THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 29, 2018
PLAYING WITH HOUSE MONEY
CBS analyst Gary Danielson said the Gators are “playing with house money” at the end of Saturday’s loss to Georgia, noting that nobody figured the Gators would contend for a national title this year and that a 10-win season is still very much in play in Dan Mullen’s first year. Take a moment and absorb that thought then consider that Mullen inherited a football program in complete disarray thanks to the former head coach, who proved he was in way over his head once the equivalent of an NFL defense left behind by Will Muschamp moved on to the NFL. Whether it’s with bubble gum and baling wire or just plain football smarts, Mullen has turned the Gators (6-2, 4-1 SEC) into a team worthy of the #14 national ranking. The Gators were down four with a chance to win against Kentucky only to give up a meaningless TD on the game’s last play. Before they gave out of gas with 10 minutes to go against Georgia, the Gators were down six. The ball bounces just right in either of those two games, UF is unbeaten and there is widespread panic in certain places like Athens and Tallahassee.
Chalk up much of what happened in both the Kentucky and Georgia games to growing pains. As much as the Gators have grown from one game to the next all season, they still make the kind of mistakes that a few months can’t coach out of them. A year from now they won’t be making the silly mistakes that have cost them two losses this year. Another solid recruiting class and there won’t be holes in the depth chart, particularly in the secondary. Another year of improved coaching like we have seen in the first 10 months to go with the recruiting and this Florida team will be one that not even Georgia will want to play.
For those who weren’t particularly happy with Feleipe Franks overthrowing a surefire TD, failing to read zone and underthrowing a pass that went straight to the Georgia defender for an INT, fumbling at the two and showing a complete lack of confidence to make the kind of downfield throws you have to make to beat Georgia, remember that Mullen and Brian Johnson have only had Franks since January and 10 months isn’t nearly enough time to exorcise the demons of ineptitude left behind by Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier. Franks will get better, yet after seeing Emory Jones launch a perfect throw that only a Georgia pass interference call prevented from being a TDP, you can bet the ranch that the competition for next year’s starting QB job will be fierce. Safe to say, it’s not a lock that Franks will win it.
But while we look to a bright future, let’s not forget the Gators still have to take care of business in four games. Missouri comes to town Saturday and that’s followed by South Carolina in the final SEC game of the season. The season ends with Idaho at home followed by FSU in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have fallen on hard times and will be fortunate to get a fifth win this season.
So, yes, the Gators are playing with house money. Did you really have 10-2 penciled in when the season began? Did you even think 7-5 was possible after that Kentucky loss? Yet, here we are with four games to go – four games the Gators should indeed win – and 10-2 is a very realistic goal.
Honestly, did you think it was possible when the season began?
THE REST OF THE SEC DOWN THE STRETCH
#1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC): The remaining three SEC games are (at) LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. Unless we have a burning bush moment, Alabama isn’t going to lose. Not this year.
Arkansas (2-7, 0-5 SEC): The Hogs haven’t won an SEC game but there is hope. They still have to play Missouri, which also hasn’t won an SEC game. The loser will be able to claim it ran the SEC table in reverse.
Auburn (5-3, 2-3 SEC): Left on Auburn’s SEC schedule are the Aggies, Georgia and Alabama. An oh fer wouldn’t be good at all and would have the fickle faithful asking if Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) wouldn’t mind ponying up the $32 million it would take to buy out Gus Malzahn. Win two of three and things are okay. Beat Alabama and nobody will care what happened in the other two.
#6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC): To get back to Atlanta, the Bulldogs have to knock off Kentucky in Lexington and then beat Auburn in Athens. O course, if they win those two games, they would still have to beat Alabama. Maybe they win two. Beat Alabama? Donkeys will fly first.
#11 Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC): Kentucky was a 7 point underdog on the road at Missouri this past Saturday so the Wildcats should feel right at home as a 9-1/2 point dog to Georgia for the SEC East showdown game in Lexington. Should the Wildcats spring the upset, the only thing standing in their way of a trip to Atlanta will be a road trip to Knoxville.
#4 LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC): LSU is a 14-1/2 point home underdog in Saturday night’s SEC showdown with Alabama. LSU hasn’t been this big an underdog since1999 when Florida was a 15-point favorite (Gators won the game, 31-10) at Death Valley. Imagine what the spread would be if the game were played in Tuscaloosa. If the Tigers can spring the upset, their remaining SEC games are roadies with Arkansas and Texas A&M.
#21 Mississippi State (5-3, 2-3 SEC): After a week in which folks were calling for Joe Moorhead to make a change at QB, Nick Fitzgerald came up with his best game of the season, throwing for 241 yards and two TDs while rushing for 88 yards and two more scores. Three of the last four are winnable. The non-winnable is Alabama.
Missouri (4-4, 0-4 SEC): The zebra crew that called Kentucky’s 15-14 win over Missouri probably has some explaining to do after their controversial pass interference call that gave UK an untimed down on which they threw the game winning TDP. On a pass that UK’s Ahmad Wagner caught out of bounds, a late penalty flag came flying in ruling pass interference. The loss means Mizzou has to win two of their final four to go bowling. They will be underdogs in at least two of the four, all SEC encounters.
Ole Miss (5-3, 1-3 SEC): Although the Rebels can’t go bowling since they’re doing hard time in the NCAA jail, they could still finish above .500, plus they could become one of the few teams in Division I with a 3,000-yard passer (Jacob Ta’amu has 2,622), 1,000-yard rusher (Scottie Phillips has 782) and 1,000-yard receiver (A.J. Brown has 805).
