Thoughts of the Day: December 20, 2019

RANKINGS DON’T ALWAYS TELL THE STORY

When he looked at his 2010 recruiting class at Mississippi State, Dan Mullen couldn’t help but think he had signed a potentially career-ending class.


“I was like, oh boy, this will be the end of the program and terrible players here,” recalled Mullen at his Wednesday press conference where he was assessing his latest batch of brand new Florida Gators. “Dak Prescott, no one has heard of the kid as a quarterback. I don’t know if he can even play.”


There were others in that class like Josh Robinson, Preston Smith and Bernardrick McKinney who were essentially unknown when they arrived in Starkville but made a big enough impact that they got contracts to play on Sunday.


“It’s like NFL player, star, star, star – like, not really high rated guys but turned out to be really good players in the end.”


Prescott, in particular, has evolved into an NFL star as the starting QB of the Dallas Cowboys.

Like every coach no matter the level of college football, Mullen wants to recruit the best players possible but whatever their ranking when they arrive on campus it’s all forgotten once practices begin. There is a correlation to something Dean Smith once told me about basketball recruiting to North Carolina: “Everybody scored 20 points a game and was a big star in high school. Not too many do it here.” The same holds true with football recruiting. The kids who are recruited to the University of Florida are typically the best players on their high school teams, but once they arrive on campus, it’s usually like starting at ground zero. It’s particularly tough for quarterbacks.


In 1995, Steve Spurrier brought in quarterback Bobby Sablehaus. He was 6-6, 235 pounds and regarded as the best high school quarterback in the entire country. He threw sidearm but that was thought to be correctable. What nobody knew was that Sablehaus had bipolar II disorder, dyslexia and clinical depression. He didn’t last an entire year at UF under Spurrier’s very intense style of coaching QBs to say the very least. (To his credit, after leaving UF he got medical help, got a degree from the University of Maryland and now is a successful Hollywood actor).


Spurrier brought in Rex Grossman in his 1999 recruiting class. Grossman was a hotshot up in Indiana but nobody knew him down south and he wasn’t that highly regarded nationally. The next year, Spurrier landed Brock Berlin, the nation’s top high school quarterback. Berlin was expected to start right away, but Jesse Palmer and Grossman were ahead of him. Grossman took over for Palmer after the Mississippi State loss in 2000 and never gave up the starting job even though Berlin was given every opportunity to take the reins of the UF offense. Grossman was the 2001 Heisman runner-up. Berlin ended up transferring to Miami.


Fast forward to Florida’s 2016 recruiting class. A QB everybody in the country wanted but Florida landed was Feleipe Franks, flipped from LSU. He was the fifth-ranked pro-style high school quarterback in the country with ideal size (6-6, 220) and an absolute bazooka of an arm. Ranked #92 was Kyle Trask, who didn’t even start at Manvel High School in Texas. Trask got a three-star rating largely on the fact that Florida signed him to a scholarship.


Among the quarterbacks ranked ahead of Trask were Messiah deWeaver (#11 nationally, signed by Michigan State), Devon Modster (#13, signed by UCLA), Logan Boyd (#17, signed by North Carolina), Jake Zembiec (#19, signed by Penn State) and Deuce Wallace (#24, signed by Vanderbilt). All but Wallace transferred out of their original school. Their combined stats through the 2019 season: 196-391 for 2,083 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.


Trask, meanwhile, patiently waited his turn. He redshirted in 2016, didn’t play at all in 2017, played in four games as Franks’ backup in 2018 (14-22 for 162 yards and a TD), then got his break when Franks went down with an injury in game three of 2019 against Kentucky. Since taking over as Florida’s starting QB, Trask is 213-315 for 2,626 yards with 24 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He has thrown for two or more touchdown passes in nine straight games and can set the Florida record with a tenth multi-TDP game in the Orange Bowl against Virginia.


There are multiple points to this exercise. The first is, recruiting, particularly quarterback recruiting was, is and will always be a crapshoot. The second is that with liberal transfer rules in place these days, it’s far too easy for a quarterback who doesn’t get a chance to start early in his collegiate career to move on. The third is not everyone who is patient and waits his turn will get a chance. Sometimes it takes a horrendous injury like the one Franks suffered at Kentucky for an almost forgotten backup to answer the bell.


To Trask’s credit, he’s absorbed all the coaching he can get in four years on campus and when he finally got the chance to show what he could do, proved he had the smarts and the ability to get the job done. If Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm bolt for the NFL, then Trask will start the 2020 season as the top returning quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.


Not bad for a guy who was the 92nd ranked pro-style quarterback just four years ago. It goes to show that rankings aren’t always indicative of future success, especially at quarterback. Finding the right school, the right offensive system and a coach who knows how to develop a quarterback are essential, but even that is no guarantee of success. Sometimes, as in the case of Kyle Trask, it takes a whole lot of patience and persistence as well.


