Thoughts of the Day: December 16, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

Typically, a loss at this time of the year is devastating to national championship aspirations but Florida’s shocking 37-34 defeat at the hands of unranked LSU last Saturday night changed absolutely nothing for the Gators (8-2), who dropped only one spot to 7th in the latest College Football Playoff Poll released Tuesday night. Prior to the LSU loss, the Gators had to score a win over #1 Alabama (10-0) to make the playoff. That’s still the case. If the Gators win the Southeastern Conference title by scoring a most unexpected upset win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta Saturday night they’ll be in. There is no way the SEC champ will be on the outside looking in even with two losses.


There is precedent, although not in the playoff era, for a two-loss SEC team to get a shot at the national championship. Back in 2007, LSU lost two games in the regular season and was 5th-ranked nationally going into the SEC Championship Game. A win over Tennessee for the league championship combined with losses by Missouri and West Virginia moved the Tigers up to #2. In the BCS National Championship Game, LSU whacked Ohio State, 38-24 to become the first two-loss national championship team in history. Since 2006 when Florida won the national championship, the SEC champ has either made the BCS Championship Game or the College Football Playoff. The SEC champ has won the national championship 10 times since 2006.


The Gators are 17-point underdogs for Saturday’s game. While Florida hasn’t been particularly impressive since a 44-28 win over Georgia back on November 7, Alabama has been steamrolling everybody in its path. Alabama has scored at least 35 points in 23 straight games and other than 38 in game one of 2020 against Arkansas, the Crimson Tide has scored at least 40 in nine straight games. Defensively, since allowing 24 points in the first half to Georgia in game four, Alabama has allowed only 53 points since.


Beating Alabama would seem highly improbable but it isn’t impossible. It’s not like Alabama has been putting away a murderer’s row of opponents since that win over Georgia and there is that game against Ole Miss in which the Crimson Tide allowed 48 points and 647 yards. Florida is certainly as good or better than Ole Miss on the offensive side of the ball so it’s not inconceivable the Gators could light up the Alabama defense, particularly if Kyle Trask plays like he did against Georgia (30-43, 474 yards, 4 TDPs), a game in which all-interplanetary tight end Kyle Pitts (36-641, 11 TDs) was injured on a targeting hit in the second quarter.


It’s the Florida defense that is the big question mark coming into this game. The Gators have played well in stretches such as the final 3-1/2 quarters against Georgia but they have yet to put together a complete game. It will take a near perfect effort against Alabama, which scores early and often from any place on the field. If Florida’s defense plays better than it did against Georgia, the Gators could be in the hunt Saturday night.


There is one other thing that could factor in Florida’s favor and that is Trask, who had his worst game of the season against LSU when he threw two interceptions including a pick six and fumbled which led to an LSU field goal. If Trask rebounds with the kind of effort he had against Georgia, then not only can he lead the Gators to an upset for the ages but could secure the Heisman Trophy. Trask (3,717 yards, 40 TDPs, 5 INTs) was considered the frontrunner until the LSU game, after which he was surpassed in nearly every straw poll by the Alabama duo of wide receiver Devonta Smith (83-1,327, 15 TDs) and quarterback Mac Jones (3,321 yards, 27 TDPs, 3 INTs).


It could be an important game also for Pitts and all-purpose Kadarius Toney (62-831, 9 TDs). Pitts is almost a shoo-in for the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end but a great game could distance him from the competition and vault him into the top seven or eight picks in the NFL Draft. Toney, who also averaged 8.59 per rushing attempt and 13.7 per punt return, could win the Paull Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player if he comes up big against Alabama.


Once again, a Florida win is improbable but certainly within the realm of possibility. On paper Alabama scores a blowout win, but Florida was a 23-point favorite to beat LSU last weekend and we know how that turned out. The Gators don’t have to play a perfect game to beat Alabama, but they can’t afford big play mistakes and have to play with a consistency and intensity that has been missing much of the last five games.


THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF POLL: (1) Alabama 10-0; (2) Notre Dame 10-0; (3) Clemson 9-1; (4) Ohio State 5-0; (5) Texas A&M 7-1; (6) Iowa State 8-3; (7) FLORIDA 8-2; (8) Georgia 7-2; (9) Cincinnati 8-0; (10) Oklahoma 7-2; (11) Indiana 6-1; (12) Coastal Carolina 11-0; (13) Southern Cal 5-0; (14) Northwestern 6-1; (15) North Carolina 8-3; (16) Iowa 6-2; (17) BYU 10-1; (18) Miami 8-2; (19) Louisiana 9-1; (20) Texas 6-3; (21) Oklahoma State 7-3; (22) North Carolina State 8-3; (23) Tulsa 601; (24) San Jose State 6-0; (25) Colorado 4-1


THE PLAYOFF PATH FOR THE TOP TEN TEAMS 1. ALABAMA (10-0): No matter what happens against Florida this weekend, bet the farm that Alabama is in, whether as the unbeaten SEC champ or the once-beaten wild card.

2. NOTRE DAME (10-0): The Irish can lose to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game as long as it’s a squeaker. Lose in a big way and the Irish could find themselves on the outside looking in.

3. CLEMSON (9-1): Clemson has to feel good about its chances of beating Notre Dame in the ACC title game with Trevor Lawrence playing this time around, but a loss – even a close one – and the Tigers are out.

4. OHIO STATE (5-0): Win Saturday in the Big Ten (Plus Four) Championship game and the Buckeyes are in even though they’ve only played six games. Lose to 14th-ranked Northwestern and they can forget about it.

5. TEXAS A&M (7-1): The Aggies face Tennessee in a makeup game this weekend, a game they have to win. Lose and they’re out of the playoff picture. Win and they basically have two paths. (1) Alabama beats Florida, Notre Dame beats Clemson or Clemson hammers Notre Dame. (2) Florida beats Alabama, Clemson loses or clobbers Notre Dame, and Ohio State gets whacked by Northwestern.

6. IOWA STATE (8-2): The Cyclones have to win the Big 12 (Minus Two) Championship Game with Oklahoma, who they have already beaten once this year (Oklahoma is a hot team since then and is a 5.5-point favorite). That’s for starters. Then Iowa State has to hope (a) there is chaos among the top five teams and that would Ohio State and Texas A&M losing; and (b) Louisiana, which beat Iowa State back in September, doesn’t score a win over unbeaten and 12th-ranked Coastal Carolina in the Fun Belt Sun Belt Championship Game. The committee might not take a pleasant view of Iowa State getting in the playoff if a team that pulverized them by 17 earlier in the year beats the 12th-ranked team.

(7) FLORIDA (8-2): It’s a pretty simple path. Beat Alabama and the Gators are in. Lose and it’s a third straight New Years Six game.

(8) GEORGIA (7-2): Donkeys will fly first.

(9) CINCINNATI (8-0): The Bearcats dropped a spot in the rankings because they didn’t play last week. If they lose to Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference title game all hope is gone. If they beat Tulsa they will still need to make a sizeable donation to Benny Hinn for a lifetime supply of polyester prayer cloths to get a miracle of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace proportions to get in.

(10) OKLAHOMA (7-2): The Sooners will not only have to do an epic beatdown of Iowa State to win the Big 12 (Minus Two) but they will need chaos of Tower of Babel proportions. They’d have a better chance if they could call Ernest Aingley, who croaked back in the summer.


KEYONTAE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE The news keeps getting better for Florida basketball star Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed on the court in Tallahassee last weekend. Airlifted to Shands on Monday where it was reported Johnson was lucid enough to follow simple verbal commands, there was significant improvement Tuesday with his condition listed as stable but not critical.


A statement from his parents released by the University of Florida read, “Keyontae is in stable condition today, breathing on his own and speaking with us and with his doctors here at UF Health. He even FaceTimed the team! We feel so much love and support from everyone, and we’re beyond grateful for the care and attention that Keyontae has received throughout these past several days.

