The speculation ended today as ESPN has reported John Chavis will be named LSU’s next defensive coordinator.

More on this in tomorrow’s update, plus a bowl-game preview.

The NFL playoffs are set and only 12 NFL teams remain.

In the NFC, the top of the pecking order shaped up how everyone expected it to.

The Giants are the No. 1 seed and have home field throughout the playoffs. We all knew that prior to the week.

With their win over the Saints, the Panthers are the No. 2 seed and will have a first-round bye.

The Vikings will be the No. 3 seed thanks to a win against the Giants and a Bears’ loss clinching them the NFC North Division.

And as we knew, the Cardinals are the NFC West Champs and will be the NFC’s No. 4 seed.

The Falcons were thrust into the 5-seed as soon as Carolina won.

Where the mess began was with the final spot.

Dallas, Tampa and Chicago ALL lost, which paved the way for the 9-6-1 Eagles to get in as the final wildcard.

I am a big Cowboys fan, so watching them get embarrassed obviously was not fun for me, but what was even more embarrassing than the Cowboys loss was Tampa freggin Bay.

How can a team with playoff aspirations lose . . . AT HOME . . . to the OAKLAND RAIDERS?

That’s pathetic.

It’s one thing to have a slow start in the first half like they did. But the Bucs recovered and even had a 10-point lead with less than 20 minutes to play and they STILL lost.

That’s pathetic and is embarrassing.

With Kiffin out as the DC and the team virtually falling apart at the seam once it was announced he was moving on, it could be bad news for the Bucs.

So here are the NFC matchups. My picks will come later in the week.

No. 6 Philly at No. 3 Minnesota

No. 5 Atlanta at No. 4 Arizona

____________________________

In the AFC, things went far more smoothly.

The No. 1 seed is the Titans and the No. 2 seed is the Steelers. We knew that much before the week started.

The No. 3 seed is the Miami Dolphins, who won the AFC East title after earning a road win with the Jets.

The No. 4 seed is the San Diego Chargers who steamrolled the Broncos to rally from a 4-8 record to win the AFC West over the Broncos who absolutely collapsed — proving what I’ve been saying for quite some time now — that Jay Cutler will never be a “winner” in any level of football he ever plays in. I know the Broncos defense is terrible, but for someone who thinks he’s “all that and a bag of chips,” with a “stronger arm than Elway,” you’d think he could have won one of the last 3-4 cracks he had at the division.

The No. 5 seed will be the Indianapolis Colts who  dominated the Titans in the season finale to win their  ninth-straight game.

And with their win over the Jags, the Ravens clinched the No. 6 seed.

Here are the AFC matchups.

No. 6 Baltimore at No. 3 Miami

No. 5 Indy at No. 4 San Diego

Should be some interesting matchups and it’ll be interesting to see it play out.

_________________________________

With the NFL season ending, for all but 12 teams, that means the season ended for the Saints, who were defeated 33-31 on a last-second field goal against the Panthers.

The Saints’ final game was a microcosm of their entire season — slow start, then comeback, then fall just short at the end.

The Panthers had a 20-point lead in the fourth-quarter, but gave up three touchdowns to the Saints to surrender the lead.

But Carolina drove back down the field and kicked a field goal on the final play to win.

Drew Brees threw for 386 passing yards and fell just short of Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season.

And frankly .  . . I’m glad.

Because (and you might grill me for this) he didn’t deserve it.

Brees had a very good season. But in reality a good 25% of his yards this season came in garbage time with the Saints deep in holes (that he put the team in).

Sure, the Saints defense did not help the Saints season, but Brees was a culprit in a lot of the team’s losses, too.

In the eight losses the Who-Dats had, Brees threw for 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, so you can make the case that a few more big plays and a few less mistakes from Brees, the Saints would have been pushing for that 11-5 season and not the 8-8 that they had.

I will give a blueprint later in the week for what I hope the Saints do this offseason.

But for now, have a great Monday!

Well, LSU finally did it.

