THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; NOVEMBER 29, 2018
A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR THE GATORS
When he published his 2018 College Football Preview, Phil Steele predicted the Florida Gators would be the nation’s most improved team. Considering the Gators are ranked ninth in the most recent College Football Playoff Poll and virtually assured of a New Years Six bowl game on the heels of a 2017 that saw UF go 4-7, it’s easy to make the case that nobody in the country showed more improvement.
Florida finished the regular season 9-3. It’s not a spectacular 9-3 by any stretch of the imagination. It is all too easy to look back on things that could have been or should have been, but given the state of the program that Dan Mullen took over, 9-3 represents outstanding progress, perhaps more progress than any other team in the country. The Gators are light years ahead of where they were offensively in 2017, averaging the most points (34.5) and yards (426.7) than any Florida team since 2009. Defensively, the Gators gave up a touchdown less (27.3 points per game in 2017; 20.4 in 2018) and improved in nearly every category. In particular, the Gators sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times (23 in 2017) and had a +10 turnover margin (-3 in 2017).
Such improvement points to a bright future for the Gators under Mullen, who has already tied Steve Spurrier (9-2 in 1990) and Urban Meyer (9-3 in 2005) for the most wins by a first year coach at UF. With a win in the bowl game, Mullen can have first place all too himself, something that should resonate well on the recruiting trail.
Things are definitely trending upward at Florida, which not only has the prestige of playing in the Southeastern Conference but the big bucks and constant exposure that come from the SEC Network. The same can’t be said about chief in-state rivals Miami and Florida State. Miami endured a 5-game losing streak during the regular season and though the Hurricanes had two impressive wins to close out the season, they finished 7-5, which puts them in the same category as what seems to be half the ACC. FSU posted its first losing season since Gerald Ford was the unelected president of the United States. There isn’t a lot of optimism that FSU’s return to elite status will happen any time soon. Making matters worse for both Miami and FSU is the fact they can’t compete with Florida from either a financial standpoint or from a conference standpoint. Florida’s SEC revenues dwarf what Miami and FSU bring in from the ACC and if you take a look at the most recent College Football Playoff Poll you’ll see Florida among eight SEC teams in the top 25. There are but two from the ACC and neither is named Miami or FSU.
This is a rare window of opportunity for Florida football, a time when the Gators are the program with the most momentum and the highest ranking among the state’s big three programs. There is no time like the present for Florida to seize the moment and dominate the state.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
ALABAMA: Alabama’s most famous quarterbacks who went on to have great pro careers are Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler. Current Bama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s passing totals for the 2018 season (with at least two games to go) already exceed the CAREER totals of Starr, Namath and Stabler. Starr threw for 1,903 yards with 10 TDs (20 interceptions). Namath threw for 2,713 yards and 24 TDs (20 interceptions). Stabler threw for 2,196 yards and 18 TDs (18 picks). Tua has thrown for 3,189 yards and 36 TDs this year with only two interceptions.
ARKANSAS: Defensive coordinator John Chavis has exercised an option to extend his contract with Arkansas until 2020. Chavis made $995,000 last season but will see his salary increase to $1.5 million in January. That’s quite a bump in salary for a coordinator whose troops gave up 34.8 points and 413.2 yards per game on a team that went 2-10.
AUBURN: To put things kindly, things are chaotic but then again, this is Auburn, the same place that boosters and the AD tried to secretly hire Bobby Petrino in 2003 when Tommy Tuberville was the head coach. Of course, that attempted coup failed and the next season Tuberville led Auburn to a 13-0 record. Now the boosters are trying to force Gus Malzahn out by making him agree to a smaller buyout in order to coach next season. Probably the smartest thing Malzahn could do would be to call the boosters’ bluff and make them pony up the $32 million it would take to buy him out.
GEORGIA: Georgia defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter says the Bulldogs have been preparing to face Alabama ever since they lost to Bama in the national championship game back in January. Ledbetter said Wednesday, “We have unfinished business and we intend to go ahead and handle that.” Be careful what you wish for. Alabama is vastly superior offensively than the team that beat Georgia last year. Georgia is a two touchdown underdog Saturday.
KENTUCKY: Third team quarterback Danny Clark announced he will be transferring out. Clark took a redshirt in 2017. This past season he played in two games without attempting a pass although he carried the ball twice and even scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run against Murray State. Clark’s departure leaves Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak as the only scholarship quarterbacks on the UK roster.
LSU: LSU picked up a quarterback commitment for 2020 from Max Johnson of Oconee County, Georgia. What makes this commitment an eye-opener is that Johnson is the son of former FSU QB Brad Johnson and the nephew of Miami head coach Mark Richt.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Heading into the bowl game, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ranks 16th all-time in SEC history in total offense (9,559 yards) and eighth in touchdowns responsible for with 99 (54 passing, 45 rushing).
MISSOURI: When the bowl pairings are announced Sunday, Missouri has a very good chance to land in either the Outback Bowl in Tampa or the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville.
OLE MISS: The Rebels face a serious rebuilding of their wide receiver corps. A.J. Brown (85-1,320, 6 TDs) is expected to declare for the NFL any day now and is expected to be a high first round pick. Damarkus Lodge (65-877, 4 TDs) is a senior so he’s gone. Third-year sophomore D.K. Metcalf (26-569, 5 TDs) has already declared for the NFL.
TENNESSEE: While Auburn boosters are trying to make it difficult for Gus Malzahn to fire offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt is apparently trying to make sure Malzahn can lose Lindsey without having to fire him. Football Scoop is reporting that Lindsey and North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz are Pruitt’s top choices to replace Tyson Helton, who is now the head coach at Western Kentucky.
TEXAS A&M: Tight ends coach Tim Brewster, one of Jimbo Fisher’s best recruiters, will be joining Mack Brown’s staff at North Carolina. Brewster worked for Brown both at North Carolina and Texas in the past.
VANDERBILT: With 119 yards in Vanderbilt’s bowl game, Kyle Shurmur can become the school’s all-time leader in passing yardage. Shurmur has thrown for 8,579 yards while Jay Cutler leads all-time with 8,697. Shurmur is the all-time leader in touchdown passes with 63.
HIRINGS AND FIRINGS
The news of the day is that Paul Johnson is retiring as Georgia Tech’s head coach. Johnson compiled an 82-59 record at Georgia Tech and a 189-98 career record with prior stops at Georgia Southern and Navy. At Georgia Southern, Johnson went 62-10 and won two Division IAA national championships (1999-2000). Since Georgia Tech runs an option offense and all its offensive players were recruited for that style, the common sense choice would seem to be Army head coach Jeff Monken, who has led Army the Black to three straight bowl games (9-2 this season and currently ranked #23 in the latest AP poll). However, a lot of people close to the Georgia Tech program seem to think that the target will be Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who not only played at Georgia Tech from 1980-84 when Bill Curry was the head coach but was a teammate of Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury. Whisenhunt would bring quite a bit of name recognition to Georgia Tech since he has NFL head coaching experience with the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals.
Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill, who spent years as Jeremy Foley’s right hand man at Florida, has made an offer to Mike Houston of James Madison. Houston has won a Division IAA national championship and played in the D1AA national championship game in three years at James Madison. Houston is 37-5 at James Madison and 80-24 as a college head coach with stops at Lenoir-Rhyne and The Citadel prior to JMU. Currently, Houston has the Dukes in the D1AA playoffs with a 9-3 record but many believe as soon as the Dukes’ run in the playoffs is over that he will take the Charlotte job.
Jeff Brohm just said no to Louisville and apparently it had everything to do with salary. Louisville started negotiating at $4 million, which is about what Brohm was already making at Purdue, and was willing to go as high as $5 million. Purdue is believed to have bumped Brohm up to $6 million along with some other incentives to keep him from leaving after just two years. Nobody is reporting how common sense probably played into the decision. As tempting as it might have been for Brohm to return home to Louisville, where he played collegiately and worked as an assistant, common sense says the pathway to the conference championship game is a whole lot easier in the Big Ten West than it is playing in the same ACC division as Clemson.
Bowling Green has hired Scot Loeffler as its new head coach. Loeffler has spent the last couple of seasons working as Steve Addazio’s offensive coordinator at Boston College. In 2009-10, he coached quarterbacks for Urban Meyer at Florida.
Despite two straight losing seasons (5-19 combined in 2017-18), Tulsa has elected to stick with Phil Montgomery for at least one more year. Said AD Derrick Gragg, “He runs a clean program. He’s a player’s coach. They play hard for him. They haven’t quit.”
When Houston offensive coordinator Kendal Briles took a healthy raise to remain at the school rather than take the head coaching job at Texas State, TSU turned immediately to West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who said yes. Spavital has earned a reputation as a quarterback whisperer, tutoring Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Georgia Tech and future NFL quarterbacks Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) and Geno Smith (West Virginia). His current protégé, West Virginia QB Will Grier, could be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Spavital is expected to name former Colorado School of Mines and Montana head coach Bob Stitt as his offensive coordinator.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has made it clear he’s not a candidate to go anywhere. There had been speculation that Campbell would be a candidate to coach the NFL Cleveland Browns. The Cyclones are 15-9 in the past two seasons under Campbell.
Tennessee has waived Tyson Helton’s $860,000 contract buyout. Helton’s contract to be Western Kentucky’s head coach will pay him $800,000 a year with incentives that could add another $400,000.
Florida State president John Thatcher told Warchant that he expects Willie Taggart will make a few staff changes. Perhaps Thatcher is speaking as a fan. Or it’s possible that it could be translated to something like this: “I’ve instructed Coach Taggart that he needs some better coaches and if he wishes to remain gainfully employed here for a long time, I would suggest he do it!”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The Jacksonville Jaguars have benched QB Blake Bortles and have turned to Cody Kessler in an attempt to snap a 7-game losing streak … It’s possible that Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (757 rushing yards, 5 TDs; 71-608 receiving for 5 TDs) could finish the season with more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Only two players in NFL history – Marshall Faulk in 1999 and Roger Craig in 1985 – have ever done that … When you see what Alvin Kamara is doing with the New Orleans Saints, you have to wonder what the heck was Butch Jones thinking at University of Tennessee, where Kamara was incredibly under-used. With the NFL Saints so far, Kamara has run for 706 yards and 11 TDs while catching 57 passes for 519 yards and four more TDs … The Oakland Athletics are hoping to finalize a deal to build a modern new ball park near Jack London Square. Currently, the Athletics play in the Oakland Coliseum, which ranks among the worst parks in all of Major League Baseball … Kawhi Leonard, who made the move from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Ruptures this year, is going to make another major move, this one involving shoes. Leonard is abandoning Jordan Brand for New Balance.