THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; NOVEMBER 26, 2018
MY HOW PERCEPTIONS HAVE CHANGED
During the previous five years in which the Florida Gators were Florida State’s end of the regular season whipping boys, it seemed the gap between the two programs kept growing wider and wider with each passing year. It only takes one year and one 41-14 pillaging for a reversal of perceptions. Florida, with Dan Mullen in charge, has the look of a program with championships in the future. Florida State, with Willie Taggart in charge, looks so undisciplined (last in college football in penalties per game among other things) that unless serious changes are made and quickly that the wheels could come off.
What happened at Doak Campbell Stadium was astonishing, not just for the way Florida looked like a complete team in every phase of the game – offense, defense, special teams, coaching – but in the way Taggart and the Seminoles looked like they are lost balls in the tall weeds. It’s Mullen’s first year at UF, Taggart’s first at FSU. Both came in with previous head coaching experience but while Mullen looked like he knew what he was doing this past Saturday and since he took over the UF program, Taggart has looked more and more like he took his coaching lessons by mail order and the mail was late.
But enough about Taggart and the Seminoles. They’ve got a whole slew of problems and it might be a long, long time before they are solved.
As for the Gators, the rebuild to 9-3 by Mullen and his staff didn’t happen overnight nor did it happen with an infusion of new personnel. Let’s talk about the offense since that’s where the biggest improvements have been made. Mullen inherited talent left behind by former coach Jim McElwain that was recruited to run what was supposed to be a clone of Nick Saban’s pre-Tua offense, which is pound between the tackles and throw it vertically. In three years, that offense never cracked the top 100 nationally in either scoring or total offense. Last season the Gators ranked #104 in scoring (23.9 points per game) and #110 in total offense (344 yards per game).
Using virtually the same personnel that McElwain failed with last year, Mullen has gradually transformed the offense into a hybrid of what he wants to see in the future. The offense will continue to evolve but for now it’s good enough that the Gators have improved significantly to #31 in scoring (34.5 per game) and #48 in total offense (426.7 per game).
The poster child for the Mullen rebuild has to be quarterback Feleipe Franks, who so many frustrated fans last year unfairly blamed for rotten offense when they should have been pointing every bony finger at McElwain and his offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Franks was an indecisive125-229 passing (54.5%) last year for 1,438 yards (6.3 per attempt) with nine TDs and eight interceptions. He took so many sacks that he gained only 20 yards rushing total for 11 games. A year later, with Mullen and Brian Johnson tutoring him, Franks is 175-299 (58.5%) for 2,284 yards (7.6 per attempt) and 23 TDs (just six picks) while rushing for 276 yards and six TDs. The passing yardage is the most by a UF QB since Tim Tebow in 2009 (2,985 yards) and the TDPs are the most since Tebow threw for 30 in 2008.
What Franks has done is while learning Mullen’s offense on the fly. Mullen and Johnson have had only 11 months to undo two years of bad coaching by McElwain and Nussmeier. At Mississippi State, Mullen (as in the case of Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald) would redshirt his quarterback a year and let have spot duty in year two before handing him the keys to the offensive Cadillac in year three. If you go by that schedule, Franks is trying to do in year one under Mullen what quarterbacks typically do in year three.
Franks epitomizes what Mullen has done in his first year. While improving from last year’s four wins to nine, we’ve had to deal with a succession of peaks and valleys but while the peaks seem to keep getting higher, each new valley seems far shallower than the last. Like quarterbacks, great college football programs are not built overnight but rather they are a succession of improvements over a period of time. Eventually there is a process in place that, if followed to the letter with some room for creative improvisation, will result in reloading rather than rebuilding.
Mullen doesn’t have the Gators in perpetual reload just yet, but it’s just a matter of time.
RANKING THE SEC TOP TO BOTTOM
1. ALABAMA (12-0, 8-0 SEC): Alabama is the first team since Yale in 1888 to win all its regular season games by at least 20 points.
2. GEORGIA (11-1, 7-1 SEC): Since losing to LSU back in October, the Bulldogs have won five straight by a combined 208-92.
