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Masters field starting to rise with new winners
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Masters field starting to rise with new winners

Masters field starting to rise with new winners
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File
FILE - In this July 16, 2019, file photo, Phil Mickelson walks on the 18th green during a practice round ahead of the start of the British Open golf championships at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Mickelson has decided to play the Saudi International next year, missing the Phoenix Open for the first time in 29 years. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)

Masters field starting to rise with new winners

Seven tournaments from the six largest tours over the next three weeks could shape the field for the Masters, and perhaps pave the way for the largest gathering at Augusta National in more than 50 years.

Augusta National invites the top 50 from the final world ranking of the year, and then the top 50 one week before the Masters.

Among those on the bubble are former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, hanging on at No. 48, and Presidents Cup player Cameron Smith at No. 52. The Australian gets two more tries to get into the top 50.

The Masters already has 77 players who have qualified and are expected to play. From this week’s world ranking, 12 players in the top 50 are not yet eligible, meaning the size of the field could swell to 89 players going into the new year. Still to come are 12 events on the PGA Tour that offer Masters invitations to the winner, along with the top 50 from the April 5 world ranking and the Latin American Amateur champion.

Tiger Woods won against a field of 87 players this year for his fifth green jacket.

The Masters is all about providing the best experience for the players, one reason it has the smallest field of the four majors. It has not had more than 100 players since 103 played in 1966.

Why the increase?

Some of it has to do with the increased fall schedule on the PGA Tour.

A year ago, seven tournaments offered full FedEx Cup points, three of them limited fields in Asia. Only two of those seven winners were outside the top 50 in the world — Kevin Tway at the Safeway Open and Charles Howell III at the RSM Classic.

This year, the PGA Tour had 10 tournaments in the fall that offered a Masters invitation. Six of the winners were outside the top 50. Five of them were not among the top 150 in the world.

The tour had two new tournaments in the summer (between the last two majors), won by Nate Lashley in Detroit and Matthew Wolff in Minnesota. With one fewer event in the FedEx Cup postseason, 11 players who reached the Tour Championship — which comes with a Masters invitation — did not win. Five of them would have made the Masters field through other categories.

The Masters had a strong emphasis on amateurs in 1966, awarding invitations to the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champions from the previous 10 years, the top eight and ties from the last U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Walker Cup team. That meant 26 amateurs were in the field.

Now there are six.

MICKELSON IN A DIFFERENT DESERT

Phil Mickelson has reached a stage in his career when he does what he wants with less regard to how it's perceived.

One year after he skipped his hometown event at Torrey Pines after 28 consecutive years, Mickelson has signed up to play the Saudi International in late January. That means he will miss the Phoenix Open after 29 straight years, a tournament he won three times in a city where he graduated college at Arizona State.

Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International last year, was among several players criticized for supporting a European Tour event in a country under heavy scrutiny for its human rights records, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mickelson will be joining Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed, along with European stars Henrik Stenson, Shane Lowry and Sergio Garcia.

"I watched Dustin win the title last year and thought the course looked like an interesting challenge," Mickelson said in a statement. "Having so many talented players on show also made it look like a much more established tournament than one in its inaugural year."

He then mentioned the opportunity to "grow the game," a popular phrase for new markets.

More telling was an exchange on Twitter when a follower criticized him by saying he was “better than taking the money grab from a corrupt regime.”

“After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I’m excited to go play and see a place in the world I’ve never been. I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You’ll be ok. I’m excited to experience this for the first time,” Mickelson replied.

Mickelson played in Abu Dhabi in 2011 and 2014, both times returning home to play Torrey and Phoenix the following weeks.

THOMAS SCARE

Justin Thomas playing a practice round in the warmth of the Bahamas revealed a scare — illustrated by a 3-inch scar just below the back of his knee — after the Tour Championship.

A visit to his dermatologist revealed melanoma that was removed.

“He said I was about eight months away from being one of his patients,” Thomas said.

Thomas, who already makes regular visits to the dermatologist, says he was told to get checked once every three months for the next year.

EYE ON GOLF

Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman and Michelle Wie are among additions to the CBS Sports golf team.