After weeks and weeks of stuff their faces with cupcakes, the LSU men’s basketball team finally ate some of the main course yesterday and beat the Pac 10’s Washington State in the PMAC.

The game was a hard-fought, March-like battle between two defensive-minded teams, but at the end of the day, LSU just had a few too many playmakers and a little bit too much offense and was able to get the win.

The Tigers are now 10-1 on the early season and have to be getting close to contention for the Top 25.

How I feel about that is a little bittersweet, though. I think LSU is benefiting a little right now from flying under the radar and I am not sure how they would respond to having that infamous little number next to their name.

We should know more about how good this team truly is in the coming weeks with contests with Utah and then SEC play yet to begin.

My pick?

LSU will win 20-or-so games and will have a 9-7 or 10-6 mark in a very down SEC this season.

__________________________

One player who is not enjoying the success of the Tigers right now is swingman Terry Martin.

Martin has not dressed in either of the last 2 games and Tigers coach Trent Johnson has said publicly it’s because of an issue Martin has with the playing time he has received this season.

I have a message for you, Mr. Martin — you’re not very good and if you spent more time in the gym working on your one-dimensional game and less time running your mouth about how great you were in high school, you’d maybe be a better player.

I am not one to throw players under the bus, but in this case, let’s review the situation.

1. Terry transfers from Texas Tech, saying he didn’t get enough of an opportunity with the Red Raiders and cited disagreements with then-coach Bobby Knight.

I gave Martin a pass for this one at the time, because, Knight is a hot-head. He’s had run-ins with players before.

But then, it gets sticky.

2. Martin lost favor at the end of last season with Coach Brady and then Coach Pierre and had numerous spats with the two in practices and during games, etc… Martin shrugged it off and said the new coaching staff would be a new beginning for him with LSU.

3. This incident.

That’s three strikes. I understand some coaches ride players too hard. I understand sometimes the discipline level is too much. But I also was not born yesterday and I have a hard time that Knight, Brady, Pierre and now Johnson are all in the wrong and that Terry is right in this situation.

I hope he gets his mind right, because he can be a valuable player for LSU this season. But until he does, it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is only looking out for No. 1.

_____________________________

Independence Bowl:

vs.

The real losers in the SEC’s not getting enough bowl-eligible teams to fill out their full allotment of bowls are the people of Shreveport who are left having to see this matchup of average (at best) mid-major teams. The X-Factor in this game will be Northern Illinois’s running game, which will be able to control the clock and keep the ball away from Louisiana Tech just long enough to leave with a road win.

My Pick:

Northern Illinois 24
La Tech 13

___________________

That’s all for me. Have a great day!

With the bowl game less than a week away, a hungry bunch of Tigers arrived in Atlanta yesterday.

According to people close to the team, the Tigers appeared to be in good spirits fresh off Christmas and appear to be focused going into their final bowl preparations.

Focus is a key word, because LSU will need a lot of it if they want to have a chance in this game.

Assignment football is about discipline, concentration and execution — all three things LSU has not been the kings of this season.

The game is a difficult one to grade on paper, because you really can not predict a whole lot until you see how LSU responds to their option opponents.

On paper, LSU has more talent at every position, but if games were won and lost on paper, LSU wouldn’t have five losses this season.

It’s a lot deeper than that, as we all know, and it’ll be up to LSU to play a solid football game if they expect to compete against what is a very good Georgia Tech team.

Win, lose or draw, this game will be the final game in the careers of LSU’s seniors.

Guys like Tyson Jackson, Brett Helms, Marlon Favorite all have left huge imprints on the program and even though their senior season did not go nearly the way they planned, these guys had a big hand in a national title and a pair of SEC Western Division titles and two BCS bowl wins — It’s hard to find a lot of senior classes who have had that level of success, so it’ll be a sad day for LSU football to see them move on, whether the Tigers win or lose next week.

I get asked a lot by people who my favorite LSU player is. And that’s hard to narrow down, because I’ve gotten to know so many of them over the course of the years, but if I had to narrow it to one, it’d be Favorite.

