A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
Saturday night, Kyle Trask’s Heisman Trophy chances were taken off life support with his brilliant 409-yard, 3-touchdown pass game against Alabama. Had he led the Gators from 18-down at the half to needing just a little more time and better pass protection from the right side of his offensive line, Trask might be favorite to become Florida’s fourth winner of the big trophy. Despite the loss, it still could happen for Trask if Alabama’s formidable trio of quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Devonta Smith and running back Najee Harris split up the votes.
But whether Trask wins it or not, he’s in the hunt and the poster child for what has happened at Florida in the three years that Dan Mullen has been the Gators’ head ball coach. Trask has gone from an all-but forgotten backup to legitimate college superstar whose 2020 stat line reads 285-409 passing for 4,125 yards (10.1 per attempt) and nation’s best 43 touchdown passes. Mullen has taken the Gators from a program from the humiliation of a coach (Old Yeller) who lied about death threats into one that has made three consecutive New Years Six bowl games (Gators will play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl).
New Years Six bowl games aren’t the ultimate goal for Mullen and the Gators but just as Trask’s career from the time he arrived at UF had to endure some speed bumps along the way so will Florida’s path back to championship prominence. Georgia was a speed bump. It wasn’t until November 7 when Mullen got over that one. Florida’s 44-28 win in Jacksonville wasn’t anywhere as close as the 16-point final margin would have you believe.
Alabama isn’t a speed bump. Alabama is Mount Everest. Should he win – as expected – the 2020 national championship it will be the seventh overall for Nick Saban and his sixth since taking over the program in Tuscaloosa in 2007. He’s 168-23 since then and that includes a 7-6 first season. Since that first year, Saban has changed expectations to the point that when the Crimson Tide don’t win the national championship the season is considered a disaster in the eyes of Alabama fans.
This is not to say Mount Everest can’t be scaled and conquered but take into consideration that Mount Everest had been there millions of years before Sir Edmund Hillary became the first confirmed climber to reach the summit in 1953. Obviously, Dan Mullen isn’t thinking in terms of millions of years, but to get past Saban and Alabama isn’t an overnight process. Florida fans want the Gators challenging Alabama for championships every year and while not an impossible dream, it’s not going to happen overnight and won’t happen without making some changes, especially on defense.
But it can be done.
Don’t forget that there was a time when everyone thought Steve Spurrier would never win a national title because he was too loyal to his assistants, particularly on defense. Remember the Nebraska debacle in 1995? A year later, Spurrier had nudged Bobby Pruitt out, brought in Bobby Stoops to coordinate the defense and Florida won its first national championship.
It may take Mullen more than a year to get that national championship, but don’t doubt that he will make the necessary changes. Folks doubted Trask. They doubted Mullen would ever beat Georgia. His track record for erasing the doubts is rather good.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF POLL: (1) Alabama 11-0; (2) Clemson 10-1; (3) Ohio State 6-0; (4) Notre Dame 10-1; (5) Texas A&M 8-1; (6) Oklahoma 8-2; (7) FLORIDA 8-3; (8) Cincinnati 9-0; (9) Georgia 7-2; (10) Iowa State 8-3; (11) Indiana 6-1; (12) Coastal Carolina 11-0; (13) North Carolina 8-3; (14) Northwestern 6-2; (15) Iowa 6-2; (16) BYU 10-1; (17) Southern Cal 5-1; (18) Miami 8-2; (19) Louisiana 9-1; (20) Texas 6-3; (21) Oklahoma State 7-3; (22) San Jose State 7-0; 23) North Carolina State 8-3; (24) Tulsa 6-2; (25) Oregon 4-2