The network announced several moves Tuesday as it prepares for a season that starts at Torrey Pines the third week in January.

Frank Nobilo is taking an expanded role to become a full analyst for CBS, joining Dottie Pepper, Ian Baker-Finch, Davis Love III and Mark Immelman, who also is increasing his role at the network. Pepper, who joined CBS in 2015, has been elevated to the lead on-course reporter.

Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo return in the tower, with Andrew Catalon returning as host of PGA Tour events that Nantz doesn’t work, along with other duties. Amanda Balionis returns in her role doing interviews.

The network recently decided not to renew the contracts of Peter Kostis and Gary McCord.

For Wie, it’s another indication that her injury-plagued career on the LPGA Tour is winding down. Wie, who married Golden State Warriors executive Jonnie West this year, will contribute to cable and digital platforms for CBS, including at the Masters. Wie made her television debut as a studio analyst during the Solheim Cup in September.

DIVOTS

Jon Rahm has been voted European Tour golfer of the year by a panel of golf media. Rahm won three times on the European Tour, including the DP World Tour Championship to win the Race to Dubai and become the first Spaniard since Seve Ballesteros to end the year as Europe Tour’s top play. ... Graeme McDowell will be host of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open the next two years, starting at Mount Juliet in May. McDowell says he hopes the 2021 event can move to Northern Ireland. Mount Juliet was site of a World Golf Championship in 2002 and 2004. ... Players at the Hero World Challenge are donating $500 for every birdie, $1,000 for every eagle and $2,500 for a hole-in-one to the ONE Bahamas Fund to help with rebuilding from Hurricane Dorian. Net proceeds from the event are going to the Bahamas Fund and the TGR Foundation.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Ariya Jutanugarn, who began the year at No. 1 in the world, finished the LPGA season outside the top 10.

FINAL WORD

“I know that he does not want to go down there and not come back without the cup.” — Rickie Fowler on Tiger Woods as U.S. captain of the Presidents Cup.

