THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; NOVEMBER 20, 2018
THESE NUMBERS TELL A STORY
The numbers don’t lie. The numbers have plenty to do with why the Florida Gators (8-3, 5-3 SEC) have gone from a 4-7 2017 to a team that should make a New Year’s Six bowl game if they can end a 5-game losing streak to Florida State in Tallahassee Saturday (12 noon, ESPN).
Quarterback is the place everyone starts when making a comparison like this and while Feleipe Franks’ 2018 numbers are vastly improved from his redshirt freshman year in 2017, a portion of his success can be attributed to the offensive line but we’ll get to that in a bit. Last year, Franks threw for 1,438 yards (6.3 yards per attempt) on 125-229 passing (54.5%). He threw nine TDPs and had eight passes intercepted. This season, thanks to a serious upgrade in coaching (head coach Dan Mullen; QB coach Brian Johnson), he’s 159-273 (58.2%) for 2,030 yards (7.4 per attempt) with 20 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
Let that sink in a minute and then ponder this. With 32 yards Saturday against FSU, Franks will have thrown for more yards in a season than any Florida QB since Tim Tebow threw for 2,895 yards in 2009. Franks’ 20 touchdown passes are the most since Tebow threw for 21 in 2009. Franks has improved his accuracy this year, thrown fewer interceptions and his yards per attempt is up by a full yard. That’s significant.
Franks’ improvement couldn’t have happened without major improvement by Florida’s offensive line. Franks spent much of 2017 either on his back or running for his life because of two things: (1) He struggled to read defenses and (2) the offensive line was a sieve. Enter John Hevesy, who came with Mullen from Mississippi State to coach the O-line. The Gators gave up 37 sacks in 11 games in 2017. Meanwhile, in Starkville, Hevesy’s O-line gave up only 14 sacks in 13 games. This season, the Gators have given up only 14 sacks. You can attribute that to better coaching of Franks, who not only reads defenses better but understands when to tuck and run and when to throw the ball away, and to better coaching of the offensive line, which has discovered that it’s not illegal to get in the way of a speed rusher off the edge or a blitzer up the middle.
The Hevesy effect is also felt strongly in the running game where the Gators are averaging 204.91 yards per game and 5.19 per carry. Compare that to last season when the Gators managed only 156.36 yards per game and 4.3 per carry. This is the most yards per game and yards per carry since Tebow’s senior year in 2009 when the Gators ran for 221.79 per game, averaging 5.59 per carry.
Contemplate this: Those 2009 numbers were posted with a quarterback who started three years, won a Heisman Trophy and made it to New York the other two years, and with an offensive system that had been in place since 2005. This is the first year for Mullen’s system, the first time Feleipe Franks has gotten serious coaching, and the best coaching these offensive linemen have gotten since they arrived at the University of Florida.
The future is very, very bright for Florida future. The numbers prove that and the numbers don’t lie.
When the fourth College Football Playoff Poll is announced tonight, barring something completely unforeseen there will be no changes among the top six teams (1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Clemson, 5. Georgia, 6. Oklahoma). It’s possible that last week’s #8 Washington State could jump over LSU into seventh and would anyone be shocked if UCF jumps over #10 Ohio State into the spot vacated by last week’s #9, West Virginia (lost to Okie State)?
If the top four teams win out, they’ll be in the playoff, but it would be highly unusual if there isn’t a measure of chaos in the final week of the regular season and next weekend when the conference championship games are played. Of the current top four, the team that seems to have the shakiest path to the playoff would be Michigan. The Wolverines have to play Ohio State in Columbus this weekend and if they survive with a win they’ll have to play Northwestern a second time. When they played the first time, Northwestern jumped to a 17-0 lead in the first half only to give up a fourth quarter touchdown that gave Michigan a 20-17 win.
So, let’s assume that Alabama takes care of business with Auburn and then beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, Clemson handles South Carolina and Pitt, and Notre Dame finishes 12-0 with a win at Southern Cal. That leaves one last spot, currently occupied by Michigan, and there are some very real possibilities for chaos.
