Thoughts of the day:
By FRANZ BEARD
1. Here are three exceptional reasons to be optimistic about Florida football in 2018: (1) Dan Mullen won 65 games and went to eight straight bowl games at Mississippi State while playing in the SEC West with far less talent in any of his nine seasons in Starkville than he will put out on the field in 2018 where he plays an SEC East schedule; (2) As Mullen showed as Florida’s offensive coordinator (2004-08) and when he was HBC at Mississippi State, he’s exceptional at adapting the offense to the talent on hand and he’s got more speed and more potential playmakers than he’s had since he was Florida’s offensive coordinator in the national championship season of 2008; and (3) Florida has a superior coaching staff top to bottom than at any time since 2009. There are no weak links whether we’re talking on the field coaching or recruiting.
2. The most meaningful offensive stats in college football are yards per carry, yards per pass attempt and sacks allowed. When it comes to running the football, the good teams average 4.5 yards or more per carry. If you aren’t averaging at least 7.5 yards per attempt, you have a less than explosive pass attack. We tend to think of sacks allowed as a measure of an effective offensive line, but you can have a fine offensive line and a QB who holds the ball too long or running backs who can’t pick up a blitz or help with a speed rusher off the edge. The good teams give up 20 or fewer sacks in a 12-game season. So, let’s take a look at Florida’s meaningful stats since 2010. The only year the Gators averaged 4.5 yards or better per carry was 2012 when they averaged 4.53 per carry and Mike Gillislee ran for 1,152 yards. The only time since 2010 the Gators averaged 7.5 yards or more per pass attempt was in 2011. Charlie Weis (believe it or not) was the offensive coordinator and the Gators averaged 7.5 per attempt. The only other time they averaged more than 7.0 per attempt was 2015 when they were at 7.2. The Gators have had only one season in which they gave up fewer than 20 sacks and that was 2014 when a line that included future NFL starters Max Garcia, Trent Brown, D,J. Humphries, Chaz Greene and David Sharpe allowed only 17. In the three years Jim McElwain was Florida’s HBC, the Gators gave up 45 sacks (2015), 28 (2016) and 37 (2017).
3. Here is what the debacle at Ohio State with Urban Meyer and former assistant Zach Smith should teach us – Hire assistant coaches based on their ability to get the job done, not because they are family, almost family or just because they’re close friends. I don’t doubt for a second that Urban was telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth when he said his judgment was probably clouded by the fact that Zach Smith is the grandson of Earle Bruce, who was a mentor and like a second father to Urban. Zach Smith was hired as a favor to Earle Bruce, not because he was the best coach available, and it darn near cost Urban his job. Put in context with Florida football, Jim McElwain goofed in a big way when he hired old buddies Greg Nord (tight ends), Doug Nussmeier (quarterbacks, offensive coordinator) and Mike Kent (strength and conditioning). They might have been good friends and loyal as they could be to Mac, but all three were blazing incompetents who had no business on the staff of an SEC school. They aren’t totally responsible for why Mac isn’t Florida’s head coach anymore, but all three are on your short list of reasons. Another good example is when Bobby Bowden hired son Jeff and made him the offensive coordinator at FSU. That was a total disaster. The moral of this story is hire the best and most competent assistant coaches possible and whenever possible, avoid hiring people just because of a family or friendship obligation.
4. A few numbers to crunch. From 1990-2001 (the 12 years of Stevie Wonder’s reign of terror in the SEC), Florida won 122 games (122-27-1 record), six SEC championships and one national championship. The Gators won at least nine games every season. Only Nebraska (129 wins) and FSU (128) won more games. From 2002-2010, Florida won 88 games (88-30 record), two SEC championships and two national championships. That was tied for the seventh most wins in the country. Since 2011, Florida has a 52-36 record (48th best in Division I), zero SEC or national championships and has had the first two losing seasons (2013 and 2017) since 1979. And some folks wonder why there is a greater buzz about Florida football than any year since 2009.