Read More

Local News

  • According to the Athens-Clarke County jail logs, Georgia running back James Cook was arrested on two misdemeanor charges on Saturday morning. Cook was arrested on one count of driving with an open container of alcoholic beverage in the passenger area and one count of having an invalid drivers license. Bond for each misdemeanor was $1,000. He was booked at 1:45 a.m. on Saturday and released on bond at 2:39 a.m. *More details will be added to this story The post Georgia football running back James Cook arrested appeared first on DawgNation.
  • City Hall says the new voting machines we will use in elections starting next year will be on display at various locations around Athens starting next week and continuing through February. The new machines, which feature touch screens and paper back-ups, can be inspected starting next Thursday at the Georgia Square Mall on Atlanta Highway in Athens.  From the Athens-Clarke Co government website… As of the March 2020 Presidential Preference Primary election, Athens-Clarke County voters will begin using new voting equipment for the first time in nearly 20 years. The new system is paper based, while still using secure technology for voter accuracy. The new system is managed by the Georgia Secretary of State's office for use throughout Georgia and completely replaces the previous voting system. 'I'm excited to use the new system and for Athens-Clarke County voters to try it out for themselves,' says Charlotte Sosebee, Athens-Clarke County Director of Elections and Voter Registration. 'The new voting system is easy to use, provides opportunities for voters to review their votes on a screen and on paper before casting their ballot, and also provides our office with multiple ways to review election results if necessary.' When voting with the new system, a voter will check in using a photo ID and receive a voter access card, which does not contain any information about the voter. Using touchscreen ballot marking devices, a voter will make their selections, review their selections onscreen, print out a paper ballot, review their selections in-hand, and scan their paper ballot into an optical scanner themselves when ready.  This provides an opportunity for voters to review their ballot both onscreen and in-hand. Voters will be alerted onscreen if they leave a section blank, don't cast a vote, or do not make all available selections, but will not be required to cast a vote in any race or to make all available selections. After scanning a ballot, the ballot is deposited into a secure container. Voters will not take the ballot with them. The new system not only creates digital images of all ballots, but also securely keeps the printed versions for the Board of Elections as a paper trail for recounts or audits, if needed. The Board of Elections has a test unit available for the public to try out until early February. The unit can be tested at the Board of Elections Office, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. The unit has a series of questions about Georgia to allow voters to try out different kinds of votes, such as those that might require multiple selections in a single election. Staff will also have a test unit at several public events and locations scheduled during December and January. Locations currently confirmed are: , Dec. 19 – 4:00-6:00 p.m. – Georgia Square Mall at the Center Court, 3700 Atlanta Highway , Dec. 21 – 1:00-3:00 p.m. – Georgia Square Mall at the Center Court, 3700 Atlanta Highway , Jan. 9 – 8:45 a.m. - Noon – Athens-Clarke County Regional Library, 2025 Baxter Street , Jan. 14 – Noon-2:00 p.m. – Iris Place in the Atrium, 755 Epps Bridge Parkway , Jan. 17 – 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. – Athens Community Career Academy in the Common Area, 440 Dearing Extension , Jan. 19 – Noon until parishioners leave – Ebenezer Baptist West, 205 N. Chase Street, in the Vestibule , Jan. 21 – 8:00 a.m. - Noon – Miriam Moore Community Center, 410 McKinley Drive, Suite 101 , Feb. 5 – 10:00 a.m. - Noon – Saint Mary’s Hospital, 1230 Baxter Street, in the Atrium/Lobby Additional locations and dates may be added and will be listed at accgov.com/elections. The Georgia Secretary of State has also launched the Secure The Vote website at www.securevotega.com that contains information about how to vote using the new equipment, the legislative process of purchasing the equipment from Dominion, frequently asked questions, online voter registration, newspaper articles about counties that took part in the pilot project, and additional information about the new equipment. For more information about the local demonstration units, visit accgov.com/elections or contact the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections at 706-613-3150.
  • Athens Tech says the front entrance to the college will be closed in both directions for the next two weeks. Crews are working on a new visitors center at Athens Technical College.    From Athens Technical College… Pardon our progress while we grow for you with the addition of a NEW visitors center: Beginning this evening, on our Athens Campus, the Front Entrance will be closed in both directions.  All traffic will need to enter and exit the campus off Old Hull Road.  The main entrance is expected to be open in January.
  • The University of Georgia gymnastics team is ranked eighth in the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association’s preseason poll.    The GymDogs finished the season in the same spot after advancing to the NCAA National Championships with a decade-best score of 198.050 in the Athens Regional.    All eight teams in the Southeastern Conference were ranked in the top 20. Reigning SEC Champion LSU leads the way at No. 2, followed by Florida at No. 3. After the No. 8 GymDogs, Alabama checks in at No. 10 with Kentucky (No. 12), Auburn (No. 13), and Missouri (No. 16) following. Arkansas rounds out the conference’s presence in the poll at No. 20.    During the regular season Georgia will face five additional teams currently ranked in the Top 36, including reigning national championship and top ranked Oklahoma, Denver (No. 6), Oregon State (No. 11), Iowa State (No. 20), and Iowa (No. 29).    GymDogs fans have the opportunity to see the team before the official start to the season in the annual 'First Look', which is scheduled for Tuesday, December 17 at 6:30 in Stegeman Coliseum.  Georgia opens the season on January 3 at The Critique Classic Invitational in Kissimmee, Florida, against Bridgeport, Iowa, and Oregon State, before welcoming the LSU Tigers to Athens on January 10. 