3. FLORIDA (9-3, 5-3 SEC): With losses in the College Football Playoff top ten by Michigan, LSU and Washington State, the Gators are poised to move up perhaps as #8. Florida is all but assured of playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
4. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC): LSU had every reason to be upset with the officiating after the SEC crew committed numerous blunders that allowed Texas A&M to score a 7-overtime win Saturday night. No call was bigger than a second overtime fumble by Aggie tight end Jace Sternberger that was (a) ruled incomplete on the field and (b) never reviewed in the booth. Had the play been reviewed, a fumble would have been called and LSU would have won.
5. KENTUCKY (9-3, 5-3 SEC): The Wildcats reached nine wins for the first time since 1984. If they win their bowl game, they’ll post their first 10-win season since 1977.
6. MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4, 4-4 SEC): The Bulldogs finished the regular season giving up 12 points and just 268.4 yards per game, both marks best in the SEC.
7. TEXAS A&M (8-4, 5-3 SEC): Kendrick Rogers caught two touchdown passes and three two-point conversions in overtime. He hadn’t scored since the second game of the season.
8. MISSOURI (8-4, 4-4 SEC): Barry Odom is being mentioned as a candidate at Louisville. Considering Drew Lock (96 career TDPs) graduates, it might be a good time to find gainful employment elsewhere.
9. SOUTH CAROLINA (6-5, 4-4 SEC): The Gamecocks have an almost certain win against Akron scheduled next Saturday so they’ll finish with a respectable 7-5 regular season mark.
10. AUBURN (7-5, 3-5 SEC): There is nothing wrong with Auburn that a complete overhaul of the offensive staff couldn’t solve.
11. VANDERBILT (6-6, 3-5 SEC): The Commodores are going bowling which means Derek Mason is secure for at least a couple more years.
12. OLE MISS (5-7, 1-7 SEC): The first thing Matt Luke did Friday was fire defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff. The Rebels had lots of offense but the worst defense in the SEC.
13. TENNESSEE (5-7, 2-6 SEC): The Vols were outscored 88-30 in their last two games. Things might get worse before they get better for Jeremy Pruitt.
14. ARKANSAS (2-10, 0-8 SEC): Things were never this bad under Bret Bielema. Arkansas lost 10 games in a season for the first time in school history under first year coach Chad Morris.
THE SEVEN COLLEGE PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
ALABAMA (12-0): Figure Alabama is as good as in no matter what happens in the SEC Championship Game. Win and the Crimson Tide is the #1 seed. Lose and Alabama still gets in as a 1-loss team that is easily one of the four best teams in the country.
CLEMSON (12-0): Clemson’s situation is quite different from that of Alabama. If Alabama were to lose the SEC title game, it would be to #4 Georgia. If Clemson were to lose in the ACC title game it would be to a Pitt team that counts among its five losses one to a 2-10 North Carolina team.
NOTRE DAME (12-0): The Irish are unbeaten therefore they’re in. Having watched Notre Dame 5-6 times this year, the only team Notre Dame would be favored to beat among the seven contenders for the four final spots would be a McKenzie Milton-less UCF.
GEORGIA (11-1): Georgia has to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game to get in since the committee has never selected a 2-loss team to the final four
OKLAHOMA (11-1): There are a lot of ifs here. First Georgia has to lose and Oklahoma has to beat Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. Because Ohio State is right behind the Sooners, Oklahoma needs a blowout win over Texas and hope that Ohio State doesn’t win the Big Ten Championship Game impressively enough to jump into the number four spot.
OHIO STATE (11-1): The Buckeyes need (a) pole axe Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, (b) Georgia to lose in the SEC Championship Game and (c) Oklahoma to either lose to Texas or to win so unimpressively that Ohio State could jump the Sooners into the #4 spot.
UCF (11-0): Even with the gruesome injury to quarterback McKenzie Milton, the Knights could still get in but it would require a lot of help. First, they would have to beat Memphis for their 25th straight win and second straight unbeaten season. Second, Alabama and Clemson would have to win their conference championship games. Third, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State would have to lose their conference championship games. If all that happened, it would be very difficult for the committee to choose a 2-loss team over a team with 25 straight wins.
THE HEISMAN SHORT LIST
Forget all the guys who would sacrifice a body part for an invitation to New York to sit on the Heisman podium. It’s going to come down to these three guys.
TUA TAGOVAILOA, QB, ALABAMA: If there were any doubts about Tua, they were completely dispelled against Auburn when he threw for 325 yards and five TDs while rushing for 26 and one more TD. His season totals are 189-269 passing (70.3%) for 3,189 yards (11.9 per attempt) and 36 TDs (only 2 picks) while rushing for 211 yards (4.69 per carry) and five TDs.
KYLER MURRAY, QB, OKLAHOMA: What might keep Murray from winning the Heisman is he’s done his damage against Big 12 defenses. Against West Virginia (59-56 Oklahoma win), Murray threw for 364 yards and three TDs while running for 114 yards and another TD. This season he is 216-300 passing (70.6%) for 3,674 yards (12.0 per attempt) and 37 TDs (7 picks) while rushing for 853 yards (7.55 per carry) and 11 more TDs.
DWAYNE HASKINS, QB, OHIO STATE: He has played himself back into contention in the last two weeks by throwing for 845 yards and nine touchdowns while running for three more to lead the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title game. Against Michigan’s then top-ranked defense, Haskins threw for 396 yards and six touchdowns. This season he is 314-455 passing (69%) for 4,125 yards (9.1 per attempt) and a Big Ten record 42 touchdowns (7 interceptions) to go with 127 yards and four rushing TDs.
HIRINGS AND FIRINGS
The real firing season has begun, but perhaps the biggest shock of all isn’t a firing. It’s Illinois where the AD plans to sign Lovie Smith to an EXTENSION. Lovie has won nine games in three years, which is about as many as the Illini will win in the next three.
Another head scratcher is how Randy Edsall earned a $2,000 bonus for going 1-11 at UConn. His team gave up an average of 50.4 points and 617.4 yards per game. If they decide to keep him, Edsall will get a $38,000 raise next year, which probably makes many of you think you are in the wrong profession.
Okay, on to the action on the first big day of the firing season.
Texas Tech will pay Kliff Kingsbury $4.2 million to go away after yet another mediocre (5-7) season. He will be someone’s offensive coordinator next year. The names being whispered at Texas Tech are Brent Venables (Clemson DC), Jim Leavitt (former USF head coach and now Oregon DC) and West Virginia HBC Dana Holgorsen.
What Texas Tech is paying Kliffy is small change compared to what Larry Fedora will be getting the next four years from North Carolina. His it’s been swell but time to say good-bye package will pay him $3 million per the next four years. Some early names tossed about at UNC are Appalachian State HBC Scott Satterfield, Arkansas State HBC Blake Anderson and North Texas HBC Seth Littrell.
Central Michigan fired John Bonamega after a 1-11 season. They would love to bring back Butch Jones (former CMU head coach but now an offensive analyst at Alabama) but Jones is being eyed by Maryland and if Purdon’t loses Jeff Brohm to Louisville, Jones will be on the short list. Louisville’s backup plan if Brohm just says no apparently is Missouri head coach Barry Odom.
Western Kentucky fired Mike Sanford after two seasons on the job. Sanford was 3-9 this season, 6-7 in 2017. Among the candidates on the WKU hot list is former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.
Southern Cal will keep Clay Helton at least one more year although younger brother Tyson didn’t fare so well as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. Tyson is looking for work after the Vols averaged 22.8 points and 325.5 yards per game.
Old Dominion announced Bobby Wilder will be back to coach next season after the Monarchs went 4-8.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Alabama is opening as a 17-1/2 point favorite in the SEC Championship Game. Oklahoma opens as a 7-1/2 point favorite over Texas in the Big 12. Ohio State is a 14 point favorite over Northwestern in the Big Ten. Clemson is a 24 point favorite over Pittsburgh in the ACC. Washington is a 3-1/2 point favorite over Utah in the Pac-12. UCF is favored by 7 in the American Athletic Conference … Maybe Michigan’s defense, which statistically led the nation by a wide margin prior to the Ohio State game, was a teensy bit overrated? … The powers that be in the College Football Playoff should demand that Notre Dame either join a conference or be excluded from the playoff … They play no defense in the Big 12 which is fine if you like seeing points on the scoreboard. Which would you rather see: a 14-10 defensive struggle or something like Oklahoma’s 59-56 win (in regulation) over West Virginia?