THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; JANUARY 9, 2019
GATORS 6TH IN COACHES POLL; TIED FOR 7TH IN AP
Dan Mullen’s first year as Florida’s head coach was rewarded Tuesday with its best final ranking since a third place finish in the polls back in 2009. By virtue of their 41-16 thrashing of Michigan in the Peach Bowl, the Gators were rewarded with a #6 finish in the Coaches poll and a tie for #7 in the Associated Press. In the Coaches Poll, the Gators finished ahead of both LSU and Georgia. In the AP poll, the Gators finished behind #6 LSU and tied with Georgia for #7. This was just the second time since 2009 that the Gators have finished in the top ten (#9 in 2012) and only the fourth time since then that they’ve been in the final top 25 (2012, 2015 and 2016 were the others).
Florida’s strong finish, a strong core of returning starters, Mullen’s ability to convince some outstanding draft eligibles to return for one more year and an extraordinary recruiting class that promises to get better had plenty to do with the Gators being selected top ten in all too early 2019 preseason polls by ESPN, CBS and Sports Illustrated. In the ESPN poll, the Gators are #7 (Clemson, Alabama and Georgia 1-2-3). The CBSSports.com poll has the same three at the top with LSU at #4 and the Gators at #8. There is no change at the top at Sports Illustrated with Florida checking in at #9.
Notably absent in both the final polls for 2018 and the all-too-early polls for 2019 are both Florida State and Miami although conspiracy theory UCF was 14 at ESPN and 16 in both CBS and SI.
COACHES POLL TOP 25
1. Clemson 15-0
2. Alabama 14-1
3. Ohio State 13-1
4. Oklahoma 12-2
5. Notre Dame 12-1
6. FLORIDA 10-3
7. LSU 10-3
8. Georgia 11-3
9. Texas 10-4
10. Washington State 11-2
11. Kentucky 10-3; 12. UCF 12-1; 13. Washington 10-4; 14. Michigan 10-3; 15. Syracuse 10-3; 16. Texas A&M 9-4; 17. Penn State 9-4; 18. Fresno State 12-2; 19. Northwestern 9-5; 20. Army 11-2; 21. Utah State 11-2; 22. West Virginia 8-4; 23. Cincinnati 11-2; 24. Boise State 10-3; 25. Iowa 9-4
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
1. Clemson 15-0
2. Alabama 14-1
3. Ohio State 13-1
4. Oklahoma 12-2
5. Notre Dame 12-1
6. LSU 10-3
7. (Tie) FLORIDA 10-3 and Georgia 11-3
9. Texas 10-4
10. Washington State 11-2
11. UCF 12-1; 12. Kentucky 10-3; 13. Washington 10-4; 14. Michigan 10-3; 15. Syracuse 10-3; 16. Texas A&M 9-4; 17. Penn State 9-4; 18. Fresno State 12-2; 19. Army 11-2; 20. West Virginia 8-4; 21. Northwestern 9-5; 22. Utah State 11-2; 23. Boise State 10-3; 24. Cincinnati 11-2; 25. Iowa 9-4
NICK SMITH TAKES MEDICAL HARDSHIP
Linebacker Nick Smith will be taking a medical hardship which will end his college football career. Smith suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a redshirt in 2017. A neck injury that could cause further complications is the reason Smith has been forced to go the medical hardship route. Although he won’t be able to play football, Smith’s scholarship will be honored to allow him to continue his education at the University of Florida.
While Smith remain on scholarship, he will not count against Florida’s scholarship numbers. Counting signees who won’t enter school until the summer and commitments who haven’t signed yet, Florida is currently at the 85 scholarship limit.
GATORS TRY TO REBOUND AT ARKANSAS
After Saturday’s hard to stomach last second loss to South Carolina in the SEC opener, the Gators (8-5, 0-1 SEC) take to the road to face high-scoring Arkansas (10-3, 1-0 SEC) at Bud Walton Arena (8:30 p.m., SEC Network). Arkansas comes into the game averaging 81.2 points per game while Florida leads the SEC in scoring defense (60.7 per game, which ranks #13 nationally).
