A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
Wednesday is going to tell us a lot about both the football and basketball programs at the University of Florida. For football, the Cotton Bowl encounter with Big 12 Conference champ and 6th-ranked Oklahoma (8-2) will tell us if there is any hangover from losing on consecutive weeks to LSU and Alabama. Dan Mullen needs positive momentum heading into the spring and a third straight New Years Six bowl win will help to eliminate the bitter taste of those last two games. For the basketball team (3-1), Wednesday night’s road trip to Vanderbilt (4-2) will be the Gators’ first game since Keyontae Johnson collapsed on the court at Florida State. The emotional toll that has taken on Mike White’s team was enormous. A solid outing and a road win in Nashville will be a sign that they’re recovering from the trauma.
In the Cotton Bowl, the Gators will be facing an Oklahoma team that has allowed only 57 points in the last four games. The Sooners come into the game allowing only 333.6 yards and 21.9 points per game. Over on the offensive side of the ball, they’re averaging 41.8 points and 475.8 yards per game.
Even though Oklahoma is a vastly improved defensive team, Florida figures to put points on the board. The Gators lit up Alabama for 46 points and the Crimson Tide had allowed only 53 points combined in its last 22 quarters prior to facing UF in the SEC Championship Game. As long as UF can keep Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask upright and healthy, the Gators figure to put enough points on the scoreboard even without All-America tight end Kyle Pitts.
It’s the Florida defense that should be a concern. Oklahoma freshman QB Spencer Rattler threw four of his eight interceptions in the Sooners’ first two games. During the Sooners’ current six-game winning streak he has thrown for 16 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. Oklahoma throws for 321 yards per game and runs for 154 so the Gators won’t be able to confuse Rattler by dropping seven on every play. Florida comes into the game allowing 28.6 points and 404.7 yards per game, the kind of numbers that are usually associated with a Big 12 defense.
The Florida basketball team will not only be playing without its best player (Keyontae averaged 19.7 points and six rebounds prior to the FSU game) but also its team leader. Finding a replacement for the points and rebounds might be an easier task than replacing the leadership. Tre Mann (15.8 per game) and Scottie Lewis (12.8) are both capable scorers and Noah Locke (10.8) is one of the better 3-point shooters (47.6%) in the country. This might also be an opportunity for Louisiana Tech transfer Anthony Duruji to finally step up and start playing the way he did at LaTech. He has a 48-inch vertical and was a 12.2 per game scorer as a sophomore before transferring to UF.
The emotional devastation of losing Johnson has probably been eased somewhat by his release from the hospital along with encouraging signs that his health is improving on an almost daily basis. What we don’t know is how the Gators will respond in tight situations without Keyontae, who has been the unflappable on the court the previous two seasons. We won’t know until Wednesday how the Gators will perform under duress without Johnson’s unflappable presence.
The importance of both these games Wednesday night cannot be overstated. Lose them both and it’s not the end of the world, but coming away with a couple of wins would be a very positive sign moving forward.
OVER, UNDER AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC ALABAMA: Nick Saban has posted 13 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. If Saban gets 10 or more wins in 2021 he will tie Bobby Bowden for most consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins … Alabama (5-3) opens SEC basketball play Tuesday night against Ole Miss (5-1).
ARKANSAS: Three seniors have already announced they will return to Arkansas for 2021. Center Ty Clary and left tackle Myron Cunningham are coming back but the best news was that linebacker Grant Morgan, second in the nation with 111 tackles, is going to return ... The Razorbacks (8-0) hit the road to Auburn Wednesday for their SEC basketball opener.
AUBURN: At his first press conference as Auburn’s head coach, the first question was about Alabama and the Iron Bowl … Since losing two straight, Auburn (6-2) has reeled off five straight basketball wins. The Tigers face Arkansas (8-0) at home Wednesday night in their SEC opener.
GEORGIA: Missing for Georgia’s Peach Bowl close encounter with unbeaten Cincinnati (9-0) will be opt-outs Ben Cleveland (RG), Tre McKitty (TE), Monty Rice (MLB) and Eric Stokes (CB) along with center Trey Hill. Georgia may be missing several players due to Covid-19 ... The 7-0 start for Georgia’s basketball team sounds better than it really is. The Bulldogs have beaten a number of homeless shelters and champions of the local inter-convent league. Georgia opens SEC play against Mississippi State Wednesday.
KENTUCKY: Kentucky will be playing in the Gator Bowl, but win or lose, not that many in the Big Blue Nation will actually care. They are in a mild state of panic over what’s happening with the basketball team that is now off to a 1-6 start with SEC play set to begin Saturday at Mississippi State. Of particular concern is the play of 7-footer Olivier Sarr, the Wake Forest transfer who was supposed to be the answer in the middle. In the most recent loss (62-59 to Louisville) Sarr had one more point and one more rebound than a dead man.
LSU: The way Max Johnson finished the season by leading LSU to wins over Florida and Ole Miss, you could see a quarterback exodus from Baton Rouge. Myles Brennan, who threw 11 touchdown passes in 10 quarters before he went down for the count with an injury, and freshman TJ Finley, who wasn’t nearly as effective as Johnson in the games he started, are thought to be prime candidates to enter the transfer portal … LSU (5-1) opens SEC basketball play Tuesday night against Texas A&M (5-1).
