Thoughts of the Day: December 23, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH THE NCAA: NOT AS BAD AS IT SEEMS If you remember the bad days of the 1980s when the Gators felt the wrath of the NCAA and went on one of the harshest probations in the history of that loathsome organization, then the news that Florida was dealt a one-year probation for recruiting violations that resulted in a show cause for Dan Mullen had to cause a groan. Anytime there is a run-in with the NCAA it’s never pleasant but this one looks far worse on the ESPN news stream than it does in reality.


Florida heinous crimes that earned a probation involved players on a 7-on-7 team stopping by for unofficial visits while on their way to a tournament. Under current NCAA rules, that isn’t a violation of rules, but it was when it happened. The other one involved an assistant coach and Dan Mullen having some sort of interaction with a prospect at the school of a player from Seattle that lasted more than 15 minutes, which goes beyond the NCAA allowed time frame.


In neither case was there an offer of any impermissible benefit.


For that, the Gators will have off-campus recruiting evaluations reduced, a loss of one official visit and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, Mullen got a one-year show cause with a one-year restriction on recruiting off-campus and a prohibition for any recruiting during the first 10 days of January.


Note please that Florida self-reported the violations and cooperated with the NCAA. While the violations and probation are embarrassing to a school that has for years set the standard for compliance in the SEC, it’s not as if Mullen is breaking rules right and left. The punishment is a bit more than a slap on the wrist but it’s not a knockout blow to the program.


KEYONTAE WILL BE HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS There is great news for Keyontae Johnson. Florida’s All-SEC forward was discharged from Shands Hospital/UF Health Tuesday, meaning he will be able to be home for the holidays. His mother Nika tweeted out, “The best birthday gift I could receive! Thank you Lord! Thank you everyone for your continued prayers! The blessings have been phenomenal. Happy 42nd birthday to me!”


There has been no statement from the Florida athletic department or from Johnson’s family defining what caused him to collapse early in the Gators game with Florida State in Tallahassee. However, Zach Abolverdi of the Gainesville Sun, citing an anonymous source, reported that Johnson collapsed because of a heart inflammation that might have been caused by Covid-19. Johnson tested positive for the virus back during the summer.


Abolverdi reports that Johnson is expected to be out at least three months and quite possibly the remainder of the 2020-21 season.


PITTS, TONEY, ELAM MAKE FIRST TEAM COACHES ALL-SEC; TRASK SECOND The SEC coaches named their All-SEC team Tuesday with four Gators honored. Making the first team were tight end Kyle Pitts, all-purpose offensive player Kadarius Toney and corner Kaiir Elam. Quarterback Kyle Trask was named to the second team. Toney also made second team as a wide receiver.


Pitts was also named Tuesday as a finalist for both the Biletnikoff and Mackey awards. The Biletnikoff goes to the top wide receiver in the country while the Mackey goes to the nation’s top tight end. Pitts, who caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, is the first tight end to ever be named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. That will likely be won by Alabama’s Devonta Smith. The Mackey Award, however, is almost certain to go to Pitts. No Gator has ever won the Biletnikoff Award while Aaron Hernandez was the winner of the Mackey in 2009.


Trask was named a finalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. Trask leads the nation in touchdowns produced (46), touchdown passes (43), passing yards (4,125) and passing yards per game (375). Previous Gators to win the Davey O’Brien were Danny Wuerffel (1995-96) and Tim Tebow (2007).

GATORS IN THE PORTAL Corner Chester Kimbrough (5-11, SO) has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal, joining linebacker Jesiah Pierre (6-2, 242, RFR). Corner Marco Wilson (6-1, 191, RJR) isn’t coming back but there is no indication whether he will be transferring to a new school or declaring for the NFL Draft.


NO OPT OUT FOR FELEIPE

Rather than opt out like a lot of players have been doing in recent years, Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks will play for the Razorbacks against TCU in the Texas Bowl. Explaining his decision, Franks, who transferred to Arkansas from Florida for the 2020 season, said, “I want to stay and I want to finish the season out. I want to finish what I started. I came here to compete for a season, and that’s what I’m going to do. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve gone to work week in and week out with these guyus for 10 straight games. Why stop on the 11th? It’s just something for me, my pride and just being able to go out there. I owe it to these guys. I owe it to Coach [Sam Pittman], all the guys that have been able to just welcome me into the program and just help me take care of my body when I first got here.”


Feleipe had a very good season for the Razorbacks, completing a career-high 68.5% of his passes for 2,107 yards (8.9 per attempt, a career high) and 17 touchdowns (4 picks). Counting his time at Florida, Franks has thrown for 6,700 yards and 55 touchdowns while running for 642 yards and none touchdowns.


AUBURN HAS A FOOTBALL COACH

Back in 2013 when Gus Malzahn left Arkansas State for the Auburn job, his replacement was Bryan Harsin. One year later, Harsin was off to Boise State where he went 69-19 with three Mountain West Conference championships. For the second time in his career, Harsin will follow Malzahn, this time as Auburn’s new head coach.


