Thoughts of the Day: December 24, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:

During a Wednesday afternoon phone call with a former coach who still follows football in the Southeastern Conference – particularly Florida – with great passion, the discussion turned to Florida’s defensive woes in 2020, which prompted him to ask this question: “Do you think Todd Grantham forgot how to coach this year?”


I didn’t answer immediately, instead taking a few moments to breathe deeply and ponder the question. “No,” I answered, “I don’t think he forgot how to coach but I think there was a serious disconnect this year between all the defensive coaches – not just Grantham – and the players. The Gators had a lot of young players but most of them were in their second and third seasons in the system so they should have at least been familiar with assignments but even in the Alabama game we saw players who were struggling to get lined up right and way too many blown assignments for game 11.”


He agreed with my assessment, then added this: “I think Grantham can still coach. He proved that in 2019. That was one fierce defense, but this is another year and he’s got to decide whether he’s willing to make some changes in the way he calls defenses and communicates with his players or needs to make some changes to his staff. If he doesn’t want to change, then he needs to find a new place to coach. If he does want to make changes I think are necessary, then he needs to do it the day after the bowl game.”


Change is never pleasant at this level. Florida is one of maybe 10-12 programs that you could safely call top tier. Counting coordinators, that means probably no more than 60 top tier assistant jobs are available on the defensive side of the ball. There aren’t that many jobs that will open up at the top level so there is limited upward mobility. Getting fired probably dooms an assistant to a lower paying job a few rungs down the ladder. I’ve never met a head coach who relished the idea of firing assistants, but firings are sometimes a necessity.


I am of the opinion that Florida has to make changes. Grantham has a four-year history with Dan Mullen and two of his three defenses have been top ten, but something has to change because another season with the kind of disconnect that was so obvious this season will set the program back. Coaches get stale and sometimes they need a wakeup call that prompts them to closely examine what they’re doing in order to revitalize their approach.


I haven’t any idea what Mullen and Grantham are going to decide once the curtain comes down on this season at the Cotton Bowl. They’ve been working together now for four years, the first three producing a top ten defense. This is the first year outside the top ten during their relationship. If I had to guess, I would say Grantham is going to be returning but with the understanding something has to give, whether it’s the way he coaches or by bringing in some fresh faces to work with.

TRASK, PITTS MAKE FIRST TEAM CBS ALL-AMERICA, TONEY SECOND

Kyle Trask didn’t make the grade with the Southeastern Conference coaches, who relegated him to second team All-SEC behind Alabama QB Mac Jones. Obviously, CBS sees things a bit differently than the coaches. Tuesday, Trask was named first team All-America by CBS. He was joined on the first team by tight end Kyle Pitts, who was one of two unanimous choices (the other was Alabama WR Devonta Smith).


Named to the second team as an All-Purpose player was Florida slot receiver Kadarius Toney.


Trask was snubbed by The Athletic, whose first team QB All-America QB was Jones and second team was Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Pitts and Toney were selected to the first team by The Athletic staff.


COMING, GOING, RUMBLING AND STUMBLING IN THE SEC

Former Auburn coach and now SEC Network analyst Gene Chizik, thinks back to Auburn losing to UCF in the Peach Bowl in 2017 and believes Georgia faces a similar situation against unbeaten and 9th-ranked Cincinnati (9-0) in the Peach Bowl: “They (Cincinnati) have some elements including a great coaching staff, a tremendous quarterback and a defense that is lights out. If Georgia doesn’t come locked in, they could get embarrassed on a big stage which certain would set that program progression back.”


David Pollak of ESPN discussed why he thinks Notre Dame got the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff over Texas A&M: “When I look at the four spot, the difference between A&M and Notre Dame – first of all, Notre Dame played 11 games. We have to point to that, right? And when you look at A&M, they played nine. They were 8-1. So Notre Dame played more games. Notre Dame had more wins over ranked teams. If you look at A&M’s win over Florida, huge win. A&M’s next best win? Auburn. So [for Notre Dame] you’ve got North Carolina, which was a great win and Clemson, which was a great win. Obviously … Clemson’s not a top four team without Trevor Lawrence so you can knock that down a bit. So I think the body of work, it’s not just that last game you saw and I’m okay with Notre Dame being in. If A&M was in, I wouldn’t be crushed if you thought AUM’s a better team, because honestly, I think Notre Dame and A&M are very similar football teams.”


There are reports surfacing that former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason could be Bo Pelini’s replacement as the defensive coordinator at LSU. Prior to the Vandy job, Mason was the defensive coordinator at Stanford for Jim Harbaugh. In that Harbaugh has fired defensive coordinator Don Brown, it wouldn’t come as a complete surprise if Mason went to work again for his old boss.


