Thoughts of the Day: December 29, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

It wasn’t all that long ago when college football players wouldn’t have considered skipping a bowl game to “prep” for the National Football League Draft. The idea of suiting up in that uniform one last time to play a final game with coaches and teammates who are like brothers was just too important. That was then. This is now. And now bowl games are increasingly considered meaningless and someone is convincing players that it’s best to avoid the game because they might get hurt so start preparations immediately for the NFL.

As if there is a greater chance to get hurt in a bowl game than there was in any one of those regular season games and as if one extra week of prepping for the draft is going to make a bigger difference than perhaps playing well on national television against a brand new opponent from a different conference.

There was a time when I thought that the only good reason to opt out of a bowl game was because a player or his family were in such dire financial straits that the instant money some agent advanced in exchange for a services contract would provide a much-needed lifeline. Part of me still wants to believe that.

Part of me also wants to believe in loyalty to the coaches who have done their best to improve players to the point that they’ll have a chance to make enough money playing on Sundays that they can take care of their moms and dads, brothers and sisters and others who have helped them along the way. Part of me wants to believe there should be loyalty to teammates on the second, third and scout teams who showed up every day to practice and who never missed out on mat drills at 5 a.m. on winter mornings and whose efforts to provide adequate competition helped the team get better.

Maybe I’m old fashioned because I want to believe those things but increasingly my old fashioned way of thinking gives way to the very harsh reality that the College Football Playoff is in the process of rendering bowl games obsolete and meaningless for those who are draft eligible. I’m not naïve enough to think that these kids who play college football are so stupid they don’t realize that a bowl system that has become a pawn of ESPN only exists (a) to provide 15 extra practice days, (b) keep college presidents and athletic directors from feeling the need to fire coaches for break-even seasons, and (c) help the tourist industry in cities where games are held.

Now, before I continue this rant, I do acknowledge that not every bowl game is meaningless. Try telling those kids from Liberty that their Cure Bowl win over previously unbeaten Coastal Carolina was meaningless. Try telling those kids for unbeaten Cincinnati that they have no reason to have a chip on their shoulder for being passed over by the playoff committee or that the burning desire they feel in their gut to take it out on Georgia in the Peach Bowl is meaningless. Cincinnati doesn’t care that Georgia will be missing several players who have opted out. The only thing the Bearcats care about is it’s a chance to finish the season unbeaten by whacking a Georgia team that was an odds-on favorite to make the playoff before Alabama and Florida exposed the Bulldogs as frauds.

For every Cincinnati that has an axe to grind in the Peach Bowl you have a Cotton Bowl that is going to struggle to attract viewers because Florida will be playing the game without All-Americans Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney along with Trevon Grimes, Brad Stewart, Marco Wilson and a few who will miss because of injury or Covid-19?. All-America QB Kyle Trask is going to play but he’ll be throwing to a bunch of unproven receivers. The Gators will be facing an Oklahoma team minus starting corner Tre Brown (opt out), running back Kennedy Brooks (opted out of the entire season) and three players have entered the transfer portal.

What’s going on with the Cotton Bowl isn’t a rare circumstance but the current trend that is affecting just about every significant bowl game. The only way to reverse the trend is to expand the playoff. You don’t see basketball players opting out in March because the NCAA Tournament has 68 teams and is likely to expand in the future. That chance to win a national title is a lure for every basketball player. Add more college football playoff games and give more opportunities to win a national championship and you won’t have nearly as many players using the excuse of “preparing for the draft.” They want to play in games that matter. Without an expanded playoff, players will continue to opt out and bowl games will become glorified scrimmages between teams’ second and third teamers.

It is my belief that most of the following needs to happen: (1) Division I needs to break away from the NCAA, the sooner the better; (2) Division I either needs to contract to something like 96 teams with eight conferences or break into a Power Five division and a Group of Five division; (3) If it’s a singular Division I, either an eight, 12 or 16-team playoff; (4) If there are two Divisions – Power and Group of Five – then each has its own playoff and each can claim a national champion; and (5) Eliminate paycheck games with Division IAA schools unless they are played in the spring, which would make the spring game meaningful and fun while throwing a financial lifeline to D1AA.

Finally, once there is a breakaway from the NCAA, appoint Greg Sankey as the commissioner and give him the power to break the vise grip in which college football finds itself in with the increasing ABC/ESPN monopoly. For college football to survive and thrive it’s going to take a strong, forward thinking commissioner willing to move beyond the current financial house of cards by moving from cable and network TV into the realm of live streaming.

