THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; JANUARY 10, 2019
IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO MAKE 2019 PREDICTIONS
1. FLORIDA WILL CONTINUE TO RISE UNDER DAN MULLEN: In year one of the Mullen era at Florida, the Gators went 10-3 and finished 6th in the final coaches poll. Get used to the Gators winning 10 or more games every year and becoming permanent fixtures in the top ten. I have been a Mullen fan since he was Florida’s offensive coordinator. I spent two days with him in the summer of 2008 getting an in-depth look at how he prepares an offensive game plan and right then I knew he was going to be somebody’s outstanding head coach. Folks, he won 69 games in nine years and went to eight straight bowl games at Mississippi State. He even had the Bulldogs perched at #1 for a few weeks in 2014. Nobody does that at Mississippi State. Starkville isn’t the end of the earth but there are signs that will direct you there in 15 minutes. If you can lure good enough talent to win and go to bowl games in the SEC in Starkville, imagine what you can do at a place like the University of Florida. We’re going to look back on 2018 as the beginning of Florida’s rise back to national prominence, a place the Gators are going to stay as long as Dan Mullen is the head coach.
2. FELEIPE FRANKS WILL TRANSFORM INTO A HIGH DRAFT PICK: Before you roll your eyes back in your head, remember that a majority of Gator fans thought Franks wouldn’t last more than a couple of games as UF’s starting QB in 2018. Although it wasn’t exactly the smoothest of seasons, Franks turned the corner and came up with the best year any Florida quarterback has had since Tim Tebow was a senior in 2009. And that was after just a few months of working with Dan Mullen and Brian Johnson. The way Franks finished the season playing with such confidence and turning into a solid SEC quarterback, it points to 2019 as a season that could be very special. I believe Franks will build on the 2018 success, play lights out in 2019 and turn himself into an early round pick when the NFL drafts in May of 2020.
3. THE GATORS’ PASS RUSH WILL KEEP OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS UP AT NIGHT: Even with Jachai Polite leaving for the NFL, Florida’s pass rush was going to be good with Jabari Zuniga and Jeremiah Moon coming off the edge, but the Gators have added graduate transfer Jonathan Greenard (6-4, 257) from Louisville. When he was last healthy (2017), Greenard had seven sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss to go with six quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. The ultra-quick Greenard has two years of eligibility remaining. The Gators sacked the QB 37 times in 2018, an improvement of 14 over the previous season. With a lights out pass rush making Florida week one in which opposing offensive coordinators catch an hour here or an hour there of sleep on the couch, Florida will be an elite defensive unit in 2019.
4. FLORIDA WILL FINISH NO WORSE THAN #8 IN THE FINAL RECRUITING RANKINGS: The Gators currently have 86 on scholarship but there will be attrition and that’s why Dan Mullen will sign at least three or four more players on the first Wednesday of February. The situation at Georgia all but ensures that 4-star corner Kaiir Elam (6-1, 182, North Palm Beach, FL The Benjamin School) will be a Gator. Mark-Anthony Richards (6-1, 195, West Palm Beach, FL Wellington) is a 4-star athlete who could play on either side of the ball. He’s visiting UF this weekend and no one should be shocked if Mullen and Todd Grantham seal the deal. Now that Charles Moore 4-star defensive end (6-4, 268, Louisville, MS) has de-committed Mississippi State, Florida is very much in the thick of things with him. Could Mullen also get 4-star DE Nathan Pickering (6-4, 286, Seminary, MS) to flip from Mississippi State? Mullen can sell those kids on a chance to play for championships at UF, something they won’t play for at Mississippi State. I’m also not sure Quashon Fuller (6-2, 275, Lehigh Acres, FL) is as solid for FSU as some think. I believe Florida lands at least three of these five kids and shoots up the recruiting rankings.