Auburn’s new coach is Bryan Harsin, the former Boise State HBC who got the job after a whole slew of people just said no. One of the naysayers was Bill Clark, who told a Birmingham radio station why he remains the head coach at UAB: “I basically said the interest I would have is to do it right and everybody has their own version of what right is. For me, is complete control of my staff and all those little things that go with it. I think maybe that was a hindrance. Once again, how far did we get down the path I won’t really say because I’m happy at UAB and this is where I’m at. For me, I said I would listen. That’s kind of where I’ll leave it.” Translation: I wasn’t going to take a job when a requirement was that I had to have Kevin Steele and Rodney Garner on my staff.


At South Carolina, there is a lot of news. Starting safety Jammie Robinson has entered the NCAA transfer portal. He had 37 tackles and an interception in his South Carolina career. Also at South Carolina, Hammond High School (in Columbia) head coach Erik Kimrey has joined Shane Beamer’s staff as the tight ends coach. Kimrey played quarterback at South Carolina when Lou Holtz was the head coach. Football Scoop is reporting that Memphis assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Pete Lembo is expected to join Beamer’s staff.


Mississippi State defensive tackle Devon Robinson has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal. He brings to 17 the number of players who have transferred out since Mike Leach took over as the head coach.


SEC underclassmen who have declared for the NFL Draft: KYLE PITTS, TE, FLORIDA; Larry Borom, OL, Missouri; Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU; Anthony Hines III, LB, Texas A&M; Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina; Ernest Jones, LB, South Carolina; Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky; Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU; Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss; Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina; Marcus Murphy, DB, Mississippi State; Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU


TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYED SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THE SEC Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated talks of how the College Football Playoff is stacked against Group of Five teams: “Programs like Cincinnati don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Programs like Ohio State, which played all of six games and hardly overwhelmed the two quality teams it faced, always get the benefit of the doubt. And now it seems the Buckeyes will get the benefit of another Big Ten rule change, reportedly reducing its 21-day mandatory time away from competition to 17 days for players who test positive for Covid-19. Never in the history of college football has a league prostrated itself for a marquee team the way the Big Ten has for the Buckeyes in 2020 … Big picture: there are fresher faces in a mausoleum than in college football. The sport’s status as a collection of immovable monoliths at the top is a problem, one that diminishes the game’s national scope and extinguishes outside programs’ hope. Just 11 programs have taken the 28 playoff bids to date.”


Dabo Swinney continues to do his best to get in the head of Ryan Day and the Ohio State Buckeyes. On Mark Packer’s ESPN radio show, Swinney said, “Obviously, you study their games this year and that will be a quick study for us, because there was only six. So that will be a little easier. Typically you’re going into these games with 13 games to study so it won’t be as exalting a task there … They are going to have to study our 11 games. You have to study every play – offense, defense, special teams. You’re studying every play, plus you’re going back to last year. So yeah, it does make it a little easier because there’s not as much tape to pour through. You can’t make it up. There’s only six games.”


The Littlest Bowden of Them All, Terry, has resurfaced in the Fun Belt Sun Belt as the head ball coach at Louisiana-Monroe. The Little Dweeb has a career coaching record of 175-114 that includes stops at such outposts as Salem (WV), Samford, Auburn, North Alabama and Akron.


Georgia Southern ran for 322 yards in walloping Louisiana Tech 38-3 in the New Orleans Bowl. Georgia Southern finishes the season 8-5 while Louisiana Tech completed its season 5-5. In the Montgomery Bowl, Memphis (8-3) took down Florida Atlantic (5-4), 25-10.


Jed Fisch, the former defensive coordinator at P.K. Yonge and grad assistant for Steve Spurrier at Florida, is the new head coach at Arizona, replacing the recently fired Kevin Sumlin. Fisch spent the 2020 season working for Bill Belichick at New England, coaching up the quarterbacks.


Now that Bryan Harsin has departed Boise State for the bigger bucks and increased competition at Auburn, it looks like one of the names that will be heard prominently at Boise is Kellen Moore, a record setting Boise quarterback who is now the offensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys.


ANOTHER REASON WHY THE NCAA NEEDS TO BE SCRAPPED …

Memphis, which has turned its NCAA rules violation case over to the independent investigation arm where it hopes to get a more favorable outcome than it will get from the Committee on Rules and Infractions, has given head coach Penny Hardaway a five-year extension worth $12.25 million. That’s like daring the NCAA to do something. Memphis was investigated by the NCAA for its recruitment of 7-1 center James Wiseman. Wiseman’s family was paid $11,500 to move from Nashville to Memphis where Wiseman played for Hardaway, then the high school coach at Memphis East. Hardaway knew better then and Memphis should know better now than to give him a raise and an extension. What will the NCAA do? Probably nothing.


CHRISTMAS EVE PITHY: Having watched BYU’s 49-23 beatdown of UCF Tuesday night I came to the following two conclusions – (1) BYU deserved much better than the Boca Raton Bowl and (2) after a three-year run that produced 35 wins in 39 games, UCF is on the verge of returning to the ranks of irrelevance. I am convinced that this year’s BYU team can play with and beat 90% of the teams in Division I. The UCF teams of 2017-18 could play with just about anybody in the country. Not anymore.

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