Mark Richt didn't crack. Given the chance to discuss the potential return this week of All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree from a reported four-game suspension for positive drug tests, the Georgia coach maintained his policy of not publicly acknowledging the elephant in the room.
"We'll figure it out in pregame warmup, I guess," Richt told reporters. "Just like last week."
By that, Richt means we'll figure it out as the Bulldogs warm up for Tennessee Saturday at Sanford Stadium. He and his staff have been figuring it out since the spring, when a post-Spring Break drug test nabbed Rambo and Ogletree. If you'd like to argue the merits of Georgia's stricter-than-usual drug policy -- you might find it noble, a violation of players' civil liberties or somewhere in between, but it is certainly anti-competitive -- you're almost four months too late. We covered that in June. What's interesting now is how the Bulldogs handle the reintegration of two of their best defensive players after they missed a third of the season while healthy.
For the past month, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has had to prepare players for games while keeping his suspended stars engaged enough to keep from getting rusty. He had to give them valuable practice reps even though he knew Rambo and Ogletree couldn't play. "That's probably been the most difficult thing," Grantham said without actually acknowledging either suspension. "You've got to develop guys and have a vision as the season goes along for getting your best guys on the field. They've got to be ready to play. But at the same time, you've got to get some guys ready to play at this moment. We had some young guys play, so we did that. It's a balancing act between preparing guys to play in the game and do well in the game and keeping guys continuing to develop if they weren't playing for whatever reason."
But can Ogletree and Rambo return to the lineup without missing a beat? Cornerback Sanders Commings believes they can. Commings was suspended for Georgia's first two games following an offseason arrest on a domestic violence charge. He returned against Florida Atlantic Sept. 15 as a starter. "I felt like with spring ball and fall camp, I kind of picked up right where I left off last year," Commings said. "Our coaches did a good job of making sure I was prepared before I went in the game." That preparation required the coaches to work harder to keep the suspended players engaged. "They made sure we got reps in practice," Commings said. "They made sure we were focused and in the game plan just as if we were playing those weeks. By them doing that, you feel like you've been playing the whole time."
Now that Georgia has emerged from the suspensions unscathed and with a 2-0 record in SEC play, the experience may wind up being helpful as the season progresses. Amarlo Herrera, who has filled in for Ogletree at the "Mo" linebacker position, leads the Bulldogs in tackles (30) and has an interception, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. Former walk-on Connor Norman, meanwhile, has filled in admirably for Rambo. If nothing else, the Bulldogs have more depth. "The way it worked last season is we had five different guys at inside linebacker all playing," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I could see that happening again. It's basically just the next guy in. You can't win the whole season with 11 guys."
• Baylor at West Virginia: I thought entering a new conference meant sharing traditions with new rivals. Apparently, West Virginia's student government feels otherwise.
• Indiana at Northwestern: Rodger Sherman of Northwestern blog Sippin' on Purple explains quite well what's at stake when the Hoosiers meet the Wildcats at Ryan Field. Each program has 632 losses -- and 44 ties -- and only one of them can win Saturday. Though Indiana disagrees (by claiming a refutable 628 losses), and though, by winning percentage, Northwestern is already a less futile program, the loser of this game will walk off the field with the most all-time losses in FBS history.
• Penn State at Illinois: When the NCAA announced its sanctions against Penn State, Illinois coach Tim Beckman sent eight assistants to State College in a naked attempt to poach the best of the Nittany Lions. He got one player, offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki. Beckman's stunt also drew the ire of Penn State's players and coaches. It probably isn't possible given Penn State's personnel limitations, but the Nittany Lions might attempt to score 100 points to send a message. Louisiana Tech hung 52 on the Illini last week, so it's best not to overestimate the Illinois defense in this case.
• Missouri at Central Florida: This seems like an odd scheduling choice on the surface, but did you watch Missouri get crushed by South Carolina last week? After Saturday's game in Orlando, Gary Pinkel will stand in the bed of a pickup truck as it drives around the state of Florida. "Please, Floridians," Pinkel will beseech. "Come back with us to Missouri for all the Shakespeare's Pizza you can eat. Scientific studies have shown that four out of every 10 of you will grow into all-conference nose tackles. Pile in. We'll sort it all out when we get to Columbia. Jackets will be provided."
• Louisiana Tech at Virginia: Ohio probably has the best chance of any non-AQ program to go undefeated, but the Bobcats may lack the strength of schedule needed to get ranked high enough to bust the BCS. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, just hammered Illinois and should beat the Cavaliers. After that, they'll have a hurricane-delayed matchup with Texas A&M in Shreveport Oct. 13 to impress voters. With the possible exception of Utah State, Louisiana Tech should buzzsaw the rest of the WAC, so the Virginia and Texas A&M games will determine whether voters hold the Bulldogs in high enough esteem to play in a BCS bowl.