5. Stanford running back Bryce Love (2,118 rushing yards in 2017, 8.05 per carry, 19 rushing TDs) will start the season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Love is a tremendous open field runner who almost certainly would have eclipsed the 2,500-yard mark last year except for a high ankle sprain in game seven that cost him one game and slowed him down the rest of the way. If Love repeats the kind of season he had last year, he probably wins the Heisman. If Love’s numbers don’t match or exceed 2017, I think former Gator and West Virginia QB Will Grier (3,409 passing yards; 9.0 per attempt; 34 TDPs) and Ohio State running back Josh Dobbins (1,403 rushing yards and 7 TDs; 22 catches for 135 yards and 1 TD as a freshman in 2017) will seriously challenge.
6. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton is an enormous talent who put up Star Wars numbers last year when the Knights went 13-0 (4,037 passing yards; 10.2 yards per attempt; 37 TDPs; 613 rushing yards; 5.78 yards per carry; 8 TDs). Florida Atlantic tailback Devin Singletary (1,920 rushing yards; 6.38 per carry; 32 rushing TDs; 19 catches for 198 yards and 1 TD) also had a monster 2017. Even if Milton and Singletary meet or exceed last year’s numbers, however, the odds are truly stacked against either of them winning the Heisman Trophy. The last time a player from a non-Power 5 conference school won the Heisman was 1990 why BYU’s Ty Detmer was named the best player in college football. Since 1960, the award has gone to a non-Power 5 player just four times – Joe Bellino (Navy) 1960; Roger Staubach (Navy), 1963; Andre Ware (Houston), 1989; and Detmer in 1990. Having seen Milton in person and Singletary play on TV, I think they are as good as any players in the country but you can bet the people who vote for the Heisman won’t see it that way.
7. Maryland is an absolute train wreck. Not only is former UF defensive coordinator and now Maryland head football coach D.J. Durkin on the verge of getting fired but the Washington Post is reporting that former athletic director Kevin Anderson used department funds to hire a lawyer to represent a couple of football players who were accused of sexual misconduct. The Post reports that Anderson failed to sever ties with the attorney when he was asked to do so. I will be shocked if Durkin remains the football coach and wouldn’t be surprised if the school faces some sort of punitive Title IX sanctions for Anderson’s misdeeds. For reasons unexplained, Maryland is an absolute magnet for stupidity when it comes to its athletic department. There are too many instances of the school making brain dead decisions through the years but here’s a head scratcher for you. They ran off football coach Ralph Friedgen in 2010 after a 9-4 season. Fridge was 75-50 in 10 years, which, at Maryland, is an accomplishment. In the seven years since, Maryland is 33-54. Now, here’s the kicker. When they ran off Fridge they also succeeded in running off James Franklin, who did the unthinkable by taking Vanderbilt to three straight bowl games and two straight 9-win seasons, but now has Penn State in the national championship chatter every year.
8. Some random thoughts: Florida football recruiting is currently ranked 20th by ESPN and 23rd by 247Sports. If you pay close attention you’ll notice that Florida is the only team with fewer than 15 commitments. The ranking will rise as the Gators add the numbers. Dan Mullen will bring in a top ten recruiting class. Bet the farm on that … Missouri may succeed offensively this season in spite of itself. In what has to go down as the dumbest coordinator hire since Doug Nussmeier, HBC Barry Odom hired Derek Dooley as the OC when Josh Heupel took the job as UCF’s head coach. That’s like trading in a Lexus for a Yugo. Mizzou might have enough talent that even Derek can’t screw it up, but I doubt it … I still find it hard to believe that the Oakland Athletics signed Kyler Murray to a baseball contract worth more than $5 million and they’re letting him play college football at Oklahoma. That might be even dumber than Mizzou hiring Derek Dooley … Other than one playoff game and the Super Bowl, I didn’t watch an entire NFL game all the way through in 2017. I haven’t decided about 2018 but my initial thought is I’ll watch even less NFL football. It has nothing to do with politics and the flag controversy. I prefer college football because I’m not seeing the same offensive and defensive schemes on more than 75% of the teams. The NFL bores me. College football doesn’t.