Dude is an absolute riot behind the mic and he’s also a solid player who’s been overlooked his entire career.

While yes, he’s no superstar, he has bounced off blocks all his career to make guys like Glenn Dorsey stand out and he’s been one of the unsung heroes of the LSU team the past few seasons.

There are a good deal of games today, but I am not on my home computer, so I will try to post the previews tomorrow sometime.

Have a great weekend!

Thanks to the fabulous technology provided to me by wordpress and by the contributing members of this site, I am able to see the locations of my readers.

From compiling that data, I see the majority of my readers are in Louisiana. But I also get hits from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and across the Southeastern Conference as well as around the North and East and out to the West Coast from visiting fans and/or misplaced Tiger fans.

But whether you’re an LSU fan in California, an Alabama fan in Minnesota or an Auburn fan from Baton Rouge, I’d like to wish everyone who reads this site a fabulous holiday season!

Sports are a fabulous thing.

Each Saturday 90,000+ complete strangers gather in Tiger Stadium and for 3 hours, they put aside race, income, etc… and they all become one thing — Tigers — and that is what I love about sports.

So I wish the best to you all and your families in this holiday season. No matter who we cheer for, that’s something we can all agree on!

________________________________________

There’s not a ton of LSU news to discuss today as the Tigers are grinding out their gameplan for Georgia Tech inside the confines of the LSU Indoor Practice Facility.

I do not know the exact plans, but the team usually has a large meal there on Xmas Day and the players exchange gifts they may have bought for one another, etc… and I suspect the same to take place this season.

From what I’ve been told, for a team that was so down in the dumps following their loss to Arkansas, LSU is very high strung and is looking forward to winning what they’re considering a road game against Georgia Tech.

The key will obviously be how LSU handles that complex option attack of Georgia Tech’s, so time will tell how the Tigers will be able to handle it.

Reports out of practice are that the Tigers are doing a good job controlling the scout team’s version of the offense, but that is merely a walkthrough compared to what the Tigers will face in Atlanta.

To me, a big key actually will be how LSU handles the Jackets’ passing game. The Ramblin Wreck will take a good 6-7 shots down the field in a game. If LSU can make sure all of those plays go for nothing, or can possibly snag an interception or two, it will truly make the Jackets one-dimensional. But if not, the more balanced the Jackets become, the more difficult they will be to control.

_____________________________________

There’s one Xmas Eve bowl in the Islands. Here’s how I see it playing out.

With TCU’s win over Boise, I am now 4-2 in the bowl season.

HAWAII BOWL:

HAWAII vs. NOTRE DAME

Sorry for the lack of the fancy pants logos. My image uploading tool was out of commission tonight.

Notre Dame has been up and down all season. And the game is in Hawaii. But let’s not get crazy here, Notre Dame has more talent at every position and will win handily.

My Pick:

Notre Dame 35
Hawaii 13

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I will try to make a Christmas Day post, but if I am not able to, I really wish all of you a fabulous Xmas!

Enjoy your Wednesday and here’s to hoping you all got your shopping done by now. 🙂


Well, it wasn’t pretty.

But I’m sure most fans would rather win ugly than lose pretty and that’s exactly what the Tigers did last night in a 62-59 win against McNeese.

LSU went into the lockers down nearly double digits, but then pushed forward in the second half to secure the win.

Marcus Thornton led the Tigers with 15 points while Tasmin Mitchell, Bo Spencer and Chris Johnson added 12, 11 and 10 respectively.

LSU’s next game will be a post-holiday showdown with Washington State on ESPN 2.

So, I’ve been asked this a lot lately: “What do I think about the LSU MBB team?”

The answer? Not a whole lot, to be honest.

It’s not that I dislike Trent Johnson and I don’t believe the Tigers should have kept John Brady.

I just think it’s unrealistic to expect a team who was bad last year to just transform into a national powerhouse in one season just by changing the coach.

The players are exactly the same, minus their best player (Anthony Randolph) and LSU has only a handful of freshmen who play minutes.

