GATORS, BOWL GAMES AND PLAYOFFS
Now that the College Football Playoff poll is out, the Gators are all but assured of playing in a New Year’s Six game, most likely the Orange Bowl against Virginia. Since their regular season is complete, the 9th-ranked Gators aren’t going to drop in the final poll when it comes out Sunday. At least one team ahead of the Gators – either #6 Oklahoma or #7 Baylor, which play each other in the Big 12 Championship Game – will lose and #8 Wisconsin is expected to get its door blown off by #1 Ohio State, so the Gators should finish no worse than 8th in the final poll. That, of course, makes the preseason prognosticators look like geniuses since UF was picked #8 in just about every poll and magazine.
The Orange Bowl desperately needs the Gators since it would all but assure a sellout for the December 30 game at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. There was some speculation that the Gators would face the best team from the Group of Five in the Cotton Bowl, but the Cotton Bowl wants a sellout, too, so if Utah makes the final four, the Cotton Bowl will get either Oklahoma or Baylor.
The last time LSU (12-0) and Georgia (11-1) met in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta was 2003, a game won by LSU, 34-13. That was a rematch of an early season game in Baton Rouge, won by LSU, 17-10. Both LSU and Georgia lost in the regular season to Ron Zook-coached Florida. LSU went on to win the national championship at the Super Dome in New Orleans. When LSU won the 2007 national championship game it was also at the Super Dome. This year’s national championship game? New Orleans.
The SEC will announce its Coaches All-SEC teams this weekend. The Gators can expect three first teamers – tight end Kyle Pitts, rush end Jonathan Greenard and corner CJ Henderson. If he hadn’t been injured, I think Greenard would win SEC Defensive Player of the Year over Auburn’s Derrick Brown. Joe Burrow of LSU will be the SEC Player of the Year and Coach O will be the Coach of the Year.
There is no question Ohio State is a terrific football team but how did Ohio State jump LSU for the top spot? I’m not into conspiracy theories but I do think the playoff committee is trying to stack the deck to make sure we don’t have a third straight SEC-ACC national championship game. By putting LSU #2 and Clemson at #3, it assures there will be either an SEC or an ACC team in the championship game but not both.
In my opinion, LSU should be the top overall seed if the #2 Tigers beat #4 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Ohio State will be facing #8 Wisconsin, a team it’s already blown out. With a win over Georgia, LSU will have beaten the then #3 (Alabama), #4 (Georgia), then #7 (Florida) and two teams that were then #9 (Texas and Auburn). Ohio State’s only top ten win was against then #8 Penn State.
I also think the winner of the matchup between Oklahoma and Baylor should jump Utah (11-1). Oklahoma and Baylor are numbers six and seven. Utah (#5) faces #13 Oregon.
If the playoff were held today, Ohio State would face Georgia, which would pit Ohio State QB Justin Fields against his old team and Jake Fromm. I would put my money on Fields and the Buckeyes.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATES Is it November 30th yet?
The largest domino that for months had been predicted to fall is still standing as Southern Cal has decided to keep Clay Helton. There are two theories about this: (1) The new athletic director and school prez have taken into consideration that Helton has spent 10 years at USC, has restored integrity to the football program and the fact that he went 8-4 in a season marred by so many injuries is actually quite remarkable; and (2) Southern Cal reached out to its two high profile targets – Urban Meyer and James Franklin – and both said thankee but no thankee, therefore bringing the AD and the prez to conclude they were better off with what they had than getting into a protracted coaching search for a third or fourth choice.
Missouri has a whole host of candidates to replace Barry Odom, one of whom is former UF coach Jim McElwain, now the head coach at Central Michigan. If McElwain is offered, he’ll certainly accept because it will include a massive pay raise (he’s making $600,000 now and Mizzou is certain to offer $3 million or more) but odds are this will be a mistake on the part of both Missouri and McElwain. It will be a mistake on the part of Missouri because it will be hiring a coach who has never proven he can build a roster on his own and win with it. At Colorado State, Florida and again at Central Michigan, he’s won with good players already in place. The Florida situation in particular stands out because McElwain inherited what amounts to an NFL defense and when those guys graduated, things collapsed. McElwain is probably capable of winning consistently in a place like Central Michigan, where there isn’t much limelight and expectations are far lower than they are at an SEC school. At Missouri? He’s a firing just waiting to happen.
It’s unclear what is going to happen with Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. Dantonio says he’s coming back. The school hasn’t exactly endorsed him and there is quite a bit of embarrassment that has nothing to do with a 6-6 record on the field. This will be a monetary decision. There is a $4.3 million longevity bonus due Dantonio on January 15. Add that to his $4.3 million salary and Dantonio makes $8.6 million next year. Fire him – unless something has been done that constitutes cause – and the buyout is $7 million, plus the cost of finding a new coach. For the moment, at least, it seems as if Dantonio will be back next year, but he will begin the season at or near the top of the On Life Support list.