Arkansas’s relentless full court pressure defense will present a huge test for UF freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard, but getting the ball across midcourt might prove to be the least of Florida’s concerns. Coming off a game in which the Gators rarely scored in the paint against South Carolina, they will be facing 6-11 center Daniel Gafford, who dominates at both ends of the court, averaging 17 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game. In last year’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal win over UF, Gafford scored 16 points and hauled in 12 rebounds in a dominating performance.
The key for the Gators – as it will probably be all season long – will be hitting shots from the outside. Against South Carolina, the Gators fell in love with the 3-point shot and connected on just 9-31 from beyond the arc. In the final 11 minutes of the game, the Gators managed to hit only two shots from the field and neither were 3-pointers.
With 3rd-ranked Tennessee coming to Gainesville Saturday, it’s imperative that the Gators find a way to score a win against Arkansas. An 0-2 start in the SEC is a bad omen. The possibility of starting 0-3 in league play is a thought Mike White and the Gators don’t need to be entertaining.
A FEW MORE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME THOUGHTS
1. We’ve seen Alabama lose games in the Nick Saban era, but that’s the first time we’ve seen the Crimson Tide embarrassed. Prior to Monday night, Bama’s worst beating under Saban was by 14 points. It’s probably safe to say that Saban will be breaking down film the rest of this week and then sitting down with each of his assistants to determine who’s going to stay and who goes. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has taken the Maryland HBC job so he’s gone, but expect other changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Wrote John Talty, sports editor of the Alabama Media Group, “There’s a reason so many of his (Saban’s) assistants have gone on to get head coaching jobs. But Monday showed even he can make mistakes when his junior coaching staff couldn’t get it done amidst the most lopsided Alabama loss in two decades.”
2. Whereas it’s been a revolving door for assistant coaches at Alabama these last few years, Clemson has lost only three assistants since 2014. It’s a testament to Saban that Alabama is 67-6 in that time span with so many assistant coaching changes. Clemson, with far greater continuity, is 65-7 over the same time span. Nick Saban is 141-21 with five national championships since taking the Alabama HBC job in 2007. Swinney, who was promoted from receivers coach to interim head coach after a 3-3 start in 2008 and then to permanent head coach after the Tigers finished that season 7-6, is 115-30.
3. Per ESPN, Monday night’s game was the first time in 131 games coached by Saban that Alabama failed to record a sack or force a turnover.
4. A few headlines from around the country after the national championship game:
“From untimely turnovers to puzzling play calls: Inside Nick Saban’s night of incompetence” – Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports
“All the reasons Alabama’s loss to Clemson was Nick Saban’s worst night ever” – Michael Bonesteel of the Washington Post
“Clemson stepped to Alabama and delivered a knockout blow that may reverberate for years to come” – Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com
“Hey Nick Saban: You and Brian Kelley now have something else in common” – Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune
“Alabama’s Title-Game Failures Go Back to Nick Saban as Its Season Ends with a Whimper” – Laken Litman of Sports Illustrated
“With Clemson’s destruction of Alabama, Dabo Swinney is the new king of college football” – Dan Wolken of USA Today
“After 15-0 national championship, Clemson is the (second) best college football team ever” – Manie Robinson of the Greenville News
“Is 15-0 Clemson the best college football team ever?” – Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News
5. I think that Clemson is in a situation quite similar to the one Bobby Bowden was in at Florida State in the 1990s. Bowden recruited great classes but benefitted from a weak ACC schedule that allowed him to dominate the league for the entire decade. With FSU and Miami on the downslope, Clemson and Swinney don’t have much competition in the ACC. It’s going to be very difficult to keep the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff for years to come and with Trevor Lawrence playing two more years before he bolts for the NFL, Clemson might not lose a regular season game before 2021.
6. Alabama is not going to go away anytime soon but I think the SEC will tighten up a bit. Georgia, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M are going to get better. Good enough to challenge Alabama’s spot at the top of the league? That’s the $64,000 question, but think back to 2010 if you will. Coming off a 14-0 national championship season in 2009, Alabama did the unthinkable and went 10-3. When Auburn went 14-0 to win the national championship a lot of folks thought Saban would get bored with college football and bolt to the NFL. Well, how’d that work out? Since then Alabama is 103-10 with four national championships and two losses to Clemson in the national championship game. Nick isn’t going anywhere and losing as he did to Clemson will only re-energize him.
