THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; DECEMBER 4, 2018
GATORS FACE WEST VIRGINIA IN JIMMY V CLASSIC
Mike White was in his first year as Florida’s basketball coach when he notched his first win over a ranked opponent. West Virginia came to Gainesville ranked #9 in the country with a devastating full court press and a dominating inside presence in Devin White. This was the SEC-Big 12 Challenge and West Virginia was expected to chew up the Gators with its pressure and dominate in the paint with White but a funny thing happened in that SEC-Big 12 Challenge game. Florida went on radar lock from the 3-point line (12-20), scored more points (21-14) than WVU off turnovers and the combination of John Egbunu and then freshman Kevarrius Hayes forced White into a 4-15 shooting night as the Gators pulled off a stunning, 88-71, win.
The Mountaineers (5-2) won’t be ranked when they square off against the Gators (4-3) in tonight’s Jimmy V Classic from Madison Square Garden (9 p.m., ESPN) and they certainly aren’t as efficient with their press as they were in 2016, but they dominate opponents on the inside, led by 6-8 Sagaba Konate (14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game). Konate, 6-8 Esa Ahmad (16.6 points, 5.4 rebounds) and 6-8 Lamont West (14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds), This will be one of the best front lines the Gators will see this year as evidenced by their rebounding numbers. West Virginia averages 42.3 rebounds per game (+6.7 rebounds per game) while the Gators have barely outrebounded seven opponents (34.0-33.4).
Two things have to happen for the Gators to come away with a win. First, Florida’s full court pressure (UF forces 16.3 turnovers per game) has to take its toll on the Mountaineers and prevent this from becoming a half court game which would favor WVU with its strong inside presence. Secondly, the Gators need to follow up their best shooting night of the season (16-28 from the 3-point line, 9 different Gators hit a 3-ball) with another hot night from the outside. That’s the formula that worked in 2016. Something similar tonight could be a sign that the Gators have turned the corner on the 2018-19 season.
IF THE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF WERE SIX TEAMS THIS YEAR
In a 6-team playoff format, all five power five conference champions would get in, allowing a spot for a wild card or the best team from the Group of Five. If there were a 6-team playoff this year, #1 Alabama (13-0) and #2 Clemson (13-0) would get first round byes. The on campus first round games would have #3 Notre Dame (12-0) hosting Pac-12 champ #9 Washington (10-3) and #4 Oklahoma (12-1) hosting Big Ten champ #6 Ohio State (12-1).
This format would allow Notre Dame to get into the playoff any year it finished in the top six of the playoff poll. In years when Notre Dame isn’t top six, it would favor a wild card from the Power Five although there would be a glimmer of hope for a Group of Five team such as UCF. Both Georgia and UCF would be out this year, however, with five conference champs and Notre Dame. With Notre Dame getting in and both Georgia and UCF left out, their fan bases (and probably coaches) would be screaming about injustice. This format would actually be more fair than the current 4-team format. In most years, there wouldn’t be three Power Five unbeatens so it would work out just right.
IF THE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF WERE EIGHT TEAMS THIS YEAR
In the 8-team format, all five conference champions would make the playoff every year along with the highest ranked Group of Five and two wild cards.
This season, there would be four first round games on campus. SEC champ #1 Alabama (13-0) would host Pac-12 champ #9 Washington (10-3). ACC champ #2 Clemson (13-0) would host top Group of Five #8 UCF (12-0). Wild card #3 Notre Dame (12-0) would host Big Ten champ #6 Ohio State. Big 12 champ #4 Oklahoma (12-1) would host wild card #5 Georgia (11-2).
The 8-team format would make sure no hurt feelings among the commissioners or the presidents and would allow the possibility that a Group of Five could win the national championship.
MARK BRADLEY SAID IT
The longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution isn’t buying Georgia’s claim that it belongs in the playoff. Bradley writes:
“They were outscored 21-0 by a team that lost its No.1 quarterback in mid-rally. They were undone by their coach, whose unpunted punt will live forever in football infamy. They coulda/shoulda won. They lost.”
In the same column, Bradley went on to write: “The data point largely unmentioned over Saturday night into Sunday morning was Georgia lost 36-16 to LSU, the first good team it played. The Bulldogs then lost to Alabama. They had twice as many losses as the entire CFP field. Should one intrepid (but also losing) performance override an otherwise fair-to-middling body of work. The answer is no, and it should be no.”
And later, Bradley offered this: “For Georgia, a moment almost seized because an opportunity muffed. Smart is a youngish head coach – he’s 42 – and will learn from this. But he’ll never forget it because he’ll never be allowed to forget it.
“His team came close to shocking the world and crashing the playoff. Alas, that’s still Georgia. Close, but not quite.”
LOOKING TO 2019 IN THE SEC
#1 ALABAMA (13-0): Does it really matter that the defense will lose a whole slew of guys to the NFL or if the OL loses two All-Americans. Tua will be back and so will all those wide receivers. Bama doesn’t rebuild. Bama reloads. Alabama will start the season either #1 or #2 next year.
ARKANSAS (2-10): The Hogs suffered the first 10-loss season in school history. There are troubles everywhere you look but if Chad Morris can’t solve his QB problems the Hogs will do another SEC Oh-fer next year. This could be the landing spot for former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant, but Arkansas needs much more than Bryant.
AUBURN (7-5): Auburn’s issues are all on the offensive side of the ball. Coordinator Chip Lindsey has bolted for Kansas so it’s safe to say that Gus Malzahn’s long term future at Auburn could be determined by who he brings in to run the offense. There are all sorts of whispers that Larry Fedora could be the guy.