Bulldog News

  • Dawgs fans weren't in a very good mood after another loss in the SEC Championship Game, this time a blowout, and a season that saw continued offensive struggles. As reflected heavily in the Junkyard Mail, fan talk this week was full of discussion over what Kirby Smart needs to do about the offense (and whether he'll do it), and what happened to Jake Fromm in his junior season. Plus, of course, the continuing debate involving Fromm beating out Justin Fields, who left UGA to become a Heisman Trophy finalist at Ohio State. A fan going by Lorenzo Dawgriquez noted that the response to Fields 'tearing it up' at Ohio State frequently is, 'But that is an easy, QB-friendly system.' Lorenzo concluded: 'Then let us get a QB-friendly system.' Brian Kim is tired of Smart's 'pro-style' offense. ' It seems [Mark] Richt hasn't left the building yet. We never had an interest in signing Georgia-grown Cam Newton or Deshaun Watson, and they brought championships to Auburn and Clemson. Now, we have to watch Justin Fields to lead OSU to a championship. Sad.' Jason Watson thinks Georgia's recruiting might be affected by its offensive struggles. 'If I were a wide receiver or receiving tight end, why would I want to come to UGA?' Noted a fan called PacBear: ' David Pollack said it before the game, that LSU isn't running something new, it is the same offense the Big 12 has been doing for years, only with better players in all the positions. I wonder why Smart recruited Justin Fields, a modern spread offense quarterback, and tried to make him fit into an antiquated pro-style offense?Talk about a round peg and a square hole! We saw what Fields can do when placed in the right scheme. The major question is, can and will Smart adjust to the new reality? Nick Saban has moved on and so has Ed Orgeron.Will Smart and Georgia?' Ned Newell isn't optimistic about Smart changing the offense: 'Rather, he will just double down on his dated offensive philosophies with a Kirby-against-the-world mentality.' Quite a few national football writers also believe Smart needs to bring his team's attack into the 21st century, as Saban and Orgeron have done, opening up their offenses with more spread and run-pass-option elements. And, it's noteworthy that the four teams that made the College Football Playoff this year all run wide-open offenses. But, many have taken Smart's comments after the SEC Championship Game as an indication that he doesn't see anything wrong with his current approach. After all, the coach pointed out, Georgia threw 42 times against LSU. However, only going pass-heavy when you don't have any choice feels more like desperation than diversification. Considering he's modeled himself on Saban, Smart clinging to the pro-style offense puzzles me. I'm hoping it's not sheer stubbornness, and that his desire to win will trump his desire to wear down opponents with an up-the-middle running game that opponents jammed this season by loading the box, since they weren't afraid of the Dawgs' passing attack. As Smart himself noted, he had not done a good job of recruiting at wide receiver, which meant that not much experienced talent was left after the exodus of Georgia's top receivers following last season. Georgia only returned 24 percent of its receiving yards from 2018. A piece written by Andy Staples, late of Sports Illustrated and now with the Athletic, was widely shared among Dawgs fans this week. In concluding the Dawgs' offense needs to change, Staples said: ' Georgia needs to change tempo more often. It needs to get the ball in the hands of its best athletes in space. If there's a logjam at tailback and the receiving corps is thin, take the best catching tailbacks and have them run routes. Move them around the formation and drive defenses crazy by creating mismatches. Use the tight ends.' I'm sure Smart knows all of that. Only time will tell if he's willing to make the changes to make it happen. I think he will, especially if he senses Georgia's reputation for a stodgy offense is affecting recruiting. Another popular topic in this week's Junkyard Mail was summed up by Al in North Carolina, who asked: 'What the heck happened to Jake Fromm this year? I know he lost most of his receivers after last season, and injuries plagued the wideouts this year. But, like you said in your blog after the LSU game, that doesn't explain him missing wide-open receivers. Any clue as to what's going on?' At his press conference after the loss to LSU, Smart pointed to the loss of talent at wide receiver. 