Thoughts of the Day: April 26, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:

DRAFT WEEK IS UPON US

After LSU’s pro day in 2007, you needed a Shop Vac to deal with the pools of drool beneath every NFL scout who watched JaMarcus Russell throw. One AFC personnel guy told Bob McGinn, who has been following the draft religiously for 37 years, “The greatest workout of all time was JaMarcus Russell.” We know how that turned out. Maybe only Ryan Leaf was a bigger first round bust as a quarterback in the last 30 or so years.


Until the first name is called in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft Thursday night, we’ll be hearing plenty of “anonymous” sources claiming they’ve got the inside scoop. We will also see tons of mock drafts, essentially best guess scenarios by folks who like to hear themselves talk. Florida’s Kyle Pitts is thought to be a “generational” tight end prospect but when CBSSports asked 13 of its writers to do a mock draft, Pitts went eighth and only one of the 13 had him higher.


Pitts will go first round, probably either fourth to the Atlanta Falcons or sixth to the Miami Dolphins. Kadarius Toney probably goes first round, too, but after that it’s any body’s guess where the other draft-eligible Gators are picked. Here are the grades given for the 11 Dane Brugler of The Athletic thinks have a shot to hear their names called over the three days:


Kyle Pitts, TE: Pitts is a runaway top choice at wide receiver and gets a 1st-round grade. Kadarius Toney, WR: Brugler rates Toney the 4th best wide receiver prospect, trailing Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), Jayden Waddle (Alabama) and Devonta Smith (Alabama). He gives Toney a 1st-2nd grade. Kyle Trask, QB: Brugler rates Trask the seventh best QB prospect in the draft behind Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Zach Wilson (BYU), Trey Lance (North Dakota State), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Mac Jones (Alabama) and Davis Mills (Stanford). He gives Trask a 4th-round grade. Stone Forsythe, LT: Forsythe gets a 3rd-round grade from Brugler. He’s Brugler’s 12th-ranked offensive tackle. Trevon Grimes, WR: Grimes is the 25th-ranked WR by Brugler with a 4th-5th round grade. Marco Wilson, CB: Brugler has 18 cornerbacks ranked ahead of Wilson, to whom he gives a 4th-5th round grade. Shawn Davis, S: Davis gets a 5th-round grade as the 12th-ranked safety in Brugler’s rankings. Evan McPherson, PK: McPherson is Brugler’s highest ranked kicker. He has a 5th-6th round grade. Tedarrell Slaton, DT: Slaton is the 18th-ranked D-lineman with a 6th-7th round grade. Brett Heggie, C: Heggie is Brugler’s 11th-ranked center with a priority free agent grade. Donovan Stiner, S: Stiner is the 28th-ranked safety with a priority free agent grade.


TRE MANN, NBA DRAFT LOTTERY? Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, the best college basketball writer in the business bar none and one of the best connected with NBA scouts, filed his NBA mock draft on Sunday with perhaps the biggest mover Florida’s Tre Mann. Parrish projects Mann going with the 11th pick overall to the New Orleans Pelicans, which is lottery and worth millions to Tre and his family. When the college season began back in November, Mann was thought to be a very late first to mid-second rounder but he showed constant improvement all season and by February was playing as well as any guard in the SEC.


Parrish writes, “Returning for a second season at Florida benefitted Mann immensely as he averaged 10.7 more points per game and shot 12.7% better from 3-point range than he did as a freshman. He’s now considered a lock for the top 20 and somebody who can possibly flourish at three different positions in the NBA.


PLAYOFFS WILL EXPAND, THE QUESTION IS WHEN AND HOW MANY TEAMS? Five years remain on the current College Football Playoff contract with ESPN, but there is plenty of unhappiness with the current 4-team model that is certain to exclude one of the Power 5 conferences every year and makes it all but impossible for even an unbeaten powerhouse from the Group of 5 to elbow its way in. With so much discontent, the College Football Playoff management committee, which includes the commissioners of all ten Division I conferences plus Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, has been meeting to figure out the next move.


Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic reports CFP management committee has been considering 63 different expansion proposals.


“These included 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 16-team options, each with a variety of different scenarios,” CFB executive director Phil Hancock told Auerbach.


Under the current format, boredom has set in because usual suspects Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State tend to make the playoff every year. In the seven years of the CFB, Alabama has won three national titles (2015, 2017, 2020) and played for the title two other times while Clemson has won twice (2016, 2018) and played in the title game twice. Ohio State has one championship (2014) and a runner-up. The only team to crash the championship party is LSU (2019), from the Southeastern Conference. In an expanded playoff, the same teams might dominate but at least more teams would have a chance to at least win a game or two which theoretically would drive up interest and TV ratings.


There are many experts who believe an expanded playoff will save the Pac-12 from falling completely off the map. Only twice in the seven years of the playoff has a Pac-12 team made it to the final four. Oregon got to the championship game in the first year (2014) and no Pac-12 team has even gotten in since Washington in 2016. Critics of the current format believe a four-team playoff is at least partially to blame for the demise of the Pac-12. Noting that the starting quarterbacks of teams favored to make the playoff this year – Bryce Young (Alabama), D.J. Uiagelelei (Clemson), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), JT Daniels (Georgia) and C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) – all hail from Pac-12 states, Stewart Mandel of The Athletic opines that the eastward migration has everything to do with the playoff. Top players – quarterback especially – want to play on the college game’s biggest stage so they go play in conferences who get teams in the playoff. Many recruiting experts have concluded that if the playoff were to expand so that the Pac-12 champ would always be in the playoff many of the top players on the left coast would choose to stay home.