5. NICK SABAN WILL MAKE SWEEPING STAFF CHANGES AND ALABAMA WON’T MISS A BEAT: Change is coming to Tuscaloosa. Bet the farm on that after the way Alabama was left for dead on a California highway by Clemson Monday night. Because he’s such a great recruiter, I think defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi won’t get pink slipped but I think Saban elevates D-line coach Craig Kuligowski to co-coordinator. As for the rest of the defensive staff, I believe there will be at least two new faces on that side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has gone to Maryland as the HBC and it’s rumored that O-line coach Brent Key is off to Georgia Tech, his alma mater. I do expect QB coach Dan Enos will become the next offensive coordinator but I believe Saban will make at least two changes to his offensive staff. At most places, this much change would set the program back. At Alabama it’s the norm. Neither Nick nor Alabama is going anywhere in 2019 or as long as Nick decides to be a head coach.
6. GEORGIA WILL BECOME MARK RICHT, PART DEUX: Georgia fans will cringe when they read this but Kirby Smart’s first three seasons in Athens aren’t much different than the first three years of Mark Richt. Richt went 8-4 in his first year at UGa in 2001. Smart went 8-5 in 2016. Richt went 13-1 in 2002 and won the SEC. Only a 20-13 loss to Ron Zook and the Gators prevented Georgia from an unbeaten season and playing Miami for the national championship. Georgia finished 2002 ranked #3. Georgia went 13-2 in Smart’s second year, won the SEC and then lost to Alabama in the national championship game. Richt went 11-3 in year three, losing to Nick Saban and eventual national champion LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Smart went 11-3 in year three and lost to Nick Saban and eventual national runner-up Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Richt went 32-8 in his first three years. Smart went 32-10. Richt went on to have a fine career at Georgia but he never won the big one and eventually was sent packing. Smart’s start at Georgia has the same kind of feeling and now throw in the fact he’s having to replace both coordinators, has lost a bunch of players early entry to the NFL and stud QB Justin Fields has transferred to Ohio State rather than wait his turn behind Jake Fromm (State Farm). Georgia will be #3 in every preseason poll next year, but I am going to predict that Kirby Smart will (a) not make the playoff, (b) will never win the big one (just like Richt) and (c) at some point Georgia fans will grow weary of “near national championships” and demand a coach who can win it for real. Since Georgia’s last national championship in 1980, there have been 13 national championships won by SEC schools (Alabama 6, Florida 3, LSU 2, Auburn 1, Tennessee 1).
7. JUSTIN FIELDS WILL BE ELIGIBLE AND OHIO STATE WILL BE SCARY GOOD: Justin Fields is playing the race card to gain eligibility without having to sit out now that he’s enrolled at Ohio State. Whether or not racial epithets from a now dismissed Georgia baseball player have anything to do with why Fields actually left for what he perceives as greener pastures is debatable but bet the farm that the NCAA will give him a waiver that will make him immediately eligible. Fields is a dynamic dual threat whose talents Ohio State coach Ryan Day will exploit to make the Buckeyes even better in 2019 than they were in 2018. Last season the Buckeyes went 13-1 while averaging 42.4 per game with Dwayne Haskins throwing for 50 touchdowns.
8. JIM HARBAUGH WILL LOSE TO THE BUCKEYES AND GO BACK TO THE NFL: Jim Harbaugh was brought to Michigan to do what Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke couldn’t do – beat Ohio State. Harbaugh is 0-4 against the Buckeyes but the guy who’s beaten him all four years is gone so Michigan folks think all will be fine and funky. But what if Ryan Day is just as good – or better – than Urban Meyer? I actually don’t think Day has to be as good or better than Urban but even if he isn’t, I think Ohio State is living rent free in Harbaugh’s head and will beat the Wolverines at the Big House in 2019. Michigan won’t fire Harbaugh for losing to Ohio State. They won’t have to. I think he will take an NFL job. If Kliff Kingsbury can get an NFL job then there will be no shortage of opportunities for Harbaugh and he won’t say no this time.
