THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; DECEMBER 31, 2018
ENDING WITH A SIGNATURE WIN
What Dan Mullen needed Saturday he got from the Florida Gators. Not only did Mullen close out the 2018 season with a school record 10th win by a first year coach but by sticking that wooden stake in the heart of the Michigan Wolverines at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Mullen ended his first season on the job with a signature win, the kind that resonates with recruits and sends a shivering signal to the rest of the SEC that Florida has awakened from its 8-year slumber.
Although he would never admit it out loud, Mullen needed a dominating win over Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Sure, a 1-point win counts the same in the record book as the 26-point win (41-15) that the Gators got over Michigan Saturday, but recruits pay attention. One-point wins might be thrilling, but blowouts send out the kind of magnetic vibes that draw recruits to your program. The Gators closed out the early signing period 10 days ago with a measure of momentum that Mullen and his staff could very well turn into a recruiting tsunami the first Wednesday of February when kids can once again sign national letters of intent.
Blowouts like this one also tell the rest of the Southeastern Conference that if Mullen can make this kind of progress with a roster made up 70% or more of players he didn’t recruit and a quarterback whose confidence had to be rebuilt from scratch, just think what’s going to happen next season and beyond as the roster is filled with players recruited to fit Mullen’s system. Blowouts like this one also speak volumes about a coach who stuck with and believed in his quarterback even when his quarterback lacked faith. Feleipe Franks was the best quarterback on the field Saturday. After that loss to Missouri in early November, Franks probably wasn’t sure he was even the best quarterback on the Florida roster but Mullen stuck with him and convinced him that his problems were between the ears. Franks believed and now he has a 10-win season as a starting QB in the Southeastern Conference not to mention the best seasonal stats since that Tebow guy was taking the snaps. That’s real progress.
Now Michigan’s faithful are doing their best to diminish what happened Saturday. They played without two of their best defensive players, a starting O-lineman and their 1,000-yard runner, but weren’t those same guys on the field the last weekend of November in Columbus? With them or without them, I seriously doubt there would have been a whole lot of difference in the outcome of the Peach Bowl. Florida was better coached, better prepared and certainly motivated. Dan Mullen knew what to expect from his team and he got it and the result was the kind of signature win that he needed to end his first year on the Florida job.
When the final 2018 rankings come out after the national championship game one week from Tuesday, Mullen could get another boost of momentum. The Gators have disposed of #7 Michigan. If #8 UCF and #9 Washington lose their New Year’s Day games, Florida could wind up #7 in the final rankings.
WHEN THE SHOTS FALL, THE GATORS CAN BE VERY GOOD
When the Gators (8-4) blew the doors off Butler at the O-Dome, 77-43, Saturday, we finally got a glimpse of what happens when the offense catches up with what is a very good Florida defense. The Gators hit nine of their first 12 shots while holding Butler scoreless in the first 8:01 of the game as they raced out to a 21-0 lead. Five Gators scored in double figures on a night when UF hit 30-56 (53.6%) overall from the field and 10-21 (47.6%) from the 3-point line. Down at the other end of the court, the Gators held Butler to 15-49 shooting (30.6%) overall and 5-24 (20.8%) from the 3-point line.
Mike White has the Gators playing defense at a near-elite level, holding opponents to 59.8 points per game (12th nationally) while holding them to 39.2% from the field and just 29.6% from the 3-point line. With the exception of the season opening loss to FSU, stopping people hasn’t been a real problem for the Gators but scoring the basketball has been. The scoring has been trending upward the last three games (71 vs. Mercer and 77 against both Florida Gulf Coast and Butler) and we’re seeing positive signs that KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson are breaking out of their slumps. With the SEC portion of the schedule set to kick in next Saturday against South Carolina, White needs those two senior veterans to consistently put points on the board. If Allen and Hudson are making shots, this Florida team can be very, very good.
Mike White sighting: Sunday afternoon White and assistant coach Darious Nichols were very visible at courtside to watch UF signee Tre Mann in the consolation game of The Battle at the Villages tournament. White seemed rather impressed when Mann cupped a one-handed rebound below the basket and then thundered it home with a most impressive windmill jam. Mann also hit a 35-foot 3-point jumper in the game that also got a rise out of White.
ALABAMA VS. CLEMSON … AGAIN
The University of Alabama and Clemson University are separated by 328 miles, yet to renew their College Football Playoff rivalry (they’re playing for the title for the third time in four years and they’ve met in the playoff four straight) they have to travel more than 2,200 miles to Santa Clara, California. This is a game that begs to be played in either Atlanta or New Orleans but instead will be played at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers. Just what we need, a national championship game for college football deep in the heart of Pac-12 country. Yes, the same Pac-12 which doesn’t have a team in the playoff for the second straight year and the third time since the playoff began five years ago. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right.
What does seem right is that college football’s two best teams and two best coaches are going to meet for the national championship, which is exactly what they were predicted to by all the preseason college football magazines. Alabama held down the #1 preseason ranking with Clemson #2 in all the major publications except for Lindy’s, which had Clemson #1 and Alabama #2. Since the playoff system began in 2014, Alabama 67-6 with national championships in 2015 and 2017. Over that same stretch, Clemson is 64-9 with a national championship in 2016.
