THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 8, 2018
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
In the course of eight days the Gators whacked then 23rd-ranked Mississippi State on the road in Starkville, picked up basketball commitments from 4-star center Omar Payne and 5-star wing Scottie Lewis and then rocked The Swamp with a 27-19 win over then 5th-ranked LSU. To steal a phrase from Yogi Berra, it felt like déjà vu all over again. It really did seem like we had dialed the clock back 10 years in both football and basketball. Back in those days we were accustomed to the Gators beating ranked teams in football and Billy Donovan landing big time basketball commitments. It’s been awhile since things felt this good and we could look to the future with more confidence than optimism.
What the last eight days have done is let us know that the University of Florida has the exact right coach in both football and basketball in Dan Mullen and Mike White. These are guys who are here for the long haul and the success they have now is only going to pale compared to what’s going to happen in the future. I’m not sure that either Mullen or White were the A#1 first choice when replacement coaches were being sought, but I know for sure that the University of Florida couldn’t have made better choices.
Let’s start with Mike White. When Billy Donovan decided to give the NBA a try, then athletic director Jeremy Foley had to find someone comfortable following a legend. Just ask UCLA how tough that is. John Wooden retired after the 1976 season and they’re still looking for that next super coach. Four coaches have won national championships at Kentucky since Adolph Rupp retired but until someone wins more than one they’re just another coach. Foley will never say how many coaches he seriously looked at before settling on White but it’s doubtful that Mike was the first choice given that he was the head coach at Louisiana Tech. Coaches at Louisiana Tech aren’t generally asked to follow legends in case you’re wondering. White made it to the Elite Eight in year two and has the Gators on the verge of making the NCAA every year just like the Donovan days. Like Billy, White is scoring on the recruiting trail where he has beaten the likes of Kentucky and Duke in this latest recruiting class.
After he dismissed Jim McElwain, UF AD Scott Stricklin made overtures toward Chip Kelly and Scott Frost before reaching out to Dan Mullen. For all we know, Mullen was Stricklin’s first choice all along but to satisfy the masses who wanted that big name hire, he had to take a stab at Kelly and/or Frost. When Mullen was hired a lot of folks thought UF had settled for a second or third tier coach. As we have discovered in the first half of this football season, Dan Mullen is nobody’s second or third tier guy. He won 69 games at Mississippi State and nobody does that. He’s 5-1 in season one at UF (Kelly and Frost are a combined 0-10 at UCLA and Nebraska) with back-to-back SEC wins on the road and that statement win over LSU. It’s only going to get better.
White and Mullen are exactly what the University of Florida needs. They are high quality people who are also extraordinary coaches, the kind who will win championships. Many championships.
Ask yourself this question: How long has it been since you felt this good about the basketball and football programs at UF?
COLLEGE PLAYOFF CONTENDERS AND PRETENDERS
Alabama: Pity those poor defenders at Alabama. They gave up 31 points to Arkansas Saturday and they have incurred the wrath of Nick Saan. Not that it really matters. Alabama hung 65 on Arkansas and could have scored 100 if Tua Tagovailoa had played four quarters (he played all but three series in the first half and one series in the third quarter). Nobody is going to beat Alabama this year. The offense is supersonic and the defense will come around like it always does.
Georgia: The Poodles finally play someone decent this week when they travel to Death Valley to face an LSU team that will play a whole lot better in front of the home folks than it did at The Swamp. After that it’s a week off before facing the resurgent Gators at the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. The way Kentucky played at Aggieland does anyone give the Wildcats a chance to score the upset in Athens on November 3? I didn’t think so. If Georgia wins the next two, the Poodles will go into the SEC Championship Game unbeaten to face Alabama. Odds are the SEC won’t get two teams in this year unless Ohio State and/or Notre Dame stumble along the way.
Ohio State: The big, bad Buckeyes survived a scare at Happy Valley and they still have Michigan on the schedule but that game is in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium. Urban Meyer would rather sacrifice a body part than lose a game to Jim Harbaugh so put your bucks on the Buckeyes, who will have Nick Bosa back to shore up the defense by then. Ohio State is probably the only team in the country capable of matching Alabama player for player.
Notre Dame: I have a problem with a team getting into the playoff that doesn’t have to play a conference championship game. Barring something totally catastrophic, the Irish will run the table and make the playoff. They’re good and they would certainly win the conference championship games in the Big 12 and Pac-12 but the Irish aren’t in a conference and don’t have that extra game. They may be good and they in all likelihood make the playoff but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
Clemson: If the Tigers can keep freshman Trevor Lawrence upright and healthy, they will almost certainly run the table in the ACC and make it to the playoff for a fourth straight year. The ACC has devolved into Clemson and the 13 Dwarfs. Of the teams that are serious national championship contenders, Clemson probably has the best defense largely because Brent Venables is the best defensive coordinator.
UCF: They should change their names to the Knightmares because they are going to be a nightmare for the playoff committee if they run the regular season table and then cap it with a win in the AAC championship game. That would bring them to 25 consecutive wins. To deny a team that has won 25 in a row a chance to play for the national championship would be an absolute travesty and would likely lead to the playoff expanding to either six or eight teams pronto. UCF is ranked ninth now and as long as the Knights keep winning, they’ll keep rising in the polls.