URBAN MEYER, DAN MULLEN AND THE NFL Countdown to Firing Day: NFL Version is a week away and the Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen rumors to the No Fun League are already gathering steam. There are reports that several teams have already spoken with Meyer or his agent to gauge his interest in returning to the sideline. Mullen has also been approached.

Meyer will do what he always has done – listen to what is being offered – and then he will make a decision accordingly. That doesn’t mean he is actually interested or that he intends to coach in the NFL, but he will listen. Back earlier in the month, the University of Texas approached Meyer intent on offering him the mother of all contracts to coach the Longhorns. Meyer listened and said no even though Texas is one of those jobs he considers a real plum because of booster money, facilities and recruiting. I have no doubt he will say no to the NFL if he hasn’t already. At some point, the itch to coach again might require scratching but if Meyer returns to the sideline it will be when he’s good and ready and at a place where he believes championships can be won in short order. Right now, I think he’s content with his TV gig with Fox which keeps him involved with football but with time to enjoy life and good health.

Ever since 2010, Mullen has been offered at least one or two jobs every single year. He spent nine years in Starkville before he finally said yes to Florida. Mullen wants to win championships, something that was next to impossible at Mississippi State. It has taken three years to get the Gators to get past the speed bump that is Georgia for the SEC East championship. Next he has to get Florida past Nick Saban and Alabama, a tougher task for sure but one that can be accomplished in Gainesville and couldn’t be accomplished in Starkville. There may come a day when Dan elects to give the NFL a shot, but it’s my opinion that day hasn’t arrived yet. Once he’s won the SEC and/or the national championship, then I think Gator fans can sweat. For now, he will listen but that’s about it.

THE JAGS LOVE TREVOR LAWRENCE BUT WILL HE LOVE THE JAGS? Thanks to their 14-game losing streak, the Jacksonville Jaguars have outlasted the New York Jets, clinched the number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and have set their sights on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is considered the most NFL-ready college quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2012. For a franchise that has made an art form out of dumb moves, drafting Lawrence seems to be a way of righting so many past wrongs.

The only problem is Lawrence may have taken note of what happened to last year’s number one pick Joe Burrow operating behind a rotten offensive line and surrounded by some of the worst talent in the NFL. Burrow suffered a horrible season-ending knee injury. Is Lawrence willing to put his career at risk in Jacksonville?

There is precedent for franchise quarterbacks to refuse to play for bad teams. John Elway did it in 1983 when he threatened to play professional baseball rather than play for the Baltimore Colts, who had gone 0-8-1 in a strike-shortened 1982. The Colts drafted Elway but traded him immediately to the Denver Broncos where he ended up winning two Super Bowls. In 2004, Eli Manning refused to play for the San Diego Chargers, who were 4-12 in 2003. The Chargers traded Manning to the New York Giants where he led the Giants to a pair of Super Bowls.

There are numerous NFL teams with quarterback issues who have both veterans to trade and draft picks. The New England Patriots come to mind. Bill Belichick desperately needs to find his next Tom Brady. The Cam Newton experiment isn’t going to work because too many injuries have diminished his skills to the point that he’s a shell of the player he once was. Backup Jarrett Stidham has career backup written all over him. Belichick has four picks in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft to go with veterans who might fit a need in Jacksonville.

I think the Jacksonville Jaguars have until April 29 to convince Lawrence they have a plan to make him successful but while they’re making their sales pitch they would be smart to listen because there are going to be numerous teams ready and willing to make a deal.

A PITHY TUESDAY THOUGHT: Every Georgia fan I talk to seems convinced that JT Daniels will return to Athens to lead the Poodles to a national championship next year but what happens if he lights up Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl? He’s draft-eligible and there are enough NFL teams needing a QB that might make a late first or early-to-mid second rounder of him, particularly if he has a strong bowl game. Then there is 5-star Georgia QB recruit Brock Vandagriff. The memory of getting hurt and losing his job to Kedon Slovis at Southern Cal is still quite fresh on Daniels’ mind, plus he has to know that Kirby Smart may not want to alienate another stud freshman QB like he did with Justin Fields. The NFL might be beckoning more than you think and transferring out might not be out of the question either. Just saying.

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