Arkansas has already interviewed three coaches – Mike Norvell (Memphis), Lane Kiffin (Florida Atlantic) and Mike Leach (Washington State). Norvell apparently let it be known he has his sights set on other jobs. Kiffin is thought to be a target for Ole Miss as well. He’s quite comfortable at Florida Atlantic and can afford (eight more years on a 10-year contract that pays more than $1 million a year) to wait for the right job if he doesn’t want to beat his head against the SEC West wall that is Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M. Leach will not only win but he knows how to recruit Texas, which is essential for Arkansas success, and he will put fannies in the seats with his Air Raid offense.
Willie Taggart is all but begging the powers that be at South Florida to give him back his old job. Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times writes that Taggart is “willing to commit in writing he’s in it for the long haul.” Is a promise that he won’t jump immediately if ever offered a Power Five job enough to satisfy the USF hierarchy that Taggart is the right guy the second time around? John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times writes that hiring Taggart might have a “consolation” feel to it at a time when USF needs a dynamic presence to counter the success of the last three years at arch-rival UCF.
By naming defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre the interim head coach it probably signaled that Ole Miss will not consider the possibility of elevating offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez to the permanent head coaching position. If MacIntyre (former HBC at Colorado and San Jose State) had the interim title lifted, would he keep RichRod as his OC? It would save about $5 million in buyout money. The Clarion-Ledger reports former North Carolina and Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora is a candidate.
Mike Norvell of Memphis seems to be the candidate of choice for Missouri, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Florida State, all of whom can afford to pay him more than the $2,660,000 he’s making at Memphis. If it’s simply about the money, he’ll leave but he’s got a great gig at Memphis with boosters that keep giving him what he wants so he can afford to be picky. With quarterback Brady White, top receiver Damonte Coxie and electric running back Kenneth Gainwell returning along with all but one of his defensive playmakers coming back Norvell might decide where he’s at is better than where he could go. Good jobs will be available next year, too.
It was no secret that Colorado State was going to pink slip Mike Bobo, whose feelings were probably hurt by the firing but not his bank account. Colorado State owes him a cool $8 million. Bobo is a fine offensive coordinator. There is a really good chance he will become Will Muschamp’s offensive coordinator at South Carolina, which can pay him peanuts while he’s cashing checks from Colorado State.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on his belief that Clemson doesn’t get its proper due from the media and the public: “If there was another team out there that was coming off a 15-0 season and had beaten Alabama by four touchdowns [the rhetoric would be different]. I think people should focus more on who we are than who we play. People still talk about Trevor (Lawrence) throwing a few interceptions early in the season. They don’t talk about all of the touchdowns. Trevor, if they thought he was good last year, he’s so much better than he was last year – at any point. He’s twice the quarterback than he was at the national championship game when he was the king of football. He’s twice the quarterback, right now today, and people have missed it because there has just been this rhetoric all year long. Again, it’s not me chastising anybody at all. Everybody does their job. It’s me. I just don’t think our team is portrayed properly and I think that people have missed out on a beautiful football team.”
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the Tuscaloosa News about weighing the decision of declaring for the NFL Draft or coming back for a senior season: “The risk if I stay is obviously ‘Do I get hurt again?’ The reward is that I could come back and have another good year like my sophomore year and elevate myself back to the very top of the (NFL) Draft. If I leave, I think the risk is a little higher. That risk would be how far do I drop in the draft. To me, it’s 50-50 between going in the first round and possibly going in the second round.”
Chris Peterson on some of the reasons why he made the surprising decision to walk away from his job as the head football coach at Washington: “It becomes a lot of frustration and anxiety and stress. And some of the excitement and positivity and optimism can be pushed away and that’s never a way to lead your life.”
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF #21 Tennessee (7-1) 71, Florida A&M 42 Georgia (6-2) 95, North Carolina Central 59 South Carolina (6-3) 84, UMass 80
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Oakland Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs revealed that he’s been playing with a fractured shoulder since week seven. Jacobs ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,061 rushing yards … Baltimore Archbishop William Lori presented Pope Francis with a #8 autographed Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens jersey at the Vatican Tuesday … The first half of Tuesday night’s Louisville-Michigan game (won by Louisville, 58-43) nearly set college basketball back about 20 years. It was dog’s butt ugly ... The Tampa Bay Rays have cut off negotiations for the team to play some of its home games in Montreal. What the Rays desperately need to do is figure out a way to get a stadium in Tampa and move the team out of the Plastic Palace in St. Petersburg.