• Ohio State at Michigan State: Tony Gerdeman of theozone.net did a fascinating analysis this week of the past 10 Heisman-winning quarterbacks and their performances in their first game against a ranked opponent. Nine won. Florida State's Chris Weinke, the only one who lost, threw for 496 yards against an excellent Miami team. The point? We should know by about 7 p.m. Saturday whether Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is a legitimate Heisman candidate. The Spartans might have the best defense Miller faces all season, so if he plays well, he's probably going to dominate against everyone else.
• Texas at Oklahoma State: I criticized Arkansas coach John L. Smith for suggesting concussed quarterback Tyler Wilson might play against Alabama because doing so offered the Razorbacks no detectable competitive advantage. Their offense wasn't going to change whether Wilson or backup Brandon Allen started. That isn't the case with Oklahoma State. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy has suggested that starter Wes Lunt might play, though Oklahoman beat writer Gina Mizell provides some compelling reasons why Lunt probably won't play. But since backup J.W. Walsh is decidedly more of a dual threat than the big-armed Lunt, it was wise for Gundy to suggest that Lunt might play. Texas essentially had to prepare to face two different offenses, and that might give the Cowboys an edge in a matchup where they'll need all the help they can get.
• Oregon vs. Washington State in Seattle: The good ship Wazzu took on a lot of water last week when the Cougars blew a 17-point lead to lowly Colorado -- which had been crushed by Fresno State a week earlier. Now coach Mike Leach's crew must face the nation's most explosive offense. This one won't be pretty.
"He got all the reps. It was practice. He wasn't god-awful. He made some throws. He made some throws."
-- Kentucky coach Joker Phillips to the Louisville Courier-Journal on backup quarterback Jalen Whitlow. Kentucky starter Maxwell Smith has an injured AC joint that will flare up and could knock him out of a game if he takes a hard shot to his shoulder. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will be chasing Smith Saturday. Feel free to connect the dots. In other news, Big Blue Madness will take place Oct. 12 at Rupp Arena. We hear Kyle Wiltjer remains deadly from beyond the arc.
Remember this ad for a men's fragrance?
Now that LSU has its own signature scent for men*, it's time for an update. We'll find two beautiful people, and we'll channel the spirit of Herb Ritts. For dialogue, we'll replace whatever mumbo jumbo they said in the Calvin Klein ad with random selections from The Quotable Les Miles. I can see it now. The couple embraces on the beach. She leans close and whispers into his ear.
"Football is one where you have to take somebody on in a frontal position, it's certainly a point of leverage, that helmet."
He turns to her and whispers back.
"He did not necessarily have the chest and the ability to lead a program, so you know."
*LSU is not the only Football Olfactory out there. The same company, Masik, also makes colognes for several other schools, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Oklahoma. The jokes pretty much write themselves.
Wisconsin and Nebraska will don some hideous alternate uniforms Saturday when they meet in Lincoln, but they aren't the only programs that need to be hauled in by the fashion police. (No Oregon uniforms will be included, because every Oregon uniform is an alternate uniform.)
5. Does this jersey make me look fat?
If it's Northwestern's 2012 road jersey, yes. Horizontal stripes do linemen no favors anyway, but the purple-stripe-on-white-background is the most gut-accentuating detail on any college uniform currently in use. As a fat person, I avoid horizontal stripes like I avoid salads. (I'm not sure if this actually counts as an alternate, but it's ugly, so it works here.)
4. Michigan State's unis for the 2011 Michigan game.
This uniform was great, if the look you were going for was "Colorado State's uniforms got shipped to East Lansing by mistake."
3. Georgia's alternate unis for the loss to Boise State in the 2011 season opener in Atlanta.
If Georgia's regular uniforms never existed, these might look OK. But if you're going to replace one of the five coolest uniforms in sports -- Silver Britches forever! -- then you'd better bring your A game.
2. Florida's storm trooper look in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.
Obviously, Urban Meyer isn't a big Star Wars fan. Given their technological superiority, the Storm Troopers -- all clones of Boba Fett's dad, by the way -- were one of the worst tactical forces in the history of modern warfare. It was as if they cloned every inept guard from every James Bond movie. This is not a group to be emulated in any fashion. That, and the Empire was evil.
1. Maryland's fashionable prediction for the 2011 season.
The Maryland state flag is actually pretty cool. It does not, however, make an attractive football helmet or jersey. Come to think of it, the hideousness of this uniform pretty much sums up Randy Edsall's first season in College Park.
The Big 12 gets its first taste of West Bleepin' Virginia this week, which means the Big 12 gets its first taste of Tudor's Biscuit World. This mostly West Virginia-based chain specializes in biscuits the size of manhole covers. Clearly, they're doing the lord's work at Tudor's.