HOLLOWAY WINS THE BOWERMAN

In the world of collegiate track and field, The Bowerman is the sport’s Heisman Trophy. Thursday night, Grant Holloway capped off his brilliant University of Florida career by becoming the second Gator in history (Marquis Dendy was the first in 2015) to win the coveted Bowerman. During the 2019 outdoor season, Holloway broke Renaldo Nehemiah’s 40-year-old collegiate record in the 110 hurdles with a 12.98 time, which was the fastest in the world. During the fall months, Holloway followed up that record setting performance by winning the IAFF World championship in the 110 hurdles in Dubai.


During his Florida career, Holloway was 6-0 in NCAA hurdles championship events, winning the 60 meter hurdles indoors three straight years and the 110 meter hurdles outdoors three straight years. He holds the Florida record with eight individual national championships.


SEC FOOTBALL STUFF

Alabama: Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy says he will play in the Citrus Bowl against Michigan and make his NFL decision after the bowl game. If he opts to leave for the NFL, Jeudy is expected to be a top ten draft pick.

Arkansas: Sam Carter, who worked for new Arkansas DC Barry Odom at Missouri, has been hired to coach cornerbacks. Former Hutchinson Community College head coach Rion Rhoades has been hired to coach linebackers.

Auburn: All-American defensive tackle Derrick Brown will play in Auburn’s Outback Bowl game against Minnesota. Projected as a first round choice in the NFL Draft, Brown says the risk of injury isn’t a valid reason to sit out the bowl game.

Georgia: Kirby Smart has hinted there may be some staff changes forthcoming after Georgia’s bowl game … Five-star offensive tackle Broderick Jones elected not to sign with Georgia during the Early National Signing Period. If you have been known to wager on such things, put your money on Auburn in February.

Kentucky: Backup quarterback Walker Wood has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

LSU: The LSU offensive line was honored with the 2019 Joe Moore Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding offensive line each season. Last season’s winner was Oklahoma, LSU’s opponent in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

Mississippi State: Linebackers coach Chris Marve is expected to leave for Florida State where he will also coach linebackers.

Missouri: David Gibbs will remain with the Missouri staff as the cornerbacks coach.

Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin may elect to keep Mike MacIntyre as his defensive coordinator … Kiffin is also trying to hire Texas A&M tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley.

South Carolina: Speaking of the negativity faced on the recruiting trail, HBC Will Muschamp said, “About 90% of it is not true from some of our lovely competitors.”

Tennessee: Offensive lineman Marcus Tatum, who started three games in 2019, is transferring to UCF where he will be immediately eligible … Linebacker Shanon Reid, who took a redshirt in 2019, has transferred to D1AA Illinois State.

Texas A&M: Tight end Glenn Beal, who put his name in the NCAA transfer portal last month, has changed his mind and is back practicing per HBC Jimbo Fisher.

Vanderbilt: Quarterback Mo Hasan has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Hasan’s 15 minutes of fame in the 2019 season came against Missouri when he completed 7-11 passes for 120 yards in leading the Commodores to an upset over then 21st-ranked Missouri. Hasan suffered a concussion in that game and then missed most of the rest of the seasons.


GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY From Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on what it will take to get the College Football Playoff to expand beyond the current four-team model: “Probably the fastest way to get an expansion would be if the ACC or the SEC were left out. I don’t wish that on anybody, but I don’t think you fully appreciate the damage tha’s done when conferences are left out two years, three years, four years in a row. Moreover, the big point I would make is that there’s probably seven major interests in college football and really, what I’ve concluded is that the College Football Playoff is only serving maybe two, three or four of those interests.”


More Delany on expanding the College Football Playoff beyond the current four-team model: “I think it may happen over the next six years, but I don’t think it’s inevitable that happens in the next six years. There will be an awful lot of contractual collaboration, political collaboration and agreement among coaches, administrators, presidents and networks as to what the best path forward is. Do I think it’ll happen at the end of that period (when the initial 12-year contract expires in 2026)? I would think it probably would, but there’s a long way to go with a lot of other challenges and responsibilities to execute between now and then. But it is being looked at, it has been looked at and it will be looked at. But what we have is an improvement over what we had.”


RANDOM THOUGHTS: Oklahoma has suspended three players for the Peach Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal with LSU, among them leading pass rusher Ronnie Perkins (6.0 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss) and third leading rusher (515 yards, five touchdowns) Rhamondre Stevenson ... The bowl season begins today. I’m sure you will all be riveted to your TV screens to see Buffalo and Charlotte in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl and Utah State and Kent State in the Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl … Among the coaches who are up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame are Bill Cowher, Dick Vermeil, Jimmy Johnson and Don Coryell. Alex Karras and Tommy Nobis are among the players who are nominated for the Hall. I still have a difficult time understanding why Wilber Marshall has never been on the ballot.

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