7. Okay, the question I’ve been asked at least 30 times since Monday night: Is Clemson the greatest team ever? Clemson is the first team in the playoff era to go unbeaten and the first team since Pennsylvania in 1897 to go 15-0. The Tigers are loaded with guys who are going to play for years in the NFL and they have what might prove to be the best college football QB of all time before his career is over in Trevor Lawrence. Other than a 2-point win on the road at Texas A&M and a come-from-behind 27-23 win over Syracuse when Lawrence left in the first quarter with a concussion, the 2018 Tigers won every other game by at least 20 points. It’s hard to compare teams from different years and different eras so while I hesitate to say Clemson is the greatest team ever, I have no problem putting them on a short list that includes 1971 Nebraska, 1972 Southern Cal, 1979 Alabama, 1996 Nebraska and 2001 Miami.
DOES THE NFL KNOW SOMETHING WE DON’T KNOW?
The same Kliff Kingsbury that Texas Tech fired after six years of mediocrity, who is the same Kliff Kingsbury who didn’t have another college head coaching interview after Texas Tech pink slipped him, is the new head coach of the NFL Arizona Cardinals with a four-year deal and an option for year five. This begs the question: Does the NFL know something that the rest of the football world doesn’t?
Proof that someone in the decision making process has never heard of The Peter Principle is Patrick Mahomes, the brilliant second-year quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs. In his first year as the starter for the AFC West champion Chiefs, Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. It’s expected that Mahomes will be selected as the AFC MVP. In three years as Kliff Kingsbury’s quarterback at Texas Tech, Mahomes threw for 93 touchdowns and 11,252 yards yet the Red Raiders went 16-21. How can you have a losing record with a quarterback that good?
There is no question that Kingsbury is a fine quarterbacks coach and a very good offensive coordinator, but he proved mediocre at best as a head coach at Texas Tech. So, why do the Cardinals believe they can win with Kingsbury as their head coach when he couldn’t win as a college head coach even with a future NFL superstar at quarterback?
File this under things that make you go hmmmmm.
Georgia is looking for a new offensive coordinator after Jim Chaney made a lateral move to Tennessee to become the OC for Jeremy Pruitt. Georgia is still looking for a defensive coordinator to replace Mel Tucker, who is the new head coach at Colorado.
One day after he poached Greg Mattison from the Michigan staff to become his co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, Ryan Day hired Michigan linebackers coach Al Washington. Is the SS Harbaugh taking on water up in Ann Arbor?
Former Miami offensive coordinator Thomas Brown will be taking a job on Will Muschamp’s staff at South Carolina.
Mack Brown made a significant hire at North Carolina when he added Stacey Searels as his O-line coach.
Matt Canada, who was Maryland’s interim head coach, has been offered the offensive coordinator’s job at Indiana but he’s holding off to see what Northern Illinois HBC Rod Carey does. Carey is a finalist for the vacant Temple job and Canada could step in as the head coach at NIU if Carey leaves.
Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo declined a $100,000 raise after the Rams posted a 3-9 season. Bobo was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy back in August and that caused him to miss two weeks of preseason camp. The physical condition caused numbness in Bobo’s feet that made it a struggle to walk on the sideline. Bobo says his condition has been improving.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The Tampa Bay Bucs have named Bruce Arians as their new head coach. Arians is 58-33-1 as an NFL head coach, all with the Arizona Cardinals, who he got to the NFC Championship Game in 2015 … Former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter is the new offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons … Zion Williamson is proof that high school kids should be able to go directly to the NBA. He is a man playing with boys. His box score against Wake Forest Tuesday night read 30 points, 10 rebounds, five asissts, four steals and a blocked shot … South Carolina (7-7, 2-0 SEC) upset #14 Mississippi State, 87-82, in overtime Tuesday night in Columbia … Former Arizona basketball assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors as part of the investigation into college basketball corruption. Richardson could get 18-24 months in Club Fed.