Thoughts of the Day: January 12, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

MULLEN KNOWS EXPANDED PLAYOFF IS INEVITABLE

Will Alabama’s 52-24 blowout win over Ohio State Monday night be the last game of the four-team playoff era? That’s up for debate but Florida coach Dan Mullen knows it’s just a matter of time before the bowl system as we know it is replaced by an expanded playoff.


Speaking on ESPN Championship Drive Monday afternoon, Mullen said the advent of a four-team playoff was the beginning of the end of bowl games as we know them.


“When the playoff started and it went to four games, I think it became a matter of time,” Mullen said. “Now, is that time now or in the future? But what I think we have to do to expand the playoffs is to be willing to let go of the old system.”


The bowls are one of college football’s great traditions but the advent of the playoff has diminished their importance and players opting out of non-playoff games only emphasizes how irrelevant they have become. Mullen understands that better than any coach in 2020 after his top three receivers (Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes) and other key players from a team that just 11 days before gave Alabama its only serious run of the season opted out rather than play against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. As long as the current system is in place, more and more top players will opt out rather than play in a bowl game. Fans won’t attend games when the best players stay home nor will they watch on television.


The answer is to expand the playoff to at least eight teams and eventually to 16 when it becomes perfectly clear an eight-game playoff doesn’t solve the opt out problem. But, you have to walk before you run. It took years to get a four-game playoff. Expanding to eight won’t take nearly as long, but you can almost count on opposition whether it’s eight or 16 teams since it means more of college football’s have nots will have a shot of the revenue pie that is hoarded by the Power Five teams.


Before the playoff expands you can count on plenty of opposition, first from the bowls and then from college coaches who will argue that the season is already too long. What the coaches are really arguing about is bowl games provide the equivalent of a second spring with the