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL: (1) Alabama 11-0; (2) Clemson (10-1); (3) Ohio State 6-0; (4) Notre Dame 10-1; (5) Texas A&M 8-1; (6) Cincinnati 9-0; (7) Indiana 6-1; (8) Oklahoma 8-2; (9) Coastal Carolina 11-0; (10) FLORIDA 8-3; (11) Georgia 7-2; (12) Iowa State 8-3; (13) BYU 10-1; (14) North Carolina 8-3; (15) Northwestern 6-2; (16) Louisiana 9-1; (17) Iowa 6-2; (18) Miami 8-2; (19) San Jose State 7-0; (20) Texas 6-3; (21) Southern Cal 5-1; (22) Tulsa 6-2; (23) Liberty 9-1; (24) North Carolina State 8-3; (25) Oregon 4-2
COACHES TOP 25 POLL: (1) Alabama 11-0; (2) Clemson 10-1; (3) Ohio State 6-0; (4) Notre Dame 10-1; (5) Texas A&M 8-1; (6) Cincinnati 9-0; (7) Oklahoma 8-2; (9) Georgia 7-2; (10) FLORIDA 8-3; (11) Coastal Carolina 11-0; (12) Iowa State 8-3; (13) Northwestern 6-2; (14) North Carolina 8-3; (15) BYU 10-1; (16) Iowa 6-2; (17) Louisiana 9-1; (18) Miami 8-2; (19) Southern Cal 5-1; (20) San Jose State 7-0; (21) Oklahoma State 7-3; (22) North Carolina State 8-3; (23) Liberty 9-1; (24) Texas 6-3; (25) Tulsa 6-2
THE PLAYOFF: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DOLLARS
Maybe the college football establishment thinks the country is naïve enough to believe that the four best teams are going to be playing for the national championship. If that’s the case, then they are the ones who are naïve and not the football watching public. The playoff was, is and will always be about the dollars and it’s particularly true in this pandemic-induced weirdness.
You can make a very strong case that Alabama and Clemson should be ranked 1-2. It seems they’re ranked 1-2 every year so why not this one? But Ohio State and Notre Dame? Ohio State played six games and in its two wins over ranked teams (Indiana and Northwestern) quarterback Justin Fields looked like he ordered his quarterbacking lessons from Amazon Prime. Sure, Notre Dame beat Clemson earlier in the year but that game was in South Bend and Clemson was without its two best playmakers (QB Trevor Lawrence and LB James Skalski). On a neutral field with everyone healthy, Clemson made Notre Dame look like it would have a hard time winning five games in the SEC.
The Aggies (8-1) pass the playoff eye test and they have a win over that same Florida team that lost by a TD while hanging 46 on mighty Alabama. You can make a very strong case that either Cincinnati (9-0) or Coastal Carolina (11-0) belong but the playoff people aren’t going to let a Group of Five team in. They didn’t do it in 2017 when UCF rank the table and didn’t do it again in 2018 when UCF was working a 27-game win streak so why give Cincy or Coastal a chance to embarrass the establishment?
So why do we get Notre Dame and Ohio State? It’s all about the dollars boys and girls. Put Notre Dame and Ohio State in the playoff and you’ll get the ratings. The Aggies are a really good team but they aren’t the top TV draw in their own state. An average Texas team will always have better ratings than the Aggies even at their best. Let Cincinnati and Coastal in the playoff and you won’t get anything close to the ratings you get with the Domers and the Buckeyes.
What this very strange season has told us is that college football desperately needs to either expand the playoff to eight teams so we can have a Cinderella story or else the Group of Five need to give the Power Five the middle finger and do their own playoff. I like eight teams – five conference champs from the Power Five, at least one from the Group of Five and as many as two wild cards, but if that can’t happen, then it’s time the Group of Five have their own playoff. It wouldn’t draw the crowds or TV ratings as the big boys, but it would give these schools a chance to have a championship of their own.