Chaos Scenario One
Michigan beats Ohio State but loses to Northwestern. That eliminates the Big Ten since all teams have at least two losses. Oklahoma beats West Virginia in Morgantown this weekend and then Texas in the Big 12 Conference Championship Game. Oklahoma moves into the fourth spot and would face #1 Alabama in a playoff semifinal, a matchup that could pit the top two Heisman finalists (Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray) in a made for TV matchup.
Chaos Scenario Two
Michigan loses to Ohio State and Ohio State loses to Northwestern. West Virginia beats Oklahoma, eliminating a Big 12 team from the playoff. Washington State beats Washington in the final regular season game and Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. With Oklahoma and Georgia both with two losses, Wazzoo gets the #4 spot as the only team standing with just one loss.
Chaos Scenario Three
Michigan loses to Ohio State, which then beats Northwestern for the Big Ten title. Oklahoma beats West Virginia but loses to Texas in the Big 12 title game. Washington State beats Washington but loses to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Ohio State with one loss moves into the #4 spot.
Chaos Scenario Four
Michigan loses to Ohio State, which loses to Northwestern. Texas wins the Big 12 but with three losses won’t make the playoff. Washington State loses to Utah, eliminating the Pac-12. UCF whacks South Florida in the regular season finale and then knocks off Houston (or anyone else who shows up) in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. UCF has a 25-game winning streak. There isn’t a 1-loss team standing and the playoff has never allowed in a team with two or more losses. And, given the heat they would take for bypassing a team that has run the table two straight years, UCF becomes team #4 in the playoff.
Now, all things considered, I think the final four will be Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan. I’m not a status quo guy, however, and what I really want to see is some chaos.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Will it be a status quo final four of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan or will we have some form of chaos? Who makes it in your chaos scenario?
MONDAY IN THE SEC
#1 ALABAMA (11-0, 7-0 SEC): Offensive tackle Jonah Williams and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams are finalists for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best interior lineman in college football. The other finalist is Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
Saturday: vs. Auburn (7-4, 3-4 SEC), 3:30 p.m., CBS
ARKANSAS (2-9, 0-7 SEC): Defensive backs Kamren Curl and Ryan Pulley have been suspended for Saturday’s season finale at Missouri. Their crime? The two were spotted chatting and taking pictures with members of Mississippi State’s spirit squad before kickoff of last Saturday’s game in Starkville. Head coach Chad Morris called their actions “completely unacceptable.”
Friday: at Missouri (7-4, 3-4 SEC), 2:30 p.m., CBS
AUBURN (7-4, 3-4 SEC): Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s name has been mentioned along with the vacancy at Charlotte. Steele’s job at Auburn is safe if he doesn’t get the job. The same can’t be said of a number of assistants on the offensive side of the ball where wholesale changes are expected in the offseason.
Saturday: at #1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m., CBS
#5 GEORGIA (10-1, 7-1 SEC): Georgia’s defense gives up 128.45 yards per game on the ground (4.12 per carry). Saturday they will be charged with stopping Georgia Tech’s option offense, which averages 353.73 yards per game rushing (5.94 per carry) and holds onto the ball an average of 34 minutes and 12 seconds per game … Quarterback Justin Fields was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
Saturday: vs. Georgia Tech (7-4), 12 noon, SEC Network
KENTUCKY (8-3, 5-3 SEC): The Wildcats have plenty of incentive heading into Saturday’s game with the worst Louisville team in many, many years. Kentucky is a win away from its first 9-win season since 1984. Win that one and then win the bowl game and the Wildcats will have their first 10-win season since 1977. That 10-1 team was prohibited from winning the SEC or going to a bowl game due to a sentence in the NCAA jailhouse.