Malzahn was fired for going 68-35 in eight years despite a buyout of $21.75 million. Harsin was making $1.55 million per year at Boise. He will be in for a substantial raise at Auburn, but it’s unlikely Auburn is crazy enough to pay Harsin $7 million a year.


Strike that last thought. This is Auburn we are talking about.


What will be interesting to see is what happens with defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who is serving as the interim head coach for Auburn’s Citrus Bowl game with Northwestern, and D-line coach Rodney Garner. There are whispers that a provision for Harsin taking the job is that he has to keep Steele and Garner on his new staff.


Auburn had talks with Hugh Freeze (HBC Liberty), Bill Clark (HBC UAB), Neal Brown (HBC West Virginia), Tony Elliot (Clemson OC) and Brent Venables (Clemson DC), all of whom said no. Steele wanted to succeed Malzahn. There is plenty of talk circulating that Steele had plenty to do with some hefty donor Auburn boosters putting up the money to buy out Malzahn.

FINEBAUM ON AUBURN’S MEDDLING BOOSTERS Speaking on WJOX in Birmingham, Paul Finebaum had nothing good to say about some of Auburn’s fat cat boosters who can’t keep their thumbs off the football program. Finebaum said, “I think Auburn is one of the worst cases I’ve seen and I’ve watched it from a very up-close view over the years and it never ends. What I mean by that is you have a group of people who have really not dramatically changed over 35 years, maybe longer … maybe 40 years. The difference is that the structure of universities has changed and there’s more accountability than there used to be. Everyone wants to be friends with the coach. Everyone wants to slap them on the back and have access. I think under (Gus) Malzahn that wasn’t available. Malzahn was a loner. He was aloof. He knew you had to be friendly to the important people but that didn’t mean you could call plays and stand on the sideline.”


MOVIN’ ON IN, MOVIN’ ON AND OTHER STUFF IN THE SEC South Carolina became the second SEC team to cancel its bowl game. The 2-8 Gamecocks were scheduled to play Conference USA champ UAB in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa but Covid-19 problems forced them to opt out Tuesday. The Gasparilla Bowl tried without success to find a replacement opponent for UAB.


Will Friend, who spent the last three seasons coaching the offensive line for Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee, is shufflin’ on off to South Carolina where he will coach the O-line for Shane Beamer. Apparently, Beamer is going to keep offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who hand-picked Friend. Friend was the O-line coach at Georgia when Bobo was Mark Richt’s offensive coordinator.


At LSU, D-line coach Bill Johnson and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger aren’t leaving football for the pickle ball courts at The Villages. They’re merely transitioning to off-the-field analyst roles for Coach O. Scott Linehan, who coached the QBs and was the passing game coordinator in 2020, won’t be returning as Coach O engages in a wholesale shakeup.


Deke Adams, who coached the D-line for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and for Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, has been pink-slipped at Ole Miss. The Rebels gave up 211-plus yards per game on the ground and only had 14 sacks in nine games this season.


Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach. Alabama, which has scored at least 35 points every game since Sarkisian became the OC in 2019, has scored 40 or more points in the last ten games. Alabama is averaging 49.7 points and 543.9 yards per game.


TACKLE FOOTBALL NEWS FROM SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THE SEC Clemson coach Dabo Swinney ranked Ohio State 11th in the last Coaches Top 25 Poll. Swinney ranked Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Coastal Carolina ahead of Ohio State. Clemson will play Ohio State in a College Football Playoff semifinal game.


Arizona apparently has narrowed its search to San Jose State coach Brent Brennan and New England Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch. Brennan has ties to Arizona from working as a graduate assistant at the school under Dick Tomey. Fisch is a University of Florida graduate who worked as a GA under Steve Spurrier in 1999-2000.


How long before UCF coach Josh Heupel pulls the plug on defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Tuesday night, Shannon’s defense was burned by BYU for 655 yards – 441 passing by QB Zach Wilson – in a 49-23 loss that wasn’t nearly as close as the score might indicate. Since 2018, which is Shannon’s first year as the DC, UCF has lost seven games. In six of the seven, the defense has given up at least 34 points.


In perhaps the surest sign yet that Jim Harbaugh will be back for at least one more year at Michigan, defensive coordinator Don Brown was fired Tuesday. Brown held the job for five years but following a standout 2016 when his defense gave up 14.1 points per game, the points per game allowed escalated every year. This year’s unit gave up 34.5 points per game as the Wolverines finished 2-4.


ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT: Florida’s football probation is just one more sign that the NCAA’s sell-by date expired long ago. When the NCAA can deliver a show cause to a football coach for a meeting with a recruit that lasted a little more than 15 minutes yet can’t drop the hammer on LSU, whose basketball coach is caught on tape boasting about offering large amounts of money to recruits and whose football program is trying to sidestep major penalties after a booster paid the father of an LSU O-linemen for a no-show job then it’s time for a brand new organization. Hire SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to run it, rewrite and simplify the recruiting rules, and let common sense rule instead of political correctness.

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