The most wonderful time of the year? Not for everybody

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The holiday season has long been trademarked as the “most wonderful time of the year.”

That statement in mind, there are a number of people in the sports world who anticipate — or will receive — the sporting equivalent of the iPhone, Playstation 3, or whatever the hot gizmo is this year.

Personally, I’m just glad “Tickle Me Elmo” has long been forgotten.

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But for another group, coal is all that waits on Christmas Day. What is surprising is that there is little more than a fine line between the two.

For instance, Vanderbilt broke out the eggnog early after knocking off Kentucky on Nov. 15 to earn that elusive sixth win. That may not sound like much, but for the Commodores, it signified an end to 26 years of football futility. The reward is a date with Boston College in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

Speaking of which, the Eagles probably won’t want to check their stocking after St. Nick visits. Virginia Tech upset them in the ACC championship game to advance to the Orange Bowl.

Seriously, what’s wrong with that picture?

Cincinnati and Utah obviously did something right in a previous life, though there is still an outside chance that Santa has a hand in the BCS and a major sense of humor. Yeah, Virginia Tech-Cincinnati will keep the viewers glued to their sets for about 10 minutes.

Most college fans would be giddy over Alabama’s position. Who wouldn’t want to be 12-1 with a Sugar Bowl invitation? The Tide, that’s who.

Alabama wanted a national title shot but came up short in the SEC title game. So, while this is not the worst time of the year for ’Bama, it could, and — in the opinion of many Tide fans — should be better.

But enough about teams. How about coaches?

Lane Kiffin is getting a Playstation 3 and iPhone after putting up with Al Davis for as long as he did. Only someone losing touch with reality could hire a college assistant to take over the head coaching job of an NFL team. Kiffin’s reward? The head job at Tennessee and acquisition of his father — Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Merry Christmas, indeed.

For Gene Chizik, Christmas Day could go either way. He got a promotion. A move from Iowa State to Auburn is a promotion.

But his situation is unique in that he literally jumped from the frying pan to the fire. His present may be determined a year from now, so Gene, there’s an IOU in your future.

The downside to a good present in sports, though, is this: regardless of what hot-ticket items got the coaches and teams on this list, a couple of slipups bring coal to the stocking. With the good times, the bad may be just around the corner.

Chizik has already received intense scrutiny and will receive more before the season. His leash is already short. Kiffin may be the next Paul Bryant, but right now he is 33 and has not proven his head coaching ability on the collegiate field. Plus, he is replacing a coach in Phillip Fulmer that did a lot better than most Tennessee fans care to remember.

And for no reason whatsoever, Vanderbilt may go back to being Vanderbilt.