'The first two years, Jake's numbers were better,' the coach said, when there were four receivers on Georgia's sideline 'that are playing in the NFL. So, right now, I don't know if we have four wide receivers that are going to be playing in the NFL at this time next year. And the loss of those wideouts, the vertical threat, has probably hurt our team.' In his Athletic piece, Staples noted that Fromm's numbers this year were comparable to (and a bit better than) Joe Burrow's were for LSU last year, before Orgeron changed offensive approaches. Said Staples: ' Fromm could be next year's Burrow if given the right toolbox.' Smart and Staples are right that Fromm has proved he can get the job done when he has good receivers. Remember when he was even in the peripheral Heisman conversation? But, there was more to it than that this year. Reader Gary Cody and several others suggested that, perhaps Fromm was less sharp this season because he ' did not have a Fields or [Jacob] Eason pushing him in practice for playing time, meaning he didn't have to work as hard and be as sharp in practice and that showed on the field. Smart says iron sharpens iron, but Fromm has no iron to sharpen against. ' It is possible that not having to look over his shoulder this year did take a bit of edge off Fromm's development, but I also think the fact that Georgia didn't have a dedicated quarterbacks coach this year was a factor. It showed in Fromm's eroding fundamentals. As several former players turned analysts pointed out during the season, his footwork, in particular, was not good. Maybe that was a result of poor coaching. Speaking of which, that brings up the Fromm-Fields debate. Reader Kevin Kelley lamented, ' the fact that Georgia let Eason and Fields go for him just floors me.' And Larry Pope asked: ' Jake vs. Justin do you have any thoughts on how Kirby handled 2 QBs last year, and whether he may have chosen the wrong one considering their respective play this year? I know Justin was not used enough and used poorly when he was called, but, long-term, was he the better choice?' I think Fields was a bad fit for UGA to begin with, unless they planned on opening up the offense a la Ohio State. In the pro-style, he definitely was not as good as Fromm, so there was no talk last year that Georgia was playing the wrong quarterback. Whenever Fields took the field, the drop-off from Fromm was evident to all. As PacBear put it, Georgia's coaching staff followed a round-peg-in-a-square -hole approach with Fields, and I think it was doomed from the start, especially since Georgia didn't make any effort to customize a package of plays for Fields. That, and the regression of Fromm's fundamentals this year, indicate Smart's coaching staff has a problem coaching/developing QBs. A couple of other topics came up in this week's Junkyard Mail. Preston Hayes touched on the rather laissez faire officiating in the SEC Championship Game. 'I don't ever remember watching a game with a scrambling QB without a single holding call,' he said. 'I would have said it wasn't possible, but they missed every one of them, including the one clearly seen on the big screen where the O lineman was hanging on 99's jersey while Burrow continued to search for a receiver unmolested.' Preston has a point, but, to be fair, the officials also allowed cornerbacks on both teams to get very handsy in their coverage. Frankly, given a choice between a game that's marred by frequent flags and one in which they allow them to 'just play,' I prefer the latter. And, switching sports, James Parry already is writing off this year's Georgia basketball team, despite the fact that new star Anthony 'Antman' Edwards is living up to his billing. Said Parry: 'OK, we have Antman.' Big deal. Our b-ball team is still getting blown out on a regular basis. My analysis of Tom Crean as an overrated coach is coming true. I'm sad to say. I said it last year, and I'll say it this year. The guy is a rah, rah!!' guy. All hype. No results.' I think it's a bit early in the season to write the basketball Dawgs off, especially as they haven't even begun conference play yet. But I will concede that they haven't looked good whenever the level of opponent rises, and the fact that it took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Edwards to dispatch Division II Chaminade in the Maui Invitational was alarming. Still, Edwards' performance in the loss to Michigan State, bringing Georgia back from a 28-point deficit as he hit seven 3-pointers and scored 33 of his 37 points in the second half, was encouraging. The Spartans still pulled out a win, but, no doubt about it, Antman is the real thing. As for Crean, the jury is still out. Let's let them get into conference play before we dismiss his coaching ability. One more thing: Congratulations to fan favorite Rodrigo Blankenship, winner ofthe2019 Lou Groza Award, given to nation's top placekicker. He didn't have a great game against LSU, but, over the course of his career, he's proved himself a Dawg for the Ages. How a future UGA legend became a hometown hero Fifty years ago this week, the Athens High Trojans, led by future UGA star Andy Johnson, met the mighty Valdosta Wildcats for the state football championship in what many consider one of the greatest high school football games ever played. In fact, there are some who claim it was one of the best football games they've ever seen, at any level. Providing a preview of the sort of late-game heroics that would make him a Georgia Bulldogs legend two years hence against Georgia Tech, Johnson led the Trojans down the field for a touchdown and 2-point play that tied the game 26-26 as time expired. Back