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Despite their 3-7 record, the Bulldogs are only a 2.5-point underdog to Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl … The Bulldogs (5-3) open SEC basketball play Wednesday night against Kentucky (1-6).
MISSOURI: Mizzou and the Music City Bowl will have to wait for another year. The virus has shut down all football activities, so the planned close encounter with Iowa in Nashville has been called off … Mizzou’s 14th-ranked basketball team (6-0) hosts 8th-ranked Tennessee (6-0) in the SEC opener for both teams Wednesday.
OLE MISS: Matt Corral, who leads the nation in completions to the other team (14), will be going against an Indiana defense that ranks second in the country in interceptions (17 in seven games). Corral tends to throw interceptions in bunches – six against Arkansas and five against LSU. He has also thrown 27 touchdown passes.
SOUTH CAROLINA: New head ball coach Shane Beamer is retaining four assistants from Will Muschamp’s staff along with director of player personnel Connor Shaw, who could be targeted for an on-the-field role. Retained are Mike Bobo (offensive coordinator/QB), Des Kitchings (RB), Tracy Rocker (DL) and Mike Peterson (OLB) … The Gamecocks (1-2) have had five basketball games canceled because of Covid-19. They are scheduled to face FAMU on Saturday if they have enough players to field a team. SEC play is scheduled to start on January 6 against Texas A&M.
TENNESSEE: Unless this NCAA recruiting violations story has some legs that will allow the firing with cause of Jeremy Pruitt, expect him to be back for the 2021 season although he’ll be missing yet another QB. Joining Jarrett Guarantano in the transfer portal is J.T. Shrout. Don’t be surprised if both end up someplace where they are well coached and successful ... The 8th-ranked Vols (6-0) are the SEC’s only top ten team. SEC play opens Wednesday night with a road trip to 14th-ranked Missouri (6-0).
TEXAS A&M: In the Orange Bowl, the Aggies (8-1) will be facing a North Carolina (8-3) team without three of its best players – RB Michael Carter (1,245 yards, 9 touchdowns), WR Dyami Brown (55-1,099, 8 TDs) and LB Chazz Suratt (91 tackles) … The Aggies (5-1) travel to LSU (5-1) for their SEC basketball opener Tuesday night.
VANDERBILT: New HBC Clark Lea has yet to name any assistant coaches … The Commodores … The Commodores (4-2) are scheduled to open their SEC basketball schedule Wednesday against Florida.
TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYED SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THE SEC
One of the most amazing things that happened during the regular season was the way Coastal Carolina and BYU put a game together in a matter of days. Coastal’s game with Liberty was cancelled because of the virus on a Tuesday. By Wednesday, Coastal and BYU had agreed to play. By Wednesday afternoon, the equipment truck was rolling out of Provo and on its way to Conway, South Carolina for a Saturday night game that was won by Coastal 22-17. What that game showed me is that we don’t need to schedule college football games 10 years in advance. And, with bowl games being cancelled such as the Music City Bowl due to a Covid-19 outbreak at Missouri, it would seem to me that a few phone calls could produce a team that would be willing to play Iowa.
Speaking of Coastal Carolina and Liberty, it will be difficult for any bowl game to be more entertaining than Liberty’s 37-34 overtime win in the Cure Bowl Saturday night. This isn’t a one-and-done for either of these teams, particularly with the NCAA ruling that nobody loses a year of eligibility this year. Both teams will retain most of their seniors for yet another year. Both will benefit from the transfer portal. And, both have their quarterbacks returning – Malik Willis for 10-1 Liberty, Grayson McCall for 11-1 Coastal.
It seems more and more likely that Boise State is going to hire Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore as its head coach. The 32-year-old Moore is considered to be the greatest QB in Boise State football history.
If you want further proof that the College Football Playoff is rigged and needs to be overhauled, then take a look at the point spread for Alabama (11-0) and Notre Dame (10-1). Alabama is favored by 19.5 points. If the fourth best team in the country is a 19.5-point underdog to the number one team, then there is something seriously wrong with the system. In the other semifinal, Clemson (10-1) is a 7.5-point favorite over Ohio State (6-0). I think that spread is way too low. I think Clemson will blow the doors off the Buckeyes.
FEELING PITHY ON A MONDAY: As the NFL regular season winds to a conclusion, there are expected to be numerous head coaches on the unemployment line. Already there are numerous reports that several teams are expected to make a pitch to hire former Florida and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. I think Urban will listen when they come calling but I have serious doubts that he’ll ever coach in the No Fun League. I think he’s quite content with his TV work which keeps him engaged in football without the hassles of recruiting. If he were going to coach football again, I think it would be a college job at a place where he knows (a) national championships can be won and (b) recruiting will all but take care of itself. He turned down Texas about three weeks ago and that’s one of the places I know he had circled as a job that all but recruits itself. He may get the coaching itch again, but I doubt it will be this year and I don’t think he would be happy dealing with prima donnas who play for pay and for owners like Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder.