowls? Good question. Well, first of all, it's still the SEC. And it's still the bowl season. And some of the bowls are worth watching, including the ones involving the SEC. In fact, the SEC will pretty much fill up the schedule on Jan. 2.

 

Here they are, ranked one through six, worst to first.

 

Georgia vs. West Virginia, Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Man walks down the street in Providence, R.I., home of the Big East. Walks by the Big East office and asks himself, "didn't they used to be someone?" Yes, back when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College called the Big East home. Now, it's just the Eastern Division of Conference USA. But Georgia's in the game, and as LSU fans know, the Bulldogs are a pretty good team. Watch until halftime, then go to bed early. You've got to get up for work the next day.

 

Auburn vs. Wisconsin, Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2: Barry Alvarez' last game at Wisconsin. As an SEC fan, you don't care, but many believe the Tigers were playing better than any team in the SEC at the end of the season. If that's true, the Tigers better win this game.

 

Florida vs. Iowa, Outback Bowl, Jan. 2: A rematch of the 2004 Outback Bowl. You remember that, right? Oh, you had better things to do. That might be the case again this time as well, but with the way the Gators finished their regular season against Florida State this could be another big step for coach Urban Meyers.

 

South Carolina vs. Missouri, Independence Bowl, Dec. 30: OK stop with the Independence Bowl jokes, at least long enough to see this is one of the better matchups in the bowl season. Missouri quarterback Brad Smith always brings highlight potential but the Gamecocks have come a long way since midseason.

 

Alabama vs. Texas Tech, Cotton Bowl, Jan. 2: One of the nation's best defenses against one of the nation's most exciting and dangerous offense. Texas held Texas Tech to 17 points this season and even if Alabama can duplicate that effort it remains to be seen if the Crimson Tide can score 17 points.

 

LSU vs. Miami, Peach ... er ... Chik-fil-A ... Grilled Chicken With Peach Salsa Bowl, Dec. 30: South Carolina vs. Missouri in the afternoon, just enough time to grab some dinner, and then one of the top five matchups of the bowl season when No. 10 LSU plays No. 9 Miami. Two teams that didn't get as far as they wanted to this season. Two teams with a lot of pride and toughness. Two quality defenses. Two offenses searching for themselves. All the potential to be a close, hard-fought game.

     

 

After a 6-3 start that featured some uninspired and uncertain performances and months of butting heads with the NCAA over the status of center Randolph Morris, Kentucky finally got some good news in the past week.

 

First, the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff reduced its season-long suspension of Morris to 14 games, which means Morris will be back by Jan. 10. Morris had been suspended for the entire season because of his involvement with an agent during his attempt to enter the 2005 NBA Draft.

 

Then on Saturday the 23rd-ranked Wildcats beat No. 4 Louisville 73-61 on Saturday.

 

After losing two of their past three games, including a 26-point defeat against Indiana on Dec. 10, the Wildcats rebounded with a new lineup that included guard Joe Crawford, forward Sheray Thomas and center Lukasz Obrzut.

 

"We got off to a great start and played very energized," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

 

Kentucky had been week and inconsistent in the post without Morris so far this season, but Thomas and Obrzut combined for 15 points and 15 rebounds against Louisville.

 

"They were embarrassed by their play against Indiana," coach Tubby Smith said of his big men.

 

Between the NCAA case and the victory over Louisville, the week was filled with unusual developments for Kentucky. First the Morris family provided unspecified "new information" to the NCAA. Then Smith somehow managed to find a previously "lost" fax from Morris in which Morris said he intended to "test the waters." In the three-sentence fax Morris also said he did not plan to retain an agent "so as to maintain my collegiate eligibility."

 

The fax is dated May 9, 2005, but Kentucky insists Smith misplaced the fax and didn't find it until last week. Smith said he lost the fax in a folder he left on a flight he took sometime this spring or summer.

 

"If I had known how important it was, I certainly would have held onto it a little tighter," Smith said. "In my mind, I thought he was gone. ... Thank God I found it."

     

 

There's no word yet on whether or not Smith has found D.B. Cooper's missing money or the evidence buried by the Warren Commission, but Alabama coach Mark Gottfried is sure wondering how Morris regained his eligibility.

 

"It's great for the kid, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terribly confused," Gottfried said. "This completely changes the rules of this whole business of engaging in some type of relationship with an agent."

 

Morris wasn't selected in the draft, but neither were Florida's Matt Walsh or Anthony Roberson or Alabama's Kennedy Winston after entering the 2005 draft.

 

"My first question is, can Kennedy Winston come back right now?" Gottfried said. "Can we start doing some paperwork?"

 

Of course, it all comes down to the NCAA's interpretation of the rules regarding what constitutes a relationship with an agent and what does not. The Morris case appears to have blurred that line for other coaches and players.

 

"I think this completely changes the rules about this whole business of engaging in some kind of relationship with an agent," Gottfried said. "I think for coaches across the country, it's a tremendously confusing predicament for me to be in, to advise players in the future, to have any understanding of what the rules are."

 

In the meantime, Gottfried has other problems to address with a 5-3 team still attempting to replace Winston and Earnest Shelton while playing a tough non-conference schedule without sophomore point guard Ronald Steele at full health. Steele, who has been limited by a back injury, is the player the Tide can least afford to be without at this point. It took an 85-58 victory over Georgia State on Saturday to end a two-game losing streak.

 

"We're a young team," forward Chuck Davis said. "We've got a lot of new players we have to piece together and we're still not really sure what type of team we're going to be. We're trying to find ourselves. It's going to be a learning process."

 

 

Auburn lost yet another basketball player last week when backup point guard Michael Woodard decided he could get more playing time at another program.

 

Woodard, a junior college transfer who only joined the program this fall, averaged 4.2 points and 2.4 assists in 14.8 minutes per game but true freshman point guard Quantez Robertson continues to start and play 30 minutes per game this season.

 

"The timing of Michael leaving is unfortunate for our team," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said.

 

Unfortunate? How about typical? Since Lebo took over for Cliff Ellis in the spring of 2004, six players have left the program. Marco Killingsworth is now Indiana's star player after butting heads with Lebo immediately. Toney Douglas, last year's leading scorer, is now sitting out the season at Florida State. Others who have left include Brandon Robinson, Lewis Monroe, Dwayne Curtis and Ryan Daniel.

 

Since the only other true point guard, junior Brett Howell, is currently wearing a boot on his right foot and remains out definitely, Lebo will now lead two-guards Rasheem Barrett and Ronny LeMelle to spend some time at the point to spell Robertson.


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