then, ties still were acceptable, so Athens and Valdosta reigned for the next year as co-champions . Johnson's highlights included an untimed play tacked on to the end of the first half after a penalty. Johnson took the snap from center, burst through theValdostadefensive front and raced 68 yards for a touchdown. Valdostaled by only 13-12 at halftime. As the final minute of the game approached, the Wildcats led 26-18. It looked like Valdosta was going to run out the clock, when Wildcats quarterback Don Golden (who also wound up playing at UGA as a safety and punter) fumbled with less than 2 minutes to play, and the Trojans recovered. Athens High coach Weyman Sellers later said he told Johnson on the sideline that Athens was going to score. Andy replied, 'I know.' For a look back at the making of a hometown hero, check out my Quick Cuts blog. The post Junkyard Mail: Bulldog Nation wasn't a very happy place this week appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Kirby Smart's hire of Matt Luke as Georgia football associate head coach and offensive line coach provided a prompt and strong answer to Sam Pittman's departure to become the Arkansas head coach. It was a statement hire if ever there was one for the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs, serving notice Georgia remains a top choice for elite coaches as well as the best players in the country. Luke, with his three years of SEC head coaching experience and the countless NFL contacts that brings, is sure to continue Georgia's trend of recruiting and developing the top offensive linemen in the country. Beyond that, it gives Smart one more dynamic football mind in the meeting rooms. Luke has several years of co-offensive coordinator experience under noted offensive gurus David Cutclifffe (Duke) and Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) that led up to his appointment as the Rebels head coach. Ole Miss beat writer Neal McCready, who has covered the program 13 years and writes for RebelGrove.com, the school's Rivals.com-affiliated, took some time out for DawgNation. McCready, who also covered Houston Nutt and Freeze in Oxford, provided valuable insight into Luke, who has hit the ground running recruiting at Smart's side this week. Here are five questions with Neal McCready: Q: What kind of offensive line coach is Georgia getting in Matt Luke, in terms of what sort of players he has produced and what his Ole Miss offensive lines looked like? McCready: Luke is an excellent offensive line coach. He's worked for David Cutcliffe and Hugh Freeze in that capacity two coaches with very different offensive styles. At Georgia, I think he'll thrive in the Bulldogs' pro-style offense and he'll obviously enjoy working with the elite talent in Athens. Luke did a phenomenal job with Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss, but in fairness, Tunsil is the best offensive lineman I've ever seen in person. More impressively than his work with Tunsil, take a look at the job he did with guys like Sean Rawlings, Fahn Cooper, Justin Bell, Aaron Morris, Robert Conyers, Rod Taylor and Javon Patterson. Those aren't household names and they weren't/aren't elite talents, but Luke developed them into very effective SEC offensive linemen. 2. How effective is Matt Luke as a recruiter? You know his personality as well as anyone, what is he like? McCready:Luke is as nice a guy as you'll ever meet. He's remarkably humble, down to earth and congenial. He's a man's man fair, gentlemanly and a great husband and father to his family. Kids like him. Players love playing for him. He's honest with recruits. He's good at building relationships. I suspect he'll do very well on the recruiting trail working for Georgia. 3. Matt has been a co-offensive coordinator and obviously had control of the Ole Miss offense, ultimately. What are some staples of his philosophy? McCready:I think his ideal offense is a run-oriented, smash-mouth, physical brand of football. He's a former offensive lineman who blocked for Deuce McAllister in college, and he's worked for Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe. He's coached under Freeze, who utilizes more zone-blocking and spread schemes. So while he's seen it all, he's a guy who loves the physical aspect of offense. 4. How do you see Matt blending in with Kirby Smart and the insanely high expectations at Georgia, where there figures to be immediate pressure on him to produce one of the top lines in the nation? McCready:Don't forget he was part of two very good Ole Miss teams as an offensive line coach. Those 2014 and 2015 teams were contenders. He's worked for Fulmer. Pressure won't faze him. That won't be an issue. He'll fit right in with Smart, by the way. There are a lot of similarities between the two men. Both were underdogs as players. Both are players' coaches. Again, I think he's a great fit replacing Sam Pittman at Georgia. 