So if the players are all the same off a team who was bad last year, why should we expect domination this year?

I think LSU will win their share, but they will also lose their share, too. So don’t let the good W/L record fool you.

Great teams don’t struggle to beat Nicholls and don’t fall behind 7-8 points to McNeese at home.

So there are still bumps in the road yet to be crossed. Let’s see how LSU reacts when those problems arise.

It might not be as rosy as you all think considering Terry Martin was suspended for last night’s game following Saturday’s loss because of a dispute over playing time.

So we’ll see how it plays out. But I just am not as optimistic as I used to be, because I see the team slowly slipping into some of their bad habits from last season.

__________________________________

One team I am optimistic about is the LSU baseball team, which is officially No. 1 again after being given the top spot in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Magazine poll.

I said following LSU’s loss to North Carolina in the CWS that I thought next year would be the year that LSU stormed the fields as champions in Omaha and while LSU lost a little more off last year’s team than I expected, I still stand by that prediction.

The loss that will hurt LSU the most is Jared Bradford, who gave LSU versatility in both the rotation and the bullpen. But I think Louis Coleman will give LSU the same stability and the stockpile of having 2-3 Top 10 recruiting classes in a row will be enough to do the rest.

It will be even more fun that LSU will be able to do all of these things in their beautiful new stadium.

There will be nothing like seeing the new stadium full in its first season.

__________________________________

In LSU football news, there is some good news to report — LSU’s blue chip recruit Russell Shepard is officially a Tiger after signing his National Letter of Intent this weekend.

There was never any doubt about Shepard being a Tiger as he’s been actively recruiting for LSU the entire process, but it still should make everyone sleep a little better knowing he is Iron-Clad in the LSU camp.

3-star QB Chris Garrett has also signed his letter of intent and will also be on campus for the start of the spring semester.

So, LSU will have Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson, Andrew Hatch, Shepard and Garrett all fiercely competing for slots on the depth chart in what will be the most important spring for LSU in years.

I think it’s safe to say whoever if the odd man out between Lee, Jefferson and Hatch will most likely be on the way out.

But either way, depth at the QB position should not be a problem at all for LSU as the Tigers seem to be loaded there, should one guy emerge from the pack.

__________________________________

There’s a bowl game tonight that figures to be a very good one — probably the first big-time heavyweight matchup of the bowl season.

Here’s my take on the game. 🙂

I am 3-2 on the bowl season.

Poinsettia Bowl:

vs.

This game is one of the most intriguing matchups of the entire bowl season. Boise comes into the game as the odd team left out of the BCS with an unbeaten 12-0 record. But TCU comes into the game with one of the best defenses you’ll ever see in college football. This one will be a very good one to kick off the bowl season.

My Pick:

TCU 20
Boise 16

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Enjoy your day!

Guys and gals,

The NFL playoff picture went from a mess to just merely partly cloudy after another day of wild football and now pretty much every team with playoff aspirations knows what they must do in Week 17 to get in.

In the NFC, almost everything is set.

The Giants are the 1-seed after giving the Panthers a dose of their own medicine by running up and down their defense to an overtime win.

With that loss, a lot of things are unclear beyond that.

The Panthers hold the inside track to be the No. 2 seed and it will be either them or the Falcons who will hold that slot.

With a win in Week 17 OR a Falcons loss, the Panthers will be the No. 2 seed.

Whoever out of those two teams that is NOT the NFC South Champion will be the No. 5 seed and will be the highest seeded wildcard team.

The No. 3 seed will likely be the winner of the NFC North, which Minnesota has a one-game lead over Chicago in. For the Bears to have a chance, they must win tonight, next Sunday and hope for a Vikings loss next weekend against the Giants, which is unlikely considering the Giants will be resting their starters.

If the NFC North Champion is indeed the 3-seed, then the Arizona Cardinals will be the No. 4 seed. The Cardinals have clinched their division title and have imploded since and will in this man’s eyes be an easy one-and-done come postseason.

The race for the 6th spot is a lot more difficult.