9. JALEN HURTS WILL TRANSFER TO TCU OR OKLAHOMA STATE: A lot of folks seem to think Hurts will transfer to Maryland to play for Mike Locksley, who was his offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2018, but Hurts is (a) smart enough to understand that playing in the same Big Ten division with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State isn’t conducive to either your health or winning and (b) a Texas kid whose parents have made the long trek from Houston to Tuscaloosa for three years so playing in the Big 12 is a logical and likely landing spot. He can start immediately at either TCU or Oklahoma State and turn either one of those programs into a contender in the Big 12 where his running and improved passing will light up some of the worst defenses in the country. My darkhorse destination would be Florida Atlantic where Hurts would reunite with Lane Kiffin, but my belief is he wants to play better competition than he would ever see in Conference USA.
10. TRAVIS ETIENNE WILL WIN THE 2019 HEISMAN TROPHY: Every defensive coordinator on Clemson’s schedule has already begun scheming for a way to stop Trevor Lawrence from killing them in the passing game. No matter how much attention they give Lawrence he’s going to put up big numbers, but I believe so much attention and so many resources will be spent trying to scheme against Lawrence that it will allow Travis Etienne to run wild and beat out his teammate (and Tua) for the Heisman Trophy. In 2018, Etienne ran for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns while averaging 8.13 yards per carry. In two seasons at Clemson, Etienne has 2,424 rushing yards (7.79 per carry) and 37 touchdowns.
GATORS HOLD ON TO KNOCK OFF ARKANSAS, 57-51
With 9:13 to go in Wednesday night’s game in Fayette Nam, the Gators held a 48-32 lead over Arkansas. With 1:02 remaining, Florida’s lead had dwindled to 53-51 and it looked like a repeat of Saturday night when the Gators snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against South Carolina. Two missed Arkansas shots later, KeVaughn Allen stood at the foul line with 12 seconds left where he nailed two free throws. Allen would hit two more foul shots with two seconds left to give the Gators a hold on for dear life 57-51 win over the Hogs to even their SEC record at 1-1.
It took superb defense for the Gators to win this game because they endured one of their worst shooting nights of the season, hitting 18-58 from the field (31%) and an even worse 23.1% (6-26) from the 3-point line. Arkansas shot only 30% (15-50) and 6-26 from the 3-point line (23.1%). The Hogs also killed themselves at the foul line. With Allen leading the way with 11-12 free throws, Arkansas hit only 15-26 and that was despite Mason Jones hitting 12-13.
Allen, a Little Rock native who always seems to come up big against his home state, led Florida with 18 points while Noah Locke chipped in with 10.
Next up for the Gators (9-5, 1-1 SEC) is 3rd-ranked Tennessee (13-1, 2-0 SEC) Saturday at the O-Dome (6 p.m., ESPN).
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former player Doug Brenner is suing former Oregon (now FSU) head coach Willie Taggart, former Oregon (now FSU) strength and conditioning Irele Oderinde, the University of Oregon and the NCAA for $11.5 million, claiming negligence during offseason workouts after which several players including Brenner were hospitalized. Oderinde was suspended a month after the incident but that didn’t stop Taggart from hiring him at FSU … Chip Lindsey lasted about a month as the offensive coordinator for Les Miles at Kansas. He’s been hired by Troy to replace Neal Brown, who has moved on to be the HBC at West Virginia … Former Alabama QB Freddie Kitchens is the new HBC of the Cleveland Browns. Kitchens was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2018 after Hue Jackson was fired as the head coach of the Browns … Jim Chaney’s 3-year contract to be Tennessee’s offensive coordinator starts at $1.5 million and escalates to $1.7 million … The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Heisman Trophy quarterback Kyler Murray is going to declare for the NFL Draft. Murray has signed a $4.66 million contract to play baseball in the Oakland Athletics organization.