THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; NOVEMBER 27, 2018
GARDNER-JOHSON MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s announcement that he will forego his senior year at the University of Florida to enter the NFL Draft should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched him put together the kind of season that should be rewarded with All-SEC honors. Playing as a hybrid safety-cornerback-linebacker in coordinator Todd Grantham’s sophisticated defensive scheme, Chauncey was in on 66 tackles in the regular season with nine tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown.
This will be a defensive heavy 2019 NFL Draft so while Gardner-Johnson is listed as high as #3 on the safety boards of most draft evaluators, it seems likely that he’ll go in the first half of the second round. Going that high makes his decision to skip his senior year a no-brainer. The fact that he’s versatile enough to play corner, nickel, safety and a hybrid safety-linebacker who plays almost on the line of scrimmage could allow him to slip into the last few picks of the first round.
Gardner-Johnson will not join the recent trend of skipping the bowl game to preserve his draft status.
It is also expected that junior defensive end Jachai Polite will elect to enter the NFL Draft. Polite, who was selected the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after his brilliant performance against Florida State (2-1/2 sacks, 3-1/2 tackles for loss, one forced fumble), leads the Gators with 11 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He has also broken up four passes and hurried the quarterback three times. Although he is considered a bit of a liability against the run, he’s such a threat off the edge that most draft evaluators have Polite going in the first round with a chance to go among the first 15-16 picks.
Other juniors who could declare for the draft are defensive end Jabari Zuniga (6.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss), right tackle Jawaan Taylor, running back Jordan Scarlett and wide receiver Van Jefferson. While Zuniga’s draft stock is rising, he’s likely no higher than a third round pick who would be wise to gain added upper body strength and play his senior year. Taylor has short arms so it’s questionable whether he can play tackle in the pros. He seems more likely to be a guard prospect, which, as an underclassman, would make him a probable third or fourth rounder. Scarlett would be unlikely to go before the fourth round but that might be true next year as well, so he has a tough decision to make. Jefferson is in grad school but he has another year of eligibility. As Florida’s go-to receiver next year he could have the kind of breakout season that could seriously elevate his draft stock.
GATOR HOOPS FACE UNF AT THE O-DOME
There is nothing wrong with the defense Mike White’s Florida basketball team is playing. The Gators (3-3) are giving up just 61.8 points per game while holding opponents to 39.9% shooting from the field and just 31.9% from the 3-point line. Florida’s early season problems have everything to do with poor shooting, not necessarily caused by brilliant defense from opponents. The Gators are struggling to get shots to go and equally concerning, they seem to be having problems deciding what’s a good shot and what’s a bad one. Florida is shooting 44.1% from the field, and only 31.9% from the 3-point line.
White has to be hoping that tonight’s close encounter with North Florida (2-4) at the O-Dome (7 p.m., SEC Network) is the kind of game where the shots start falling and confidence begins to build. He has to be most concerned about seniors KeVaughn Allen, who’s hitting just 23.8% from the 3-point line while averaging 8.0 per game, and Jalen Hudson, averaging 7.0 while hitting a miserable 19% on his 3-balls. Getting these two veterans untracked will be critical as the Gators get ready for a December that includes games with West Virginia, Michigan State and Butler.
CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK STUFF IN GAMES THAT MATTER
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
While Georgia (11-1) wishfully hopes that Alabama will bring its Z Game instead of it’s A Game Saturday in Atlanta, here are two reasons why Alabama (12-0) should not only win but cover the 13-point spread. (1) Georgia was destroyed by LSU, 36-16, in Baton Rouge. Alabama also played LSU in Baton Rouge. Alabama won that game, 29-0, and it could have been a whole lot worse if Nick Saban had wanted it to be. Georgia gave up 475 yards to LSU, 275 on the ground. Alabama held LSU to 196 yards, 12 on the ground. (2) Georgia’s pass rush has generated only 20 sacks all season and six of those (three each) were against UMass and Georgia Tech, hardly teams that strike terror into opponents with their passing attacks. Alabama has allowed only 11 sacks in 12 games. Give Tua Tagovailoa time to throw to those very fast receivers and there isn’t a secondary in the country that can stop Alabama’s passing game.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
To make the College Football Playoff, Ohio State (11-1) has to jump Oklahoma. To do that the Buckeyes not only have to beat Northwestern (8-4) but make the Wildcats wish they had never taken up the game of football in the first place. Why this could happen has everything to do with Northwestern’s pass defense. The Wildcats give up 237.8 yards per game, which ranks 79th nationally. Making matters worse, Northwestern has only sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times. The Buckeyes have the #2 passing offense in the country (362.5 yards per game). Dwayne Haskins (4,081 passing yards, 42 touchdown passes) is coming off a game against Michigan in which he threw for more yards (396) than the Wolverines had given up in the previous three games combined. Michigan had given up only seven TDPs in 11 games. The Wolverines gave up six to Haskins.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
This is the second meeting this season for Oklahoma (11-1) and Texas (9-3). In the first matchup, won by Texas, 48-45, the Longhorns ran for 177 yards and threw for 324 while Oklahoma ran for 222 and threw for 310. There is no doubt Oklahoma can move the ball and score points. The Sooners average 50.3 points and 583.8 yards per game (both #1 nationally). The problem is the Oklahoma defense, which is the cure for the common offense. The Sooners give up 32.8 points (#100 nationally) and 449 yards (#111 nationally). Oklahoma is favored Friday by 7-1/2 points.
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Clemson went 14-1 in 2016 and won the national championship by knocking off Alabama, 35-31. The Tigers one loss that season was to Pittsburgh, 43-42. Clemson is 12-0 this year, ranked #2 nationally. The Tigers were unbeaten and ranked #3 nationally back in 2016. Pitt is 7-5 this season. The Panthers went 8-5 in 2016. You can bet the farm that Dabo Swinney is pounding what happened in 2016 into the Tigers heads this week. Clemson is favored to win by 26 points Saturday.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
You don’t have to be a wide-eyed dreamer to envision that (1) Alabama could blow the doors off Georgia; (2) Ohio State could get upset by Northwestern; and (3) Texas beats Oklahoma in a shootout in which 90 or more points are scored. If all that happens AND UCF beats Memphis for the AAC championship, the Knights have a chance to crash the playoff party. If McKenzie Milton were healthy, UCF would be a solid favorite, but without him it’s going to be dicey. But, if UCF can squeeze out a win and Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State all lose, the playoff selection committee is going to have a whole lot of explaining to do if they deny a team that has won 25 straight games while putting a two-loss team in the playoff. UCF is favored by 3-1/2 points for this Saturday afternoon game in Orlando.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES WITH NO PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS
Buffalo (10-2) is favored by 3-1/2 over Northern Illinois (7-5) in the MAC. When is the last time Buffalo ever won 11 games? Never? … Washington (9-3) and Utah (9-3) meet Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game. With a win, Utah could go to the Rose Bowl for the first time in school history … Appalachian State (9-2) is a 17-1/2 point favorite over Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) in the Sun Belt Conference … Middle Tennessee (8-4) beat UAB, 27-3, last Saturday in the regular season finale. The Blue Raiders face UAB (9-3) again this Saturday for the Conference USA championship …Boise State (10-2) beat Fresno State (10-2), 24-17, three weeks ago on the Smurf Turf. They play a rematch Saturday for the Mountain West championship, once again on Boise’s Smurf Turf.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL STUFF: When they announced the semifinalists for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, one name prominently missing was Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. Prior to Brown’s troops giving up 567 yards and 62 points to Ohio State – it could have been worse if Urban hadn’t shut things down in the fourth quarter – Brown was thought to be a shoo-in for the award. Michigan still leads the country in defense from a statistical standpoint (262.5 yards per game) but nobody is taking that defense seriously after the way Ohio State boatraced them … Speaking of Michigan, one of their players called 2018 “the revenge tour.” This was supposed to be the year Michigan exorcised all the demons, especially the one in Columbus. The Fighting Harbaughs will have to wait until next year. That is, if Jim Harbaugh elects to stick around. He’s 0-4 against Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes and in eight years as a Division I head coach (4 at Stanford, 4 at Michigan) he has yet to win a conference championship. There has been a lot of speculation that Harbaugh will bolt for the NFL in January. He could probably have his pick of the Giants or the Jets … SEC commissioner Greg Sankey wants a “healthier environment” for the annual Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Good luck on that one.
