A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
My how the times have changed. When LSU took control in the fourth quarter a year ago to beat Florida 42-28 it was the game that vaulted Joe Burrow into the thick of the Heisman Trophy discussion. This year there is no Joe Burrow and the only potential Heisman Trophy winner is the guy who lit up LSU for 310 yards and three TDs last year. This year, Trask has already thrown for 38, which is tops in the nation, and it’s Florida that has a chance to win the national title while LSU is struggling to avoid a losing record. Another 400-yard passing game with four or more TDs will only enhance Trask’s Heisman resume. It will be Senior Day at The Swamp, Trask’s final home game as well as the last one for Kadarius Toney and junior tight end Kyle Pitts. They will be playing for big bucks on Sunday next year so they will want their final impressions at The Swamp to be good ones. Florida is favored by 23 points. The oddsmakers are actually being kind by making it that close. The Sayer Says Sooth: LSU is going to start freshman lefty Max Johnson at QB. He’s the son of Brad Johnson, who won a Super Bowl quarterbacking the Tampa Bay Bucs but was benched at FSU in favor of Charlie Ward. Brad had best be in his feets don’t fail me now mode because Todd Grantham is going to bring the blitz early, often and from cleverly disguised angles. Meanwhile the LSU defense, which is allowing 313 passing yards per game is about to be lit up for the second straight week, this time by Trask, whose Senior Day at The Swamp will be a Heisman Trophy statement. Florida 55, LSU 14
THE SEC SOOTHSAYER
#1 ALABAMA (9-0) at ARKANSAS (3-6): Even if Alabama boatraces Arkansas by the 32 points it’s favored by Saturday, it has been a highly successful season for the Hogs, whose best days are ahead. Normally, losing by 32 or more would be a sign that the HBC is soon to be known as the FHBC, as in formerly head ball coach, but Pittman has delivered three SEC wins, a small miracle in that heading into 2020 Arkansas hadn’t won an SEC game since a 1-point win over Ole Miss in 2017. They love Sam Pittman in Arkansas. They love Nick Saban in Alabama, too, and why not? He’s got Alabama favored to win its sixth national championship since he took over in 2007 and he’s got an offense coordinated by Steve Sarkisian that has scored at least 35 points in 22 consecutive games, which is an NCAA record. Make that 23 in a row because the Arkansas defense won’t offer much resistance and Mac Jones, Devonta Smith and Najee Harris will fill out their stat sheets impressively. About the only real news that will come out of this game is that Bama play-by-play announcer Eli Gold will miss his first game since 1988 due to Covid-19. The Sayer Says Sooth: This promises to be close until Alabama gets the ball a second time. By then the score will probably be 14-0 and the Hogs will feel like they’re being measured for slow cooking at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa as Alabama tunes up for its SEC Championship Game showdown with the Gators on December 19. Alabama 59, Arkansas 17
#9 GEORGIA at #25 MISSOURI (5-3): The weatherman says it will be 43 degrees and rainy at game time Saturday in Columbia. Will that be a help or hindrance to a Missouri team that seems to have lost its fear of big bad SEC brethren? Now, there is no question Georgia is the more talented team by a longshot, but the Poodles don’t have a lot of incentive for this one. There won’t be any Near National Championship this year and instead of getting a rematch with Alabama in Atlanta they’ll be watching the dratted Gators play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on December 19, the same day they’ll be closing out their season in a meaningless game against Vanderbilt. If Georgia mails it in it won’t be the first time an SEC team that didn’t get to a big game took a powder (Alabama 2008, for example). Would an under-motivated Georgia on a day when the weather is bad be the kind of thing that puts this game on upset watch? Or will Georgia show up determined to prove that JT Daniels is the greatest thing to happen to Georgia quarterbacking since Jamie Newman? The Sayer Says Sooth: Georgia is a 13-point favorite in the wet and gloom of Columbia. Missouri has won three in a row, all against SEC East bottom feeders but those wins have the Tigers motivated and believing in themselves. To spring the upset they have to figure out a way to snuff out the Georgia running game and trust their corners can cover even when there is very little pass rush. Georgia may not be motivated but that shouldn’t keep the Poodles from winning. It could be close. Georgia 28, Missouri 17
AUBURN (5-4) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-6): Auburn linebacker KJ Britt has opted out a couple days before the final game of the regular season. Just what Gus Malzahn needs in a game that might determine his coaching future on The Plains. It’s bad enough to be 5-4. There wouldn’t be a Go Fund Me page up and operating fast enough to raise buyout money if the Gus Bus is 5-5 with a loss to a bad Mississippi State team on the final regular season game of the season. The game is in Starkville where Mississippi State does play better. Auburn is bad on the road but the Tigers are still favored by 6.5 points. The good news for Auburn is its bad run defense won’t be tested since Mississippi State averages only 23.75 yards per game. Auburn has to keep the Bulldogs from dinking and dunking away while keeping Bo Nix and the offense off the field. The Sayer Says Sooth: The folks in Las Vegas don’t trust Auburn, which is why the Tigers are favored by less than a TD. Judging by the way they play on the road, Gus Malzahn shouldn’t trust his team, either. This is a bad Auburn team whose only hope is that a worse Mississippi State team plays the way it has all season. Auburn 30, Mississippi State 27