I am of the opinion that the playoff will eventually be a 16-team affair but I do not believe either ESPN or the CFP is inclined to go from four directly to 16. My believe is within a couple of years, the playoff will expand to six teams and then shortly thereafter move to eight.

GATORS WIN WEEKEND SERIES WITH AUBURN

Tre Van Der Weide picked up his first save of the season, pitching the Gators out of two on, nobody out jam in the bottom of the seventh, as UF (28-12, 11-7 SEC East) salvaged a split of a Sunday doubleheader with Auburn (17-20, 3-15 SEC West). Auburn won the first game, 10-8, while the Gators came back to win the second, 6-4.


The Gators held a 6-4 lead over Auburn in the bottom of the fifth of game one when the Tigers exploded for six runs, the last five off Jack Leftwich, who had gone nine hitless innings in relief prior to this game.


In game two, RBI singles by Jacob Young and Nate Hickey in the top of the seventh staked the Gators to a 6-3 lead. In the bottom half of the inning, reliever Christian Scott hit a batter after developing a blister on his pitching hand. When Jordan Carrion walked the only batter he faced, Kevin O’Sullivan brought on Van Der Weide, who settled down after a wild pitch to get the final three outs.


Center fielder Jud Fabian hit his 14th homer of the season in game two. For the weekend, Fabian was 4-10 with a double, two homers and five RBI.


In winning the series, the Gators remained two games behind SEC East leader Vanderbilt (31-7, 13-5 SEC East), which took two out of three from Mississippi State (29-10, 11-7 SEC West).


The Gators are idle until Friday night when Vanderbilt comes to Gainesville for a 3-game weekend series.


UF SOFTBALL: GATORS TAKE TWO OF THREE FROM SOUTH CAROLINA

The 3rd-ranked Gators (35-7, 14-4 SEC) rebounded from a Friday night loss to win their series with South Carolina, stopping the Gamecocks 6-0 Saturday and following that up with a Sunday afternoon 4-2 win. Saturday saw the Gators back the 4-hit pitching of Natalie Lugo with home runs by Hannah Adams, Charla Echols and Jaimie Hoover. Lugo (13-1, 1.30 ERA) got the win Sunday with relief help from Katie Chronister (5 saves, 2.14 ERA) Sunday as the Gators profited from three South Carolina errors.


The win moves the Gators within one game of 6th-ranked Arkansas (37-7, 16-4 SEC), which has lost two straight to 19th-ranked Missouri (24-10, 12-5 SEC).


The Gators will face Florida A&M in a non-conference midweek matchup Wednesday and travel to Missouri next weekend in a critical SEC series.


Other UF spring sports:

Men’s tennis: The Gators were the nation’s No. 1 team heading into the SEC Championships but after two close calls vs. Mississippi State and Texas A&M, they fell in the finals, 4-3, to No. 5 Tennessee.

Lacrosse: The 6th-ranked Gators (13-2, 10-0 AAC) won the American Athletic Conference championship outright and finished league play undefeated with two wins over Old Dominion in Norfolk. The Gators finish their regular season Wednesday at Donald Dizney Stadium with a non-conference game against Liberty.


OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC

Alabama: Defensive back Ronald Williams Jr., who was a 4-star recruit out of Hutchinson Community College in 2020, has entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal.

Arkansas: The Hogs picked up two defensive tackles from the transfer portal Sunday when Markell Utsey (formerly Missouri) and John Ridgeway (formerly Illinois State) named Arkansas as their transfer destination.

Auburn: Former Auburn All-American and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley is catching a lot of flack for this comment made on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show: “Georgia is the only school in the world where they named there mascot after the women down there.”

Georgia: Georgia, which has never had more than seven players taken in the NFL Draft, anticipates five will go in the first three rounds this week and as many as 11 will be selected in the full seven rounds.

Kentucky: Kentucky became the first SEC school to win an NCAA volleyball championship Saturday when the Wildcats took down Texas in the championship match in Omaha ... Cam’ron Fletcher, who averaged 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds for the Wildcats last season, is transferring to Florida State.

LSU: Kim Mulkey, who won four state high school championships when she played in nearby Hammond, is returning to her home state to take over the women’s basketball program at LSU. In 21 seasons at Baylor, Mulkey was 632-104 with three national championships.

Mississippi State: Redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Pogue, who began his career at Arkansas Tech, has entered his name in the transfer portal.

Ole Miss: Down 9-1 in the eighth inning and in danger of getting swept by LSU, Ole Miss rallied for nine runs, taking a 10-9 decision Saturday, walking off when freshman Kemp Alderman hit the first home run of his career.

South Carolina: Now that spring practice is over, head coach Shane Beamer has named Luke Doty as the starting quarterback for when football resumes in August.

Tennessee: Harrison Bailey, who got a couple of starts last season, was 12-15 for 260 yards and two touchdowns in the Vols spring game. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker was 10-14 for 114 yards and a TD and Brian Maurer was 9-15 for 171 yards and a TD.

Texas A&M: Fifteen players on the two-deep charts didn’t participate in Saturday’s spring game in Aggieland.


ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Keep a close eye on what’s going on at the University of Hartford, where its president (Gregory Woodward) commissioned a study that says the school would save $10 million by dropping all sports in the athletic program down from Division I to Division III. Friends of the athletic program including a number of athletes commissioned their own study, this one done by Andy Schwarz, the economist who essentially saved college football at UAB after a study by CarrSports said the school should drop the sport. Football at UAB has thrived since and will move from decrepit, ancient Legion Field this fall into a brand new downtown stadium that seats 47,000. In the coming months we are going to see more schools in Division I still feeling the effects of the pandemic contemplating dropping down or dropping sports altogether. How many will follow the original diagnosis and drop sports and how many will seek a second opinion?

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