AS THE MIND MEANDERS
(1) Wasn’t it about two weeks ago that Florida’s recruiting sky was falling, that the Gators couldn’t possibly catch up with the big boys in the Southeastern Conference unless Dan Mullen fired some coaches, hired some better recruiters and started landing highly regarded recruiting classes? Either Mullen and his staff have taken a crash course in recruiting in the past two weeks and put those lessons to work or else Dan had a plan all along and things are falling in place. Last time I checked, the Gators have the sixth-ranked class and they’re threatening to move up to the fifth spot by the time the dust clears on the Early National Signing Day on Wednesday.
Florida could add more pieces to the puzzle before Wednesday, but already the Gators have filled holes on both lines of scrimmage and added vital depth in the secondary. There are needs at receiver and running back, but that seems less of a concern now than it did a couple of weeks ago. The bulk of the class will sign Wednesday but more will be added in February and we shouldn’t forget the grad transfer route the first week in January. Given all that Mullen has accomplished in two years on the job, Florida is going to be a very attractive destination, particularly for grad transfers who want to play in a high profile program that should have a chance to compete for the SEC and national championships next year.
(2) Feleipe Franks graduated this past weekend. While he might not be able to participate in spring practice at his next place of business, he can at least transfer in and learn the intricacies of a new offense. I have no inside knowledge about where he is seriously looking but I would highly recommend Feleipe take a long, hard look at Duke, Washington State and North Texas. At Duke he could learn under David Cutcliffe, who has sent the Mannings (Peyton and Eli) and Daniel Jones to the NFL as top five picks. Cutcliffe needs a QB next year. At Wazzoo, whoever Mike Leach coaches will throw the ball a ton and get a long NFL look. He also needs a QB. North Texas may not seem like a great landing place, but Seth Littell needs a QB and the guy who just graduated threw 87 TDPs the last three years.
(3) I wonder how many of the bluebloods at Southern Cal wish they had taken the interim label off Coach O back in 2013 when he took over after Lane Kiffin was fired and finished the season 6-2, 6-1 in the Pac-12? Although the USC players voiced their overwhelming support for Coach O to become the permanent head coach, the powers that be went with Steve Sarkisian who was treading water at Washington (34-29 record) and was whispered to have issues with the bottle. Sark was granted a leave of absence at USC after five games in 2015 and was fired two games later, replaced by Clay Helton, who is 40-21 and perpetually on the hot seat. Coach O, meanwhile, is 37-9 at LSU and has the Tigers ranked #1 nationally heading into the College Football Playoff. On the Rich Eisen Show last week, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic said, “They [USC] didn’t listen to the players. They didn’t listen to the staff. Ed Orgeron’s not a country club guy. I think he can relate to just about anybody. I think he can read people very well. I don’t think Pat Haden, who was the decision maker at the time, that’s just not the kind of guy he wanted and I don’t think he could get past it.”
(4) Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and is likely to be the overall #1 pick in the National Football League Draft in May. When I looked at the Athlon preseason magazine, Burrow didn’t even make fourth team All-SEC. Athlon’s top four – Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Jake Fromm (Georgia), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) and Feleipe Franks (Florida). Phil Steele had Burrow on his third team behind Tua and Fromm. Lindy’s first three were Tua, Fromm and Kelly Bryant (Missouri). When it came to rating the quarterback units in the SEC, Phil Steele had LSU #4 while Lindy’s had LSU #6 and Athlon #7. I was sold on Burrow in 2018 when I watched him engineer LSU’s 36-16 poleaxing of Georgia and also when he threw for four TDs as LSU beat UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
(5) If you didn’t see Burrow’s emotional Heisman acceptance speech, then take 10 minutes out of your day and watch. You’ll have no problems understanding why it is his LSU teammates would take a bullet for the guy. As gifted as Burrow is as a quarterback, it’s fairly obvious that he’s an equally gifted leader. When he talked about kids from Athens County, Ohio who live in poverty and who go home to not enough food on the table, Burrow might as well have been talking to a good many of his LSU teammates who come from impoverished backgrounds. This guy just gets it.
(6) Since the end of the 2017 season, seven of the 14 schools that make up the Southeastern Conference have new head coaches. I haven’t had the time to do the research, but I tend to think we’ve never had that kind of turnover in the league. I think there will be at least two jobs open up next year, one by firing (Derek Mason, Vanderbilt) and another by taking a job somewhere else (Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State). Nick Saban is the dean of SEC coaches. Next season will be his 14th at Alabama. Although it will only be his third season at Florida in 2020, Dan Mullen will be in his 12th straight year as the head coach at an SEC school. After Saban and Mullen, Mark Stoops of Kentucky and Gus Malzahn of Auburn will be tied for third at eight years.