The Cowboys have the easiest path. If they beat the Eagles Sunday, they’re in. If they don’t and Tampa wins, Tampa is in. If Dallas and Tampa lose, but Chicago wins, they get the final spot. And if all three of those teams lose, Philadelphia gets in.

But for now, it’s:

1. Giants

2. Panthers

3. Vikings

4. Cardinals

5. Falcons

6. Cowboys

TEAMS IN THE HUNT:

Tampa, Chicago and Philly

The AFC is so much simpler.

The Titans are the No. 1 seed after beating the Steelers in a winner-take-all game.

With their loss, the Steelers are the 2-seed.

The 4-seed will be the winner of Sunday’s game between the Chargers and the Broncos, who will play a winner-take-all game for the AFC West title with the loser of that game being eliminated.

The 5-seed is the Colts who will be the highest Wildcard.

The 3 and 6 seeds (who will coincidentally play one another in round 1) is where it becomes a mess.

The 3 seed will be the winner of the AFC East.

Three teams are still alive for that honor with Miami and New England holding 10-5 records and the Jets having a 9-6 mark. If the Dolphins win, they own the Division title. But if both the Dolphins and Pats lose, the Jets would win the division.

For the final wildcard spot, the Ravens control their own fate and would be in the playoffs with a win. If they do not win, then the highest placed non-division winner in the AFC East would be the 6-seed.

Confusing enough?

🙂

It’s really not as bad as it looks. Just go to one of the pros if you have more questions. They can probably explain it better than I can. 🙂

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The LSU men’s basketball team took a little hit in the armor yesterday afternoon when they were defeated by Texas A&M in the Toyota Center.

The troubling thing is not that LSU lost. Neither you nor I expected the undefeated season. But it’s that they lost to a team who just outworked them. Texas A&M was more aggressive and took the ball right at LSU and got into the paint and drew free throws, while LSU was busy shooting contested jumpers.

With all those things being said, the Tigers still only lost by 11 in a virtual road game, so all is not lost.

I think everyone knew this season would be a work in progress and as you all know, it matters not how good you are not — but rather it’s how good you are 10 weeks from now that is most important, so let’s judge Trent Johnson’s first season by how the team is playing then and not now.

_______________________________

The Peach Bowl (sorry, I’m old school) is about a week and a half away and LSU seems to be in pretty good health.

A lot has been made about the NFL Draft around the country and who will or won’t be going pro and a few LSU players filed papers with the NFL Advisory Committee last week.

Let me clear up a few things that are misunderstood a lot by fans.

Hundreds upon  hundreds of players do this each year and then return to school.

This is just a common-place procedure that is done to prevent kids from leaving early and damaging their careers.

If the NBA had a similar process, maybe less kids who leave after their freshmen year of college would be life-long bench warmers.

So with that being said, here are the odds I think the three LSU paper champions will leave.

Brandon LaFell – LaFell has the most difficult decision of all the three LSU players with decisions to make. On one hand, LaFell conquered his only weakness — his hands — and emerged as LSU’s best receiver in a draft class that is very thin at receiver. On the other hand, how much better could LaFell’s numbers be with a more steady QB behind center?

CHANCES HE STAYS: 50%

Charles Scott – Scott had a very fine beginning to his season and had some people saying the magic “H” word through 3-4 games. But let’s be real: Keiland Williams was LSU’s best halfback in the second half of 2008. Scott has to prove he can do it with the bulls-eye on him and prove he can do it for an entire season.

CHANCES HE STAYS: 85%

Ciron Black – Black has the skill set to make a roster now, no doubt. But he also has plenty of things he could be better at — like technique and footwork on his run-blocking. Where would you rather work on those minor things? In college where you can do so and still dominate? Or in the NFL, where you can do so, while getting pushed around? Black will most likely make the “smart” decision.

CHANCES HE STAYS: 75%

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That’s all for me. Enjoy your week!

So, I went 3-1 on the first day of Bowl Mania.

And I was pretty dead-on with my analysis of all of the games except the one I got wrong (Fresno vs. Colorado State).