Nick Saban is 141-20 with five national championships in 12 years at Alabama. Dabo Swinney is 115-30 with one national championship in 11 years at Clemson.
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
Cincinnati (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Stanford (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (7-6)
Michigan State (7-5) vs. Oregon (8-4)
Missouri (8-4) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
Northwestern (8-5) vs. Utah (9-4)
North Carolina State (9-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)
Conference bowl standings
Conference USA 4-2
Mountain West 3-2
Sun Belt 3-2
Big Ten 2-2
Big 12 2-3
American Athletic 1-4
IS MANNY DIAZ READY FOR THE MIAMI JOB?
When dawn broke Sunday morning, Mark Richt was the football coach at the University of Miami. By lunch time Richt announced he was no longer coaching football at The U, but instead was calling it a coaching career. By the time the clock struck midnight, Manny Diaz was the new football coach at Miami and Temple University was without a football coach for the second time in 24 days and the fifth time since 2010.
Before we open the debate about whether or not Diaz is the next in a growing line of designated saviors tasked with restoring The U to its glory days of relevance on the national scene, let’s start with the obvious: Once again Temple University has been screwed over.
It was only 13 years ago that Temple got kicked out of the Big East because it couldn’t field a competitive football team. Since then, Temple has seen Al Golden (2006-10, 27-34 record) bolt for Miami, of all places; Steve Addazio (2011-12, 13-11 record) leave for Boston College; Matt Rhule (2013-16, 28-23 record) leave for Baylor; and Geoff Collins (2017-18; 15-10 record) leave for Georgia Tech. Of course, Diaz never coached a game and is the second former Temple coach to depart for seemingly greener pastures (and a bigger paycheck) at Miami.
Temple plays in the American Athletic Conference. It has no tradition, a small and weak fan base, rotten facilities, doesn’t have an on campus stadium (home games are played in the NFL stadium used by the Philadelphia Eagles where they are lucky to draw 25,000 for a home game) and receives less money from television revenues than the University of Alabama will spend on recruiting. Yet in the AAC, Temple is competitive and has been going to bowl games the last few years despite the revolving door of coaches. Somehow, Temple keeps hiring good coaches who go on to higher paying jobs at places where they not only put a lot of people in the stands but also have their games televised on a regular basis. You have to wonder, however, how long before Temple makes a truly rotten hire and is back to being one of the wastelands of college football like it was back in 2005? This is a football program with very little margin for error.
Miami doesn’t have the margin for error that it used to have and with Richt retiring so abruptly without offering up even the slightest hint that leaving coaching was in the cards it casts tremendous doubt about the future of the program. And, with a shroud of doubt now covering the program, is Manny Diaz capable of even doing as well as Richt did after he took over the program from Al Golden three years ago? Richt had 19 wins in his first two seasons before limping home at 7-6 in 2018. If Diaz averages nearly nine wins a season as Richt did, will that satisfy a Miami fan base that feels entitled to national championships although it’s been 17 years since the last one?
Richt is a former Miami QB who came back home three years ago with 145 wins and two SEC championships under his belt. When hired, Richt was proclaimed the coach who would restore Miami to its championship greatness, something that never happened. Diaz has never been a head coach at any level and he is a Florida State alum so it’s safe to wonder how much slack Canes’ fans will give him if he doesn’t deliver in a big way. Maybe he’s the right guy in the right place at the right time but given how he left Temple just 18 days after taking the job, this just doesn’t have that warm and fuzzy feeling about it.
Other coaching stuff: Houston fired Major Applewhite as its head coach after two seasons and a 15-11 record. At the top of Houston’s wish list is West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen …The New York Jets have fired Todd Bowles as its head coach. Reportedly, Jets’ chairman and CED Christopher Johnson wants to hire Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh as Bowles’ replacement … Ole Miss is set to hire former West Virginia/Michigan/Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez as its offensive coordinator … The Tampa Bay Bucs, as expected, fired Dirk Koetter … Charlie Strong is expected to make wholesale changes to his South Florida staff.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray put on quite a show against Alabama Saturday night and now it’s being speculated that he might want to give the NFL a try. I think there are $5 million reasons why he needs to honor his baseball contract. Given his size, I think he will last longer and make a lot more money playing baseball than he will playing in the NFL … In the last two seasons with the playoffs on the line, Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Nick Foles is 6-0 in place of Carson Wentz. Sunday Foles tied Phillip Rivers’ NFL record with 25 straight completions as the Eagles shut out the Washington Redskins, 24-0, to earn a playoff spot … Since taking over as the starter for injured Joe Flacco, former Heisman Trophy QB Lamar Jackson has led the Baltimore Ravens to a 6-1 record. Against Cleveland Sunday, Jackson threw for 179 yards and ran for 90 and two touchdowns … I have no sympathy for college football players who skip their bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. They have abandoned their teammates and coaches, people who helped put them in position to be drafted in the first place. I believe the extra game reps against good competition help players far more than working to get in combine shape.