5. What is the best way to characterize Matt's relationship with the Ole Miss fans, and how they will remember him and his tenure? Just how difficult of a situation did he take over and did he leave it in a better place? McCready:Ole Miss fans will also be grateful to Luke. He is a former player who has poured his heart and soul into the school. He and his wife, Ashley, are beloved in Oxford. He took over a train wreck in July 2016 and stabilized it. He got the permanent job after a 6-6 season in a way that was, frankly, unfair to him. The school said it was conducting a national search and then hired the former coach's offensive line coach. Fans never completely bought in because of that. Luke was loyal to Freeze's coordinators, Wesley McGriff and Phil Longo, and when 2018 went sideways, fans blamed him. Last season, with Mike MacIntyre and Rich Rodriguez as coordinators, Ole Miss showed marked improvement, but this is a scoreboard business. Close losses to Memphis, California, Missouri, Texas A&M, Auburn and Mississippi State just led to apathy. He left the program far better than he inherited it. I suspect there was, deep down, a sense of relief to move on. I know he felt he was close, and he likely was, but 2020 was going to be challenging, and it was going to be difficult to survive. He'll be well-paid in Athens, and I think a change of scenery and a chance to reboot his career will be revitalizing for Luke. The post 5 questions about Georgia OL coach Matt Luke with Ole Miss beat writer Neal McCready appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Georgia sophomore tailback James Cook was one of the few bright spots in the SEC Championship Game for the Bulldogs, and he's just getting warmed up. 'I've learned to always be prepared when your number is called,' said Cook, a 5-foot-11, 198-pound tailback from Miami. 'And I learned to fight through things.' Cook has proven he can fight through tackles and run away from defenders this season. Against LSU last Saturday, he had 23 yards on 5 carries along with a catch for 11 yards. It wasn't the sort of season some had expected for Cook, who impressed his head coach and teammates in spring drills and throughout season practices. Kirby Smart said several times the Bulldogs had to find a way to get the dynamic Cook the football in the open field. Cook finished fourth on the team in rushing with 176 yards on 28 carries, his 6.3 yards per carry second only to freshman Kenny McIntosh (19 carries for 148 yards). Cook also had 16 catches for 132 yards, tied with Brian Herrien for second-most among the backs, behind D'Andre Swift (24-216). Learning to play receiver as well as running back added more to Cook's plate this season, and he also started the season as a kick returner. 'It's something you have to embrace and learn from,' Cook said of spreading out and learning new roles. 'Things are going to get better.' Cook has made it clear he has no intention of leaving Georgia. He's well-aware with Swift and Herrien moving on there will be plenty of carries and snaps to split up. Minnesota Vikings' star running back Dalvin Cook, James' older brother, has provided wise counsel. 'I just learn from him and ask for advice, I look up to him,' James Cook said. 'I just talked to him, and he said Keep pushing, save your body, and keep working hard, and next year it will come.' ' Opportunity will likely come even sooner than that. Swift is nursing an injured shoulder and is not expected to play in the Sugar Bowl. Cook said he's eager to get back to work, and he senses the team is too with the Jan. 1 meeting with Baylor on deck in New Orleans. 'We're going to approach it like champions,' Cook said. 'We're going to go back to practice and get ready for the single bowl game we have to play. 'I'm going to keep working, and work on getting bigger, stronger and faster.' I'll be back pic.twitter.com/cr76n7zApg James Cook (@thegreat__4) December 9, 2019 Georgia tailback James Cook DawgNation Georgia football League-leading UGA defense shut out on first-team All-SEC Zamir White keeps working hard 3 critical factors with Sam Pittman leaving Georgia staff Georgia favored over Baylor in Sugar Bowl clash Arkansas announces Sam Pittman as next head coach Kirby Smart calm at center of Georgia whirlwind D'Andre Swift discusses limits and pain in SEC Championship The post WATCH: Georgia RB James Cook confident things are going to get better' appeared first on DawgNation.
  • File this under the-what-I'm-hearing column in regard to Georgia and 5-star OT commitment Broderick Jones and his current commitment. Jones is the second-highest rated of Georgia's 15 public commitments for 2020. When Sam Pittman opted to go for his dream job at Arkansas, it did affect his recruitment. It could even be termed as a crushing development. He really wanted to play for Pittman. When he first met him, he was naturally comfortable. DawgNation outlined the 2020 O-line recruiting class outlook in an extensive breakdown on Monday. But there was a definite unknown as to where Jones goes now. Auburn was coming hard. Still is. Georgia was likely going to be able to hold off the Tigers with Pittman in Athens. Before the news broke on Matt Luke being hired to replace Pittman at Georgia , we were able to check in on Jones and his process going forward by persons very familiar with his situation. There are a few more knowns here to share: Kirby Smart and Jonas Jennings (on the road for UGA while Georgia was without an O-line coach) went to see Jones on Monday. It was a priority stop after the Pittman news broke. Luke's hiring does help Georgia's cause to retain Jones. He has not de-committed from Georgia and 'probably' will not. 