Saturday: at Louisville (2-9), 7 p.m., ESPN2
#8 LSU (9-2, 5-2 SEC): Back from injuries in time for Saturday’s game at Texas A&M are safeties John Battle and Todd Harris along with corner Kelvin Joseph. Defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko will miss the game and the bowl game after surgery on his arm.
Saturday: at Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4 SEC), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
#22 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-4, 3-4 SEC): Running back Kylin Hill (88-593 rushing, 3 touchdowns) and safety Jaquarius Landrews (21 tackles, 3 sacks) are listed day-to-day for Thursday’s Egg Bowl matchup with Ole Miss in Oxford … Safety Johnathan Abram was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week and guard Deion Calhoun was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Thursday: at Ole Miss (5-6, 1-6 SEC), 7:30 p.m., ESPN
MISSOURI (7-4, 3-4 SEC): Wide receiver Richaud Floyd, who was possibly knocked unconscious at Tennessee on a helmet-to-helmet collision that resulted in a targeting ejection of the UT defender, spent Saturday night in a Knoxville hospital but has been released. It’s doubtful he will be available to play Saturday vs. Arkansas … Quarterback Drew Lock was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Friday: vs. Arkansas (2-9, 0-7 SEC), 2:30 p.m., CBS
OLE MISS (5-6, 1-6 SEC): Athletic director Ross Bjork has been in touch with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and the league’s supervisor of officials, hoping to get an explanation why a touchdown pass to A.J. Brown in overtime was overruled in the replay booth and called incomplete. On the play, Brown made a catch in the end zone and came down in control of the ball. When his back hit the turf a Vandy player took the ball away. Ole Miss lost the game, 36-29 … Placekicker Luke Logan was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Saturday: vs. #22 Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 SEC), 7:30 p.m., ESPN
SOUTH CAROLINA (6-4, 4-4 SEC): South Carolina’s beat up secondary will have its hands full with Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence Saturday. Lawrence has completed 65% of his passes for 21 touchdowns while throwing only four interceptions.
Saturday: at #2 Clemson (11-0), 7 p.m., ESPN
TENNESSEE (5-6, 2-5 SEC): Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (1,761 passing yards, 11 TDPs) and wide receiver Marquez Callaway (34-556, 1 TD) are listed day-to-day for Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt.
Saturday: at Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5 SEC), 4 p.m., ESPN
TEXAS A&M (7-4, 4-3 SEC): The Aggies have surpassed the 200-yard mark rushing in each of their last three games and are averaging 201.09 per game (4.94 per carry). Saturday they will have to move the ball against an LSU defense that has given up 113 yards on 62 carries in the last two games.
Saturday: vs. #8 LSU (9-2, 5-2 SEC), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
VANDERBILT (5-6, 2-5 SEC): The winner of Saturday’s game with Tennessee goes to a bowl while the loser will stay home. Vanderbilt has opened up as a 3-1/2 point favorite over the Vols … Dayo Odeyingbo was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
Saturday: vs. Tennessee (5-6, 2-5 SEC), 4 p.m., SEC Network
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The Big 12 publicly reprimanded Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager for saying, “OU still sucks” to a reporter in the locker room after the Longhorns beat Iowa State last Saturday night … When Texas travels to Kansas for its regular season finale, it will have to do it without Bevo, its longhorn mascot. Kansas has a rule prohibiting live mascots on the sideline … Old quarterbacks never die. They are simply recycled. The Washington Redskins brought Mark Sanchez off the ash heap to back up Colt McCoy following the gruesome injury to starting QB Alex Smith … Brian Bowen II, who might have been the player who got the whole college basketball corruption investigation going, has sued Adidas for bribery, fraud and money laundering. Wait a second? He’s suing Adidas when his dad agreed to take $100,000 from Adidas to go to Louisville? Things that make you indeed to hmmm … Make it a point to watch the Duke-Auburn basketball game on ESPN tonight at 8. While everyone is going ga-ga over those Duke freshmen, Auburn has a team that’s very capable of beating anyone in the country, Duke included.