There is no news on the LSU front, so I will keep this update short and will just give you a brief preview of tomorrow’s New Orleans Bowl between Troy and Southern Miss, so here goes.

NEW ORLEANS BOWL

VS.

The Conference USA has historically dominated the relatively young New Orleans Bowl, but this year, the Sun Belt team comes in as the heavy favorite. LSU fans know all too well just how good Troy’s attacking, short passing game can be and with a month 15 days to sharpen their routes and fresh Superdome turf to run on, I think Troy will dominate Southern Miss.

My Pick:

Troy 35
S. Miss 21

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Enjoy your Sunday full of NFL action and cap it off with a bowl game. 🙂

No late-night vendez-vous last night for me.

There was also no dancing the night away in a local bar last night for this college kid.

And most importantly, no waking up at 1:40 p.m. because of a Friday night hangover.

Why?

Because the college bowl season is upon us and it’s kicking off bright and early at 10:00 a.m. Louisiana time with a matchup between Navy and Wake Forest.

This is what football is about. It’s not about overpaid millionaire’s fighting to earn their next big payday, while going at 50% effort so they can protect their “commercial pretty” faces. It’s about seniors playing their final games of their lives. It’s about bands playing alma-maters for screaming fans and it’s about “Go” spelled with an “Eaux” or an “I” dotted by a band member.

If you didn’t figure it out on your own yet, I love college football postseason.

It has it’s flaws and it’s not perfect, but more often than not, whether we want to admit it or not, the BCS does pick the 2 best teams in the country, and although I think it’s shamelessly unfair Texas got left out this season, I do think that if you hide everything in the standings and are just picking two football teams, that you’d be hard-pressed to find two better than Florida and Oklahoma.

You can debate how they got there, but it’s hard to debate the talent that will be on both of those sidelines when the teams kickoff for the BCS National Title.

The 2008-09 bowl slate is choked with four games tomorrow — two of which are very intriguing matchups (at least to me).

So with that being said, here are my previews for each of the four games that are going to take place today.

______________________________________

EagleBank Bowl:

VS.

This is one of a handful of matchups this bowl season that pits teams who met in the regular season. In the initial meeting between these two teams, the Midshipmen scored a 24-17 road win. But in that game, Demon Deacon quarterback Riley Skinner was picked off four times. I can’t see that happening this time around as I think the Deacons will figure out the option the second time around and land the win.

My Pick:

Wake 31
Navy 17

____________________________________________

NEW MEXICO BOWL:

VS.

This is the battle of the schizophrenic teams. On any given day, you can swear Fresno is ready to take on the nation’s elites. But on any given day, they also can be beaten by 50 points, like what happened their last time out against Boise. It’s been the same for Colorado State this year — Constant ups and downs. So in a game like this, I trust veteran Bulldogs coach Pat Hill more than Colorado State’s first year coach Steve Fairchild.

My Pick:

Fresno State 34
Colorado State 17

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ST PETERSBURG BOWL:

VS.

This is one of the most lopsided matchups of the entire bowl season. South Florida is much more talented at virtually every position than Memphis and is playing a virtual home game. If the Bulls come ready to play, this will be an easy win.

My Pick:

South Florida 38
Memphis 14

_________________________________________________

LAS VEGAS BOWL:

VS.
BYU was the sexy pick for everyone to represent the small schools in the BCS, but after beatings from TCU and the eventual BCS representative Utah, the Cougars were left in the dust and are left taking on a stout Arizona team. Despite BYU’s 2-0 record against the Pac 10 this season, the Wildcats will be a far more difficult challenge for the Cougars, thanks in part to the Arizona defense, which has allowed just 54 points combined in three matchups against ranked opponents this season (Oregon State, USC and Cal).

My Pick:

Arizona 24
BYU 17

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There’s nothing on the LSU front today, so that’ll be all for me. I suspect the closer we get to the bowl, the less and less we’ll hear as Miles will want to protect his players’ focus.

So with that being said, enjoy the games and your weekend!

Change of plans, guys and gals.