South Carolina (4-3, 3-3 SEC): South Carolina AD Ray Tanner is on the verge of adding a December 1 game to make up for the one lost in September to the hurricane. That might come in handy since the Gamecocks will need another win if they lose to Ole Miss, Florida and Clemson. D1AA is Chattanooga is the only surefire win.
Tennessee (3-5, 1-4 SEC): The Vols are a little hot under the collar that the zebras ruled a touchdown for South Carolina’s Ty’Son Williams instead of a fumble. Officials say they ruled Williams scoring a touchdown and blew the play dead. UT players, coaches and fans thought otherwise. The loss to South Carolina means the Vols have to win three of their last four to make a bowl. The only game in which they will be favored is a non-conference game this week with Charlotte.
Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2 SEC): Just when folks were predicting the Aggies would run the rest of the table and finish 10-2, they laid a gigantic egg in Starkville. The Aggie still have to play (at) Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU. The folks in College Station are accustomed to Novembers to forget. Jimbo needs to come away with at least three wins to give the faithful hope for the future.
Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4 SEC): The Commodores are a different team when Ke’Shawn Vaughn is in the lineup. In their 45-31 win over Arkansas, Vaughn carried 26 times for 172 yards and three TDs. He missed the final three quarters in the loss to Florida and then missed the Kentucky game completely. Vandy needs two wins in the last three games to become bowl eligible for a second straight season.
THE PLAYOFF DECK SHUFFLES AGAIN
After a Saturday in which 11 ranked teams lost, we’re down to four unbeaten teams in Division I and 12 teams that could possibly make the College Football Playoff.
Alabama (8-0): The way it looks now, there are only two teams capable of beating Alabama — #2 Clemson and the second teamers at Alabama who think they’re every bit as good as the starters. The way it looks right now, we’ll have an Alabama-Clemson matchup in the championship game for the third time in four years.
Clemson (8-0): Trevor Lawrence is the real deal at QB and that front four on defense is ferocious. Clemson is the only team that can come close to matching Alabama in terms of personnel.
Notre Dame (8-0): I’m still not convinced Notre Dame would be anything more than an 8-4 or 9-3 team in the SEC, but the Irish are unbeaten and in all likelihood finish at 12-0. Being that they will be unbeaten and there is always the Notre Dame hype/myth, they’ll be in the playoff where they will get hammered by either Alabama or Clemson.
UCF (7-0): The Knights hopes to make the playoffs rest solely on their ability to run the table a second straight year, which would mean beating Temple, Cincinnati, South Florida and Houston. If they do that and have won 25 in a row, it’s going to be a dilemma for the playoff committee voters. How can you say you have a fair system when a team that beats everyone on its schedule two straight years can’t get it?
LSU (7-1): For LSU, getting in the playoff comes down to Saturday night and some Death Valley magic. Can the Tigers do to Bama what they did to Georgia? If they can, they’ll still have to beat the Aggies on the road and then win the SEC Championship Game, which would feature a rematch with Georgia.
Georgia (7-1): Georgia has a roadie to Kentucky and Auburn at home just to get a chance to face Alabama (or LSU if donkeys fly) in the SEC Championship Game. Even though Georgia beat Florida handily I’m still not sold. This team has far too many holes and isn’t nearly as good as last year.
Kentucky (7-1): The Wildcats had the great escape at Missouri and that gives them a shot at Georgia in Lexington. The oddsmakers aren’t giving Kentucky much of a chance (they’re 9-1/2 point dogs at home) but that is nothing new. Win this one and the Wildcats still have to dispose of Tennessee on the road to make it to Atlanta so they can have the right to lose to Alabama.
Michigan (7-1): Is this the year for the Fighting Harbaughs to finally win the Big Ten? Or will they crash and burn Saturday against Penn State and then on November 24 at Columbus?
Ohio State (7-1): All the Buckeyes have to do is win four in a row (includes a season ender against Michigan) and then win the Big Ten Championship Game. Offensively, there is no question they can do it. Defensively? They better have reinvented themselves during the bye week last week.
Oklahoma (7-1): Thanks to a bunch of screwy things happening in college football, the Sooners are right back in the playoff hunt. If they win their final four games and the Big 12 Championship Game they will likely be the highest ranked 1-loss team and that will punch their playoff ticket.
West Virginia (6-1): The Mounties road to the playoff includes a road trip to Texas and a regular season ending homer with Oklahoma. And then there is that teensy matter of the Big 12 Championship Game. If they win out it still might not get them into the playoff but it’s what they have to do to have a chance.
Washington State (7-1): Wazzoo is the Pac-12’s only hope of getting into the playoff and it won’t be easy because the strength of schedule just isn’t there. But, The Pirate (Mike Leach) can only keep on winning and if he’s still standing with only one loss, he will be in the hunt.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Florida State coach Willie Taggart says the Seminoles quit on him during their 59-10 thrashing at the hands of #2 Clemson. “One thing you can’t do, you can’t quit,” Taggart said post game. “You quit, you don’t play.” If that’s the case you have to wonder if Taggart will have enough players to put on the field next Saturday at North Carolina State and the following week at Notre Dame, where epic beatdowns await … Prior to Saturday’s upset win over TCU, the last time Kansas had won a game in the month of October was in 2009. KU had lost 38 straight November games … Xander Schauffele beat Tony Finau in a playoff to win the World Golf Championships in Shanghai Sunday … If the Tampa Bay Bucs are smart, they’ll keep Jameis Winston on the bench and take their chances the rest of the way with Ryan Fitzpatrick … Okay, I don’t like the Boston Red Sox but hats off to them. They proved they’re a great team the way they took out the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to win the World Series.