HIRINGS AND FIRINGS
One day after firing Larry Fedora, North Carolina announced that it is bringing back Mack Brown, who was the head coach in Chapel Hill from 1988-97. Brown went 2-20 in those first two rebuilding years but in the next eight UNC went 67-26-1 with three 10-win seasons. Brown is 67 years old and hasn’t coached since 2013 when he was politely shown the door at Texas where he won the national championship in 2005.
Obviously, hiring Mack Brown was in the works before the season ever ended. There was plenty of speculation that Carolina would make a run at Scott Satterfield of Appalachian State, but Satterfield said Monday he had absolutely zero contact with anyone from UNC.
A day after it was being reported that Tennessee would part ways with offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky hired Helton as its new head ball coach to replace the fired Mike Sanford.
Despite reports to the contrary, Missouri coach Barry Odom says he has “zero interest in Louisville.”
As expected, Mike Bobo is safe for at least one more year at Colorado State. The Rams went 3-9.
Some names to scratch off the Texas Tech wish list: (1) Mike Leach (“under no circumstances” per AD Kirby Hocutt); (2) West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen; and (3) Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Hocutt and Venables were roommates at Kansas State, but Venables is committed to remaining at Clemson where his son is a freshman linebacker.
Texas-San Antonio has confirmed that Frank Wilson will return in 2019. The Roadrunners went 3-9 this year.
Kendal Briles, who was Lane Kiffin’s offensive coordinator at FAU in 2017 and Major Applewhite’s OC at Houston this past season, is likely to be named the new head coach at Texas State. Texas State fired Everett Withers last week after three consecutive losing seasons.
Ball State head coach Mike Neu will return for his fourth season in 2019. The Cardinals just finished a 4-8 campaign.
And here’s something to file under seriously ridiculous. There was a report from someone in Montgomery, Alabama who claimed impeccable sources that a group of high profile Auburn boosters were willing to pony up the $32-40 million it will take to buy out Gus Malzahn. That’s ridiculous statement #1. But wait. It gets better. These “sources” claimed that Bob Stoops had met with Auburn and the meeting went so well that he was supposedly leaning Auburn’s way. That’s ridiculous statement #2. Gus Malzahn will be the coach at Auburn next year and secondly, Bob Stoops is well known for integrity. I can guarantee you that he’s not going to talk to Auburn or any other school about an opening when there is a coach already in place and under contract. Stoops told USA Today the report is completely false.
The reason Lovie Smith is still coaching Illinois has nothing to do with the school is so encouraged by nine wins in three years they want to give him an extension through 2023. The extension is happy talk. To fire Lovie this year would result in a $12 million buyout. The buyout drops to a far more manageable $4 million after next season, which you can almost guarantee will be another disaster.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Some of the best news from the Thanksgiving football weekend came from Orlando where UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton has taken some steps after his surgery. “He said that he got to walk the other day and he never appreciated walking so much,” reported UCF head coach Josh Heupel … The man responsible for a Facebook post showing Florida State coach Willie Taggart lynched has been fired from his job at Hilton Grand Vacations in Orlando. The post was made on an FSU fan group page on Facebook Saturday … The Cincinnati Bengals, who have turned stupid football moves into an art form, are allegedly contemplating the firing of longtime coach Marvin Lewis. Given the way the Bengals are playing, that actually isn’t a stupid football move. What is stupid would be the report that the Bengals are seriously considering replacing Lewis with Hue Jackson. Yes, the same Hue Jackson who the Cleveland Browns fired after he went 3-36-1 in 2-1/2 seasons.