I had planned to go through another DC candidate and then break down the backs in GT’s option offense.

But with some breaking news coming out of Baton Rouge tonight, plans have changed.

The news is that LSU co-defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto has reportedly accepted the head coaching position at Northwestern State University, which thus ends all speculation — LSU’s co-coordinator debacle IS OVER!

With Peveto’s departure, LSU is losing a solid assistant coach who was well respected by his players and also one of the staff’s primary recruiters.

But obviously his departure also means the world of possibilities regarding the DC situation are now endless.

The low-ball estimate is that Doug Mallory just takes the job by his lonesome with Peveto’s absence.

I do not think that will happen and I put the chances of it at less than 5 percent, but that is the low-ball scenario.

I think what is more likely is Mallory would accept his old position as defensive backs coach and groom the Tigers’ up and coming DB’s under a new DC.

But we’ll see how it plays out.

Just know, Tiger fans that change is indeed in the air!

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Last night, the Hornets rallied from a 2nd half deficit in the New Orleans Arena and beat the Spurs — the same team who eliminated the Bees from the playoffs just last season.

This list is inspired by a similar list created by my friends at TigerForums, but through a quarter of the season, here are my Top 10, MVP, DPOY, coach of the year and ROY Awards.

Top 10:

1. Celtics – This team has a very real shot at 70 wins if they choose to pursue it. My guess is they ease into the playoffs at a 66-win clip.

2. Cavs – I have never been the world’s biggest LeBron James supporter. But King James is making an impact on offense AND on defense this year and he’s sparked the Cavs from a pretty good team to a borderline great team.

3. Lakers – The Lakers are still learning how to play with their new rotation that sees Bynum and Gasol playing side-by-side with Odom playing off the bench. And while the wins have piled up, the defense just isn’t there yet, so the Lakers are behind the Big 2 for now.

4. Rockets – The Rockets are notorious slow starters to the season and were merely 12-11 at one point last season. But the Rockets are 16-9 this season, despite rarely having McGrady, Yao, Battier and Artest all on the floor together. When these guys get it together, the Western Conference will have a clear cut 2nd team.

5. Magic – The Magic are coming to their own recently playing (and winning) without Dwight Howard. Games like that build confidence in everyone else — which is much needed come playoff time.

6. Hornets – The Hornets have had a slower start than some expected. But the Bees have the “it” factor no one else has with the “it” being that they will have the best player on the floor in virtually any game they play.

7. Denver – The Billups trade has “paid off”. I put the “paid off” in quotes, because all they’ve done is beatup on cupcake teams that I think they’d have beaten even with Iverson on the roster. The real challenge comes now when they take on some of the West’s best.

8. Utah – Outside of losing Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and AK47 to injuries at various points in the season, it’s business as usual in Utah.

9. Pistons – The Iverson trade hasn’t paid off in the standings, but frankly, who cares? In the East, all you have to do is get into the playoffs and you have a shot.

10. Spurs – Slow start aside, the Spurs have their Big 3 back and are playing at their usual high-clip. They’ll be a player again.

Awards:

Quarter-season MVP: LeBron James – King James is rocking the NBA right now. There is no one better in the standings or on the stat sheet. Keep praying, New York.

DPOY – LeBron James – Why the Cavs have transformed from a good to a great team is a commitment to defense that has been started by James. Not only does he score 30 a night. He also singles out the opponent’s best player and takes them totally out of the game. That’s a rare player.

Coach of the Year – Jerry Sloan – I know you can probably give it to Sloan damn near every year, but the Jazz have no business fielding a 16-11 record right now with 3 of their best players having missed significant time — sometimes all at the same time.

Rookie of the Year – OJ Mayo – All due respect to Derrick Rose, whom I bashed all summer, but Mayo is the league’s best rookie. Playing in a dump like Memphis, Mayo has put up lights out numbers and is making everyone wonder why in God’s name, the T-Wolves traded him for Kevin Love.

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That’s it for me.

Enjoy your weekend (Your final weekend of Xmas shopping)