A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
ARIK GILBERT: MORE PROOF HOW RECRUITING IS CHANGING The second of the two national signing days will take place Wednesday and we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Dan Mullen signs no one. That hardly means the Gators have whiffed, just that between the kids who signed in December, a couple of transfers – the latest of which is former 5-star tight end Arik Gilbert from LSU – and the possibility that a couple more transfers will come on board this spring Mullen might want to hold onto two or three scholarships.
Gilbert, former 5-star running back Demarckus Bowman (Clemson transfer, enrolled in January), defensive tackles Antonio Shelton (former 3-star from Penn State) and Daquan Newkirk (former 4-star from Auburn) and placekicker Jace Christmann (from Mississippi State) offer perfect examples of how recruiting has changed. Florida’s early signing class included 12 early enrollees among the 22 who faxed in their letters of intent but only a few of them figure to make an immediate impact. Most will require a year, perhaps two of development. As for the transfers, all five fill immediate needs and figure to start from day one.
The foundation of every college football roster was, is and will always be the high school kids and a few jucos, but now that the NCAA has opened up the transfer portals and what amounts to free agency is soon to be approved, you will see every school holding scholarships to see what’s available in the portal. If there is a hole that has to be filled, instead of hoping and praying a freshman can grow up in a hurry, an experienced transfer can step in and play immediately.
When it comes to knowing how to use transfers to his advantage, Mullen is way ahead of the curve. He’s been filling holes in his roster since the day he took over at UF in December of 2017. Counting the new additions, Mullen has landed five 5-stars, 5 4-stars and three 3-stars since 2017. At least ten former transfers will be on the 2021 roster and if all ten don’t start, they will at least figure to contribute significantly.
In landing Gilbert, who caught 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns for LSU in 2020 and 6-5 and 249 pounds, tight ends coach Tim Brewster reportedly got plenty of assistance from Florida’s 2020 Mackey Award winning tight end Kyle Pitts. When the 2020 recruiting rankings were completed, Gilbert was the nation’s 5th-ranked recruit by 247Sports, 6th by ESPN and 9th by Rivals.
THE GATORS AT HALFTIME: BETTER THAN WE EXPECTED At the midway point of what can only be described as the strangest basketball season perhaps in Florida history, the Gators are in far better shape than anyone could imagine. Following their win over 11th-ranked West Virginia in Morgantown Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the Gators have moved all the way up to 18th in the NCAA Net Rankings. The Net Rankings, along with those found at Kenpom.com, where the Gators are 23rd, are a fairly good indicator of where a team would be seeded if the Selection Committee announced its teams for the NCAA Tournament today.
Based on where the Gators stand today, they would be either a five or six seed. Considering the trauma following the collapse of Keyontae Johnson, would anyone have guessed the Gators would be this highly regarded at the midway point of the season?
In his post-game remarks Saturday, White said, “People forget that these guys -- we came back from Tallahassee and we were done. Completely done. Guys went home and didn't do anything. Some of them did, I'm sure, some of those guys were in the gym. But we didn't get together collectively for 15 days. And it wasn't a pause where we're still doing 5-on-0, dry 0, watching film with guys ... some guys went home for 14-15 days.
"We needed to mentally heal from the trauma that these guys experienced. We needed these guys to get away from it. We came back on the 26th, and we're obviously a different team without the conference preseason player of the year, the best player I've ever coached, a guy who I thought was going to end up having an All-American-type season."
With Keyontae, the Gators figured to make the tournament field. Without him, it took several games for White to find a lineup that works consistently but now he has a lineup and the kind of depth you have to have on the bench to win. The win over West Virginia is the perfect example. In a first half that Tre Mann, Omar Payne and Tyree Appleby spent way too much time on the bench with two fouls, White was constantly juggling his lineup in an effort to keep the game close. There was no answer for West Virginia’s Derek Culver, who scored 21 points.
All that changed in the second half. Colin Castleton dominated the paint, scoring 15 of his 21 points and blocking four of his five shots for the game. That neutralized Culver, who scored only seven after the break. With Castleton in control on the inside, it opened things up outside for Mann and Noah Locke to each hit three 3-pointers. With Appleby blowing by everybody, the Gators ran the Mountaineers silly, scoring 18 fast break points. Florida outscored WVU 26-5 on fast break points for the game.
The win in Morgantown sets the stage for a very important week for UF. Job number one is to avoid the letdown Wednesday night when South Carolina comes to the O-Dome. Then there is a Saturday road trip to LSU, which is always dangerous in Baton Rouge. Two wins will solidify the Gators position as they get ready for what will be their toughest stretch of the season.
Tuesday SEC games #18 Tennessee (12-3, 5-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (8-8, 3-6 SEC) Georgia (10-6, 3-6 SEC) at Auburn (10-8, 4-5 SEC) Kentucky (5-10, 4-4 SEC) at #12 Missouri (11-3, 4-3 SEC)
Mississippi State (10-8, 4-5 SEC) at Arkansas (13-5, 5-4 SEC) Wednesday SEC games South Carolina (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at FLORIDA (10-4, 6-3 SEC) LSU (11-5, 6-3 SEC) at #9 Alabama (14-4, 9-0 SEC) Vanderbilt (5-8, 1-6 SEC) at Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC)
SEC HOOPS STUFF
The SEC won the SEC/Big 12 Challenge 5-4. The two most impressive wins were Florida’s 85-80 whacking of 11th-ranked West Virginia in Morgantown and 18th-ranked Tennessee blowing the doors off 15th-ranked Kansas in Knoxville.