(7) Georgia fans overwhelmingly believe that the lure of leading the Bulldogs to that elusive national championship – it’s been 14,228 days since the last one but who’s counting? – will bring Jake Fromm back for his senior season. With Joe Burrow gone from LSU and Tua likely to be gone from Alabama, they reason that Fromm will be the best QB in the Southeastern Conference and that the Bulldogs will start the season as the favorite to win the SEC and make the College Football Playoff. Most of the NFL Draft gurus have Fromm going in the first round if he decides to leave Georgia. He wouldn’t be the first QB taken in the draft, but he won’t be next year either. He regressed from his first two seasons in 2019 and if he doesn’t get back to that 2018 level in 2020, he might find himself falling into the second or third round. So what will win out? Loyalty to Georgia or the ability to set himself up financially for life? I don’t think he stays if Georgia keeps James Coley as the QB coach/OC. If Georgia makes a wholesale change with its offense, I could see Fromm coming back although it would be risky.
(8) Now that Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley is the new HBC at Boston College will there be a reunion of Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison in Columbus? Mattison and Strong were the co-coordinators of the dominant Florida defense that destroyed Ohio State in the 2006 BCS national championship game. Ohio State HBC Ryan Day was Dan Mullen’s GA at Florida that year. Urban Meyer, the current associate AD at Ohio State, was Florida’s HBC. Urban, Charlie and Mattison are all very, very close and Day is Ohio State’s HBC because Meyer made him his successor. Maybe the stars and planets are not aligning but it certainly seems so.
(9) Old friend Larry Vettel, living large in NYC these days, emailed with his thoughts about the College Football Playoff: “Four games on campus sites and then the final four as it currently exists. No guarantee for the Group of Five, but they still get a New Yea’s Six. Quarterfinals losers are also guaranteed New Year’s Six slots. If all the other levels [of the NCAA] can have a 16-team season for its top two teams, then the big boys can have it, too. Start the season a week (or two) earlier so each team has two weeks off to recuperate. Put the conference title games on Thanksgiving weekend, making great use of that Friday so fewer games are going on at the same time.”
GOOOD QUOTES FOR MONDAY Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow addressing Coach O during his acceptance speech Saturday night in New York: “You have no idea what you mean to my family. You know, I didn’t play for three years. You took a chance on me, not knowing if I could play or not. And I’m … forever grateful to you. Can you imagine a guy like Coach O giving me the keys to his football program. He just means so much to me and my family. And to LSU, I sure hope they give him a lifetime contract. He deserves it.”
Brody Miller of The Athletic on Joe Burrow’s journey that took him to Baton Rouge where he became the second Heisman Trophy winner in LSU history: “Burrow was raised in Ohio, but he finished growing up in Louisiana. It was at LSU where he finally learned how to cook, do laundry and service his car. It’s where he finally became a starting Division I quarterback. It’s where he went from an average SEC quarterback to one of the best in conference history. It’s where he became the man who can give that speech, let himself feel every second of the moment and embrace one of the most important moments of his life.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash is the new defensive coordinator at Texas … When Navy beat Army, 31-7, Saturday, there were seven passes thrown the entire game – by both teams! Army threw six, completed three for 25 yards and Navy was 1-1 for one yard and a TD … O.J. Simpson, we tend to forget, won the Heisman Trophy back in 1968. Since he won the Heisman, Simpson is a Heisman voter. He says Joe Burrow got his vote … The Oakland Raiders played (and lost) their last game in Oakland. Next year they’ll be in Las Vegas, which is kind of sad. I always felt the Raiders belonged in Oakland. I was sad when they left for Los Angeles way back when, happy when they came back to Oakland. Now they leave again and this time it’s for good … Urban Meyer watched from Dan Snyder’s skybox as the Washington Redskins dropped a 37-27 decision to the Philadelphia Eagles. That sparked off the charts speculation that Urban is going to be the Redskins’ coach next year. My guess is that Urban was there to watch his former QB Dwayne Haskins play. Haskins had a rather nice game – 19-28 passing for 261 yards and two TDs (0 picks) and 26 rushing yards. I’ll be shocked if Urban is coaching anywhere in 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if he coaches again, just not this year and maybe not for another year or two … North Dakota State is in the D1AA semifinals. Again. The Bison are going for their eighth national championship in the last nine years. They also won eight DII national championships before they joined D1AA, their first in 1965 under the infamous Dr. Darrell Mudra.