"We will continue to share updates about Keyontae’s health and progress. We have seen how much people love and care for him. We hope people recognize that information that doesn’t come from us or the athletic department may not be accurate. We are working closely with Keyontae’s doctors and the UAA to provide information to everyone who cares so deeply about Keyontae and has been praying for him."


The Gators were scheduled to play North Florida tonight at the O-Dome but that game was postponed in light of Johnson’s condition. The two teams have agreed to reschedule the game at a later date if at all possible.


THE FOOTBALL EARLY SIGNING PERIOD BEGINS AT 7 A.M. TODAY

The faxes will start trickling in at 7 a.m. today as Dan Mullen expects the Gators to land their third straight top ten recruiting class. As of Tuesday night, the Gators had the 7th-ranked class according to the recruiting gurus at ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports.


Per Jason Higdon, the proprieter of 1standtenFlorida.com and the unquestioned final authority on University of Florida football recruiting, the Gators expect to sign the following players during the early signing period: Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, QB (6-3, 215, Cartersville, GA) Jalen Kitna, QB (6-4, 200, Burleson, TX) Daejon Reyolds, WR (6-2, 210, Loganville, GA Grayson) Marcus Burke, WR (6-3, 180, Jacksonville, FL Trinity Christian)

Gage Wilcox, TE (6-4, 228, Tampa, FL Jefferson) Nick Elksnis, TE (6-6, 220, Jacksonville, FL Episcopal) Jake Slaughter, C (Ocala, FL Trinity Catholic)

Javonte Gardner, OT (6-5, 295, Orlando, FL Jones) Yousef Mugharbil, OG (6-5, 304, Murphy, NC) Christopher Thomas JR, DT (6-6, 290, Fort Myers, FL Dunbar) Desmond Watson, NT (6-5, 380, Seffner, FL Armwood) Justus Boone, DE (6-5, 250, Sumter, SC) Tyreak Sapp, DE (6-3, 260, Fort Lauderdale, FL St. Thomas Aquinas) Diwun Black, LB (6-4, 225, Lakeland, FL/Perkinston, MS Gulf Coast CC) Chief Borders, LB (6-5, 242, Franklin, GA Heard County) Corey Collier, S (6-2, 170, Miami, FL Palmetto) Jason Marshall, CB (6-2, 180, Miami, FL Palmetto)

Jordan Young, CB (6-0, 185, Tampa, FL Gaither) Donovan McMillon, S (6-2, 193, McMurray, PA Peters Township) Rocco Underwood, TE (6-4, 220, Lake Mary, FL) Dakota Mitchell, S (6-0, 185, Winter Park, FL)


Of this group, Del Rio-Wilson, Kitna, Burke, Elksnis, Thomas, Watson, Boone, Black, Borders, Collier, Marshall, Young and McMillon are expected to early enroll in January.


FINAL THOUGHTS, NOT ALL OF THEM PITHY: Georgia linebacker Jermaine Johnson, who started several games this year, has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal … Georgia could end up playing LSU or Ole Miss this weekend, either of which would offer significantly more competition than Vandy, which has virus problems and canceled … Trevor Matich of ESPN thinks Auburn will hire UAB head coach Bill Clark to replace Gus Malzahn. Auburn has hired the Parker Executive Search firm to assist with its coaching search … Things are heading south for Tennessee recruiting as running back Elijah Howard decommitted and committed to Virginia Tech and safety Edwin White also decommitted … Missouri (5-4) wants to play in a bowl game. The Tigers went 6-6 in 2019 and didn’t get one, but that was then and this is now ... Texas just announced that Tom Herman will be back for 2021 which makes a report on the Paul Finebaum Show by Charleston (SC) Post and Courier columnist Gene Sapakof a bit of a shocker. Sapakof says Herman contacted South Carolina AD Ray Tanner about the job in Columbia after Will Muschamp was fired. Go figure on that one.

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