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
NEW YEAR’S SIX SEC BOWLERS ORANGE BOWL: #5 Texas A&M (8-1) vs. #13 North Carolina (8-3) COTTON BOWL: #7 FLORIDA (8-3) vs. #6 Oklahoma (8-2) PEACH BOWL: #9 Georgia (7-2) vs. #8 Cincinnati (9-0) OTHER SEC BOWLERS
(Every team that played in 2020 is bowl-eligible; the SEC filled out all the slots that were already contracted except for LSU which self-imposed a bowl ban) CITRUS BOWL: Auburn (6-4) vs. #14 Northwestern (6-2) OUTBACK BOWL: Ole Miss (4-5) vs. #11 Indiana (6-1) GATOR BOWL: Kentucky (3-7) vs. #23 North Carolina State (8-3) LIBERTY BOWL: Arkansas (3-7) vs. TCU (5-4) ARIZONA BOWL: Tennessee (3-7) vs. West Virginia (4-4) MUSIC CITY BOWL: Missouri (5-5) vs. #15 Iowa (6-2) ARMED FORCES BOWL: Mississippi State (3-7) vs. #24 Tulsa (6-2) GASPARILLA BOWL: South Carolina (3-7) vs. UAB (6-3)
BOWL GAMES FOR TEAMS FROM FLORIDA BOCA RATON BOWL: UCF (6-3) vs. #16 BYU (10-1) NEW ORLEANS BOWL: Florida Atlantic (5-3) vs. Memphis (7-3) CHEEZ-IT BOWL: #21 Oklahoma State (7-3) vs. Miami (8-2)
AS THE COACHING SEARCH TURNS Tennessee could be relieving Jeremy Pruitt of his job with cause after reports surfaced that Pruitt is under investigation both by the Tennessee compliance department and the NCAA for improper benefits offered to recruits, some of whom are on the Tennessee roster and some who signed somewhere else. If Pruitt were fired without cause he would be owed $12.8 million due to this lovely contract extension that he was given by athletic director Phattus Maximus. If there is cause, Tennessee would give Pruitt a going away present but certainly nothing close to $12.8 million. Maybe Tennessee should be looking for a way to jettison the Phat Man while they’re about it.
Auburn’s coaching search seems to be expanding. Add UAB coach Bill Clark to those already vetted – Billy Napier (HBC Louisiana), Steve Sarkisian (OC, Alabama) and Neal Brown (HBC West Virginia). Some big dollar boosters want defensive coordinator/interim head coach Kevin Steele. If Steele is the guy then it means Auburn hiring a search firm to do all these interviews was all window dressing to make the masses think they were going after the right guy.
Bret Bielema has resurfaced as a college head coach at Illinois. This is a good fit. Bielema tried to play Big Ten (Plus Four) football in the SEC at Arkansas and it didn’t work. It will work in the Big Ten (Plus Four) and that’s where Bielema’s roots are. He played for Hayden Fry at Iowa and was highly successful as the head coach at Wisconsin before he ventured south to Arkansas.
Arizona’s search appears to be zeroing in on San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, who led the Spartans to an unbeaten (7-0) season and the Mountain West Conference championship.
MOVIN’ ON OUT: A FEW NAMES IN THE TRANSFER PORTAL/NFL DRAFT Not surprising, Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano, who Vol fans accused of just about everything but the origin of Covid-19, has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal. It will be interesting to see where he lands and what might happen when he plays for a decent head coach and offensive coordinator.
From Arkansas, OL Chibueze Nwanna and WR Shamar Nash are in the portal. Nobody at Arkansas is sweating bullets over the loss of these two.
Former Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader, who many thought was Louisville-bound, has instead selected Syracuse as his next destination. Mississippi State picked up a grad transfer QB in Jack Abraham, who had 7,067 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes at Southern Miss.
South Carolina DB Shilo Sanders will be joining his dad Deion and brother Shedeur at Jackson State.
Georgia WR Makiya Tongue is transferring to Oregon State.
Kentucky DB M.J. Devonshire has put his name in the transfer portal. He has 6 tackles and 2 pass deflections in his UK career.
Missouri offensive lineman Larry Broom (6-6, 322) has opted out for the Music City Bowl game to prep for the NFL Draft.
ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT: If you want further proof that the deck is stacked against the Group of Five then consider that Coastal Carolina (11-0) is ranked 12th in the playoff poll yet the Chanticleers will only get to play in something called the Cure Bowl, played in Orlando’s 24,000-seat soccer stadium, against Liberty (9-1). That’s because only the highest ranked Group of Five team (Cincinnati) gets a slice of the New Year’s six pie.