'He loves it there (at UGA) but this did put Auburn in the race.' Georgia made a lot of sense because of Pittman, the way he related and coached his players and the way he developed players like Lithonia native Andrew Thomas and had him ready to play right away. When Jones watched the Bulldogs play, he was always focused on the offensive linemen, including Thomas. That said, Athens was always a big draw for Jones and his family based on location. It will be much easier to travel to see him play. Jones is actually very busy playing basketball right now. His Lithonia High team is ranked No. 1 in the Georgia High School Association's Class 5A rankings at this time. He is not a mid-year graduate so this gives him time to check out all his options and get a new feel for what UGA will now be like with Luke leading the offensive line room. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Jones has some uncommon all-around athletic ability for his size. He rates as a 5-star recruit and the nation's No. 19 overall prospect on the 247Sports Composite ratings for 2020. Jones has always seemed like he looks about 20 pounds less than his actual weight once he steps on the scale. That's the way it has always been across two-plus years of watching him develop as a prospect. It is still believed that Jones will take the majority of his official visits over the next two months, including ones to both Auburn and UGA. RELATED: How do the current commits on the Georgia O-line feel about the Matt Luke hire? The post Broderick Jones: Georgia remains in a good spot, but Auburn is in the race' for 5-star OT appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Georgia freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean isn't shy about hitting ball carriers, and he's coming out of his shell as a vocal leader, too. Dean, who most often played on third downs at inside linebacker and finished with 23 tackles and 2 pass break-ups this season, explained one key way he's evolved this season. 'I came in as more of a quiet guy, so I just wanted to feel my way through things,' Dean said following Saturday night's SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 'But as time went by and the season went on, I started to talk more, build my leadership role,' said Dean, a 2019 recruit from Horn Lake, Miss., who was rated a 5-star prospect. 'I do plan on in the future being more of a vocal leader, and also leading by example.' Dean would have been in much better position to do just that if not for the high ankle sprain he suffered early in fall camp. Much had been expected from the 5-foot-10, 220-pound early enrollee after his impressive performance in spring drills. Dean had five tackles and a pass break-up in the G-Day Game, getting snaps with the first-team defense against QB Jake Fromm and the first-team offense back in April. RELATED: Nakobe Dean stands out in G-Day Game Dean did what he could to play through it, learning another valuable lesson along the way. 'It messed with me more so mentally, than physically,' Dean said. 'I had to get my mind right and learn to sit out, but still learn without actually being out there. That was one thing that hindered me.' Physically, Dean said he didn't feel 100 percent until 'Week 5 or Week 6.' Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been high on Dean from the start, so it's a good bet the freshman will get plenty of reps during Georgia's Allstate Sugar Bowl practice, which begins next week. The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) play No. 7 Baylor (11-2) at 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1 in New Orleans. The Bears are looking to become the winningest team in Baylor football history. Dean said he can't speak for what happened last year, when Georgia showed up somewhat divided and uninspired for the Sugar Bowl, falling 28-21 to Texas. 'I didn't practice with the team last year, but I know this team is going to go attack practice the way we always do, 100 percent,' Dean said. 'I feel like we have to continue practice the way do. Don't slack off. Go try to attack the teams the way we always do, and we'll be good.' Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean DawgNation Georgia football League-leading UGA defense shut out on first-team All-SEC Zamir White keeps working hard 3 critical factors with Sam Pittman leaving Georgia staff Georgia favored over Baylor in Sugar Bowl clash Arkansas announces Sam Pittman as next head coach Kirby Smart calm at center of Georgia whirlwind D'Andre Swift discusses limits and pain in SEC Championship The post WATCH: Georgia freshman MLB Nakobe Dean ready to be seen and heard appeared first on DawgNation.