TENNESSEE (2-6) at VANDERBILT (0-8): A win for Vanderbilt would prevent the Commodores from doing a reverse run of the table. It would also be the end of the Jeremy Pruitt era at Tennessee says a story written by Matt Hayes for Saturday Down South. During Vandy’s eight-game losing streak, the Commodores have had close calls with Texas A&M in the season opener and with Mississippi State four games ago. The last three games have been lost by an average score of 39-17.3. Tennessee won its first two games but has lost the last six by an average score of 31-12. All six have been lost by at least 11 points, marking the longest streak of bad losses in Tennessee history. It will be the battle of the freshman quarterbacks because Vandy will start Kenny Seals and Tennessee will start Harrison Bailey. The oddsmakers favor Bailey to get the win. Tennessee is a 16-point favorite. The Sayer Says Sooth: Jeremy Pruitt’s job will be safe for at least one more week because there is no way the Vols should lose this one. Of course, we’ve been saying that all year. Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 13
THE RICH JUST GOT RICHER
It will take at least a couple of years for the new deal to kick in, but every team in the Southeastern Conference is about to get a $20 million a year raise. CBS, which has been paying the league $55 million a year and broke off negotiations with the SEC several months ago, is being replaced by ESPN. The new deal, announced Thursday, is worth in excess of $300 million a year.
Due to the financial hit every athletic department in the country has taken due to the Covid-19 virus, the new deal can’t crank up fast enough. Florida, for example, which is fiscally sound and hasn’t had to lay off employees or scale back salaries, will lose in excess of $50 million this year so the new deal will do wonders for the bottom line.
The new deal also widens the financial gap between Florida and in-state rivals Florida State and Miami, both of which belong to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The SEC distributed $43.7 million to its 14 member schools back in January, at least $13 million more than the ACC distributed. With the new deal, Florida will be bringing in more than $60 million a year. Even with the ACC Network doubling up on subscriptions it will be hard for ACC teams to significantly close the gap with the SEC.
SANKEY TO THE NCAA: “CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE” LOOMING
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated has obtained a copy of a six-page letter written by Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey to the NCAA in which he lamented the fact that the organization has been sitting on at least a dozen basketball infractions cases for three years and so far only a couple have received sanctions.
In the letter, Sankey wrote, “Despite numerous reviews, working groups, task forces and commissions, the enforcement and infractions process continues to present meaningful challenges affecting member relations and public relations while raising concerns that, if left unaddressed, will emerge as a crisis of confidence.”
Three years ago, a commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to study basketball corruption raised expectations that the NCAA was going to make the kind of changes necessary to get at the root of the problems. Now three years later, there has been little or no progress made.
It’s enough to disgust Sankey, who spent nine years on the NCAA infractions committee.
In his letter to the NCAA, Sankey wrote, “Expectations for the NCAA to enact meaningful change were equally high around the basketball community. Nearly three years later, it doesn’t appear either expectation – for accountability or change – has been met.”
Currently, there are four SEC teams whose programs are under investigation after revelations during the college basketball corruption trials – LSU, South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn. South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn have cooperated with the NCAA. Auburn has tried to lessen potential NCAA penalties by self-imposing sanctions that include a ban on post season play this year. LSU coach Will Wade was caught on a federal wiretap discussing bribes paid to land players. This is a case that seems cut and dried, yet it has been three years and nothing at all has happened. The perception is that LSU cheated and continues to cheat but gets away with it.
Forde points out that the NCAA needs to streamline the infractions process and hit up coaches who cheat worse than the schools. That makes plenty of sense because 90% or more of the time when a school goes on probation, the athletes who were at the heart of the infractions have moved on while the coaches are still in place, still cheating away.
TODAY’S PITHY THOUGHT: Cam Newton needs to retire from pro football and audition for a job in the TV booth. He’s a shell of the player he used to be. Rather than continue to embarrass himself, he needs to gracefully ride off into the sunset as soon as this season is over, hire a coach who can teach him the ins and outs of studio work and then pitch himself as the next great TV analyst. Every game he plays nowadays cuts into what was once going to be a rather decent NFL legacy.