West Virginia: The Mounties are the last unbeaten team from the Big 12 where defense is avoided like the plague. A one-loss team from the Big 12 probably doesn’t make it to the playoff but it would prove very difficult to deny one that ran the table. The Mounties still have to play Texas and Oklahoma so the odds are against them going unbeaten, but stranger things have happened.
LSU: Okay, the Tigers took it on the chin against the Gators at The Swamp but they get a chance for instant redemption next week when Georgia comes to Death Valley. If it were a night game, you’d take LSU straight up to win the game but since it’s a 3:30 game, Georgia has a decent chance to leave Baton Rouge with a win. Day or night, however, this is LSU and the faithful will start arriving on Thursday. By the time Saturday afternoon gets here, they will be as loud as any Tiger Stadium crowd in years and that could help compensate for the fact the game will start in the afternoon. LSU will still have to beat Alabama and the Aggies but if they can get the O-line healthy plus a couple of banged up defenders mended and at full speed, you can’t count them out.
Penn State: For the Nittany Lions to get in the playoff, Ohio State would have to lose twice. Donkeys will probably fly first, but as long as Penn State has only one loss and a November 3 date with Michigan in Happy Valley followed by a homer with Wisconsin, you have to keep them in the playoff possibilities. That is until Ohio State loses a couple of games.
The Pac-12: With the exception of Washington, there isn’t a single team in the league that could finish better than .500 against an SEC schedule. Colorado is still unbeaten but that won’t last. Stanford is a complete joke. This will be the fourth time in the five years of the College Football Playoff that the Pac-12 won’t be represented.
Oklahoma and Texas: Yes, their annual Red River Shootout was as entertaining a football game as you will ever see but in providing us with four hours of fun, both teams also showed us why they aren’t serious national championship contenders. Neither one can play a lick of defense. Now there is no doubt Texas QB Sam Ehlinger and Oklahoma State QB Kyler Murray are incredible talents. Can you imagine how good they would be if they had a defense that could actually stop somebody, one that would give them 15-20 more snaps per game?
Miami: That comeback from 20 down to whack Florida State was impressive, but still, think next year. The Hurricanes are still a year ahead of schedule in the Mark Richt rebuild. They’re going to be a serious national championship contender, just not this year. This year they’ll win their ACC division and get smacked around by Clemson in the league championship game. Next year, nobody will smack the Canes around.
Auburn: The Tigers have a future NFL quarterback in Jarrett Stidham. Unfortunately, blocking for him is a group of future junior high school physical education teachers. None of them will sniff the NFL. If they can’t block college D-linemen how do they ever think they’ll block the beasts in the NFL? For want of an offensive line, a possible repeat SEC West title run is lost.
Michigan: Michigan already has one loss and still has to play Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. There are at least a couple of losses on that agenda. For someone who can’t beat Ohio State, can’t win the Big Ten and hasn’t even come within sniffing distance of the College Football Playoff, Jim Harbaugh sure makes a pile of money.
A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT COLLEGE FOOTBALL: When is the last time you heard of a Division I football team scoring 66 points while throwing only two passes the entire game? That’s what Georgia Tech did last Friday night at Louisville. Why throw the ball when you can run for 564 yards and average 8.6 per carry? … Bryce Love might have gone in the first round of the NFL Draft if he had gone out after last season. Nobody’s draft stock has dropped farther or faster than Love’s. He’s injured (again) and missed the game with Utah (Stanford got its doors blown off). He averaged 162.92 yards per game last year. This year, it’s 81.75. Love not only won’t go high in the draft but he’s not going to sniff the Heisman Trophy podium … John Gagliardi died. He’s the winningest coach in college football history (489-138-11; four national titles in the NAIA and NCAA Division III) and was the subject of a marvelous book by Austin Murphy, “The Sweet Season” … In what will go down as the dumbest game plan of the year, Kentucky gave Benny Snell Jr. just 13 rushing attempts against Texas A&M. Any guesses why the Wildcats are once again the Mildcats and losers for the first time in 2018? … There are only 11 undefeated teams remaining in college football. Three of them belong to the American Athletic Conference – UCF (5-0), South Florida (5-0) and Cincinnati (6-0).
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams are the only two unbeaten teams in the NFL. Bet the farm that neither one will survive the season unbeaten … Just a guess on my part, but the Green Bay Packers are probably going to audition kickers after Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point Sunday. The Packers lost by eight points to the Detroit Lions … I no longer watch NFL games (too boring) but I do pay attention to the box scores to see how former Gators and other players I liked when they played college football are doing … The Cleveland Browns are 1-1 with Baker Mayfield as the starter and 2-1 in games in which he has finished … If you’re looking for Major League Baseball’s next superstar check out Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves. He’s only 20 years old and he’s got it all … I really like the New York Yankees to go up 2-1 on the Boston Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series, particularly with Luis Severino throwing for the Yankees this evening … I tuned in for a few minutes to watch the NASCAR race at Dover, Delaware Sunday afternoon. I didn’t recognize but one or two of the drivers. There was a time when NASCAR had its share of superstars with instant name recognition even for those who don’t follow the sport closely. That was then. This is now.