Whop has already won.
By proclamation, Indiana’s Whop Philyor, No. 1 receiver who’ll wear No. 1 in the Gator Bowl, has the No. 1 nickname.
His mama doesn’t like the last part.
“That name,” said Holley Mouling, with a hint of disdain.
Holley blames Whop’s dad for doing that to her little boy because he wanted a Whopper every time they went to Burger King. She said that side of the family thought it was cute and started calling him Whop. Then all his friends picked it up, and then everybody else.
Whop’s legal name on his Florida birth certificate is Mister Elias De’Angelo Philyor.
How to explain that?
“Well, I’m black and I’m Cuban,” he said. “Maybe that has something to do with it.”
Whop is several other things. He is very confident. He has electrifying skills. He is part Energizer Bunny, part stand-up comedian. He claims distant cousin kinship with Herschel Walker. He is not big-sandwich size, just 5-11 and 176.
“Here’s the best way I can describe how good Whop is,” said Robert Weiner, his coach back at Plant High in Tampa. “He likes making sure you know how good he is.”
He did something this season no other Hoosier would consider. In a post-game celebration, in front of God and everybody, he jumped on head coach Tom Allen’s back for a free ride.
Whop does project as a problem for the Tennessee defense. He is a slot bug who has caught 69 passes this season for 1,001 yards and five touchdowns. He turns short throws into long gains.
After analyzing 203 predictions, mostly from media giants and the gambling industry, I have no conviction about which team will win. The Hoosiers were the early favorites, by a point and a half. Money poured in on the Volunteers. The betting line promptly flipped. In reality, that doesn’t mean much.
Indiana supposedly had the better season. It went 8-4. Tennessee supposedly has better, faster athletes. It spends more on recruiting.
The Hoosiers lost to Ohio State by 51-10. Michigan prevailed, 39-14. It was not so easy for Penn State. The Nittany Lions won by a touchdown.
Florida, Georgia and Alabama ran circles around the Volunteers. They got it together in time to turn a negative into a positive.
Clue: The Vols have been known for outrunning Big 10 teams.
Bowl games are supposed to be rewards for players. There is a touch of sadness for fans. This will be the final appearance for some gutty senior Vols who ran the race and finished the course. Daniel Bituli is a poster person. He could have allowed injuries to knock him out.
Jauan Jennings could have self-destructed. The warrior survived. He gets to play the second half. After intermission, Whop may not be the No. 1 receiver on the field.
This will be the last hoorah for Marquez Callaway, Darrell Taylor, Nigel Warrior and several others. Some have special talent, some more heart.
Tennessee and Indiana are traditional opposites. This is the 53rd bowl for the Volunteers, sixth most all-time. They are trying to regain national respectability.
No team in the Power Five world has suffered more defeats than Indiana’s 681. The Hoosiers have reached 11 bowl games. Their most recent post-season victory was in the 1991 Copper Bowl.
Eight wins, going for nine? The Hoosiers haven’t won nine games in a season since 1967.
Tennessee at seven wins, going for eight? Success on Thursday would make a difference in spring momentum and perhaps 2020 season ticket sales.
Jeremy Pruitt gets his $100,000 bonus win or lose.
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org