Kentucky’s entire basketball program was put on a 48-hour hold due to Covid-19 issues and that included cancellation of its game with 5th-ranked Texas. That puts Tuesday’s game at 12th-ranked Missouri in jeopardy.
Jay Bilas of ESPN weighed in on Kentucky’s issues, noting, “Their players aren’t as good as they’ve been. They do have a highly rated recruiting class but their players haven’t played to the level of their talent or the predictions of their talent.”
NCAA Net Rankings for the SEC (national): 10. Tennessee; 11. Alabama; 18. Florida; 30. Missouri; 32. Arkansas; 38. LSU; 61. Auburn; 75. Kentucky; 76. Ole Miss; 82. Mississippi State; 107. South Carolina; 108. Georgia; 131. Texas A&M; 148. Vanderbilt
Kenpom rankings for the SEC (national): 8. Alabama; 13. Tennessee; 23. FLORIDA; 32. Arkansas; 38. Missouri; 39. LSU; 52. Kentucky; 53. Auburn; 66. Ole Miss; 68. Mississippi State; 80. South Carolina; 91. Georgia; 122. Texas A&M; 128. Vanderbilt
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC (FOOTBALL) ALABAMA: Cornerbacks coach Karl Scott could be the next defensive coordinator at Maryland ... Nick Perry, a former Bama DB who has been a grad assistant and analyst the last four years, has moved on to the Atlanta Falcons where he will be an assistant DB coach.
ARKANSAS: After a strong showing at the Senior Bowl during practice and when he threw the game winning TDP in the fourth quarter, Feleipe Franks’ draft stock is on the rise.
AUBURN: Obviously, all that buyout money for Gus Malzahn and staff (more than $26 million in cold, hard cash) hasn’t put a dent in the athletic department finances. Auburn’s new football-only facility will cost a mere $92 million, which is what Auburn paid for its state-of-the-art basketball arena a few years ago.
GEORGIA: Former DE Malik Herring tore his ACL during practices for the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
LSU: New linebackers coach Blake Baker, the former defensive coordinator at Miami, will make $500,000 in 2021, $550,000 in 2022 … New D-line coach Andre Carter will be paid $200,000 in 2021, $450,000 in 2022.
OLE MISS: Randall Joyner is expected to join the staff as the D-line coach. At SMU last year, Joyner’s D-line finished 15th nationally in sacks. They led the country in sacks per game (3.92) in 2019.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Former running backs coach Bobby Bentley, who was not retained by Shane Beamer, is the new running backs coach at South Florida. It wouldn’t be surprising if son Jake Bentley, who started two seasons at South Carolina and spent last year at Utah, transfers to South Florida, which is in dire need of a QB.
TENNESSEE: The talent drain continues. Placekicker Brent Cimaglia and punter Joe Doyle announced their outta Knoxville via the transfer portal. Cimaglia made 46 of 62 field goal attempts during his UT career. Doyle, who didn’t punt during the 2020 season, averaged more than 41 yards in two seasons.
TEXAS A&M: Kellen Mond threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns to win the MVP award at the Senior Bowl.
VANDERBILT: Ben Cauthen, formerly of Wake Forest, has been named Clark Lea’s chief of staff.
JOE REXRODE SAID IT … Joe Rexrode of The Athletic seems a bit underwhelmed by the University of Tennessee selecting Josh Heupel as its new football coach. Here are a couple of samples:
“Heupel wasn’t the one all along, shouldn’t have been and shouldn’t be UT’s coach right now. That doesn’t mean he has no chance. The Tennessee fan who just wants to believe things are going to get better, more than a decade and five coaches now into this era of misery, can point to Heupel’s 28-8 record at UCF and the fact that his résumé is technically better than the previous four coaches who followed the last successful coach, Phillip Fulmer (in reverse order, Pruitt, Butch Jones, Derek Dooley, Kiffin) when they got the job.”
And this …
“As you may have noticed, UCF fans don’t seem broken up about losing Heupel. But fans and media are wrong all the time, and it’s about time for someone to take this job at Tennessee and overdeliver. It’s also OK to put some trust in the guy who a week ago represented renewed Tennessee hope. We will never know every detail of White’s search, but it was too fast for Heupel to be lower than, what, Plan H? Some of the people he didn’t approach, along with his obvious familiarity with Heupel, suggest he thinks this has a chance. A chance at what? They talked about championships Wednesday, typical intro presser fare, but at this point, if Heupel can lead Tennessee out of embarrassment and make this a better job for the next guy, that’s a win.”
ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT: Darwin’s theory is on full display early mornings these days at The Swamp. It’s called mat drills where figuratively speaking only the strong survive. The garbage cans are out and they don’t leave empty as Dan Mullen and strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage intend to make darn sure those familiar fourth quarter fades of 2020 don’t happen again. Nobody was more upset with the way the Gators performed in the fourth quarter and late season than Mullen. Tough mat drills followed by a tough spring practice may drive some players to the transfer portal, but the strong ones who survive will make the Gators a better team in 2021.