#10 FLORIDA (9-3): The Gators met or exceeded all expectations for Dan Mullen’s first year on the job. The two critical issues moving forward will be the continued development of Feleipe Franks and Emory Jones at QB and creating SEC-caliber depth. Florida can put 22 on the field with just about anyone, but the teams that win championships have a two-deep stocked with SEC-caliber players. UF isn’t there yet.
#5 GEORGIA (11-2): The Bulldogs return 36 of the 44 on their 2-deep so there are very few holes to fill. The questions for Georgia are between the ears. Can they take whatever steps are necessary to go from really good to really great?
#14 KENTUCKY (9-3): Eight starters will graduate on the defensive side of the ball including sack master Josh Allen. Benny Snell Jr. probably bolts to the NFL so that’s a huge hit on the offensive side of the ball. Then there is QB Terry Wilson. He’s going to have to take big steps in the passing game to keep UK from sliding backward.
#11 LSU (9-3): This is a very young football team that might be able to challenge Alabama next year if Coach O can build some depth on both lines of scrimmage. If QB Joe Burrow makes a quantum leap, LSU could be beastly.
#18 MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4): The offense won’t miss a beat next year with Keyontae Thompson taking over at QB. The defense is a different story. Half the 2-deep will be gone either to graduation or the NFL. To stay at 8-4 or improve, Joe Moorhead has to fill a lot of defensive holes.
MISSOURI (8-4): Mizzou is going to return a ton of skill position talent but is there a triggerman who can take the place of graduating senior QB Drew Lock? Any kind of decent play at QB and the Tigers should be able to match eight wins.
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-5): The silver lining to all those injuries in 2018 is that Will Muschamp was forced to play a lot of young guys so the Gamecocks will be highly experienced in 2019. If Jake Bentley comes back for his senior season, the Gamecocks should be a 9-10 win team.
TENNESSEE (5-7): Twenty of the 22 on the offensive 2-deep return and 16 of the top 22 on the defensive side but is that necessarily a good thing? Will a year older make the Vols a year better? If there isn’t significant improvement, Jeremy Pruitt will find himself on the hot seat in a hurry.
#19 TEXAS A&M (8-4): This was the year to get the Aggies. Nearly everybody is back on both sides of the ball and Jimbo Fisher is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. They’re still maybe a year away from elite level but they won’t be far away in 2019.
VANDERBILT (6-6): The Commodores will return 33 of the 44 on the 2-deep, but if they can’t find a QB as good as graduating Kyle Shurmur they’ll struggle to break even once again.
The three who will be on the podium in New York are Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray and Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins. Now for a look at the preseason Heisman lists from preseason publications Athlon, Lindy’s and Phil Steele. Please notice that you won’t find Murray or Haskins on any of the three lists although Lindy’s did say “an Ohio State quarterback.”
ATHLON: 1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama; 2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford; 3. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin; 4. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State; 5. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona; 6. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia; 7. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia; 8. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State; 9. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn; 10. Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma; 11. Jake Browning, QB, Washington; 12. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri; 13. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston; 14. Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State; 15. A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College; 16. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State; 17. McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF; 18. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon; 19. DeAndre Swift, RB, Georgia; 20. Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
LINDY’S: 1. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford; 2. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin; 3. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona; 4. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State; 5. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama; 6. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn; 7. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia; 8. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia; 9. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State; 10. An Ohio State QB
PHIL STEELE: 1. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin; 2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford; 3. Shea Patterson, Michigan; 4. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State; 5. Jake Browning, QB, Washington; 6. Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State; 7. A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College; 8. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia; 9. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon; 10. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama; 11. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona; 12. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
HIRINGS AND FIRINGS
Turner Gill has announced he is retiring as the head coach at Liberty so he can spend more time with wife Gayle, who has a serious heart condition. Apparently, the frontrunner to succeed Gill is former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
Freeze was talking to Willie Taggart about becoming the new offensive coordinator at Florida State before Gill announced his retirement at Liberty. The OC job at FSU is open because Walt Bell is the new head coach at UMass.
Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield will become the next head coach at Louisville. Satterfield led the Apps to a 10-3 season and the Sun Belt Conference championship. His career record (all at Appalachian State) is 47-17.
Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is the top candidate to replace the retiring Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. I Whisenhunt can’t be convinced to return to coach his alma mater, the next two candidates on the short list are likely to be Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and Temple head coach (and former DC at Mississippi State and Florida) Geoff Collins.
East Carolina made it official Monday by hiring Mike Houston away from James Madison. Houston was 37-6 in three years at James Madison, winning the 2016 D1AA national championship and finishing runner-up in 2017.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin told the Orlando Sentinel that the Gators “would have loved to face UCF in a bowl game” … Alabama coach Nick Saban voted Clemson #1 over the Crimson Tide in the weekly coaches poll … Kareem Hunt, who was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs after a video of him beating up a woman surfaced on TMZ, went unclaimed off the NFL waiver wire … The Washington Redskins are down to their third team quarterback, recently signed Mark Sanchez, after Colt McCoy fractured his fibula Monday night. Alex Smith was lost for the season on November 19 when he suffered a compound fracture … Tennessee (#7), Auburn (#8) and Kentucky (#9) give the SEC three teams among the top ten in the most recent Associated Press basketball poll. That’s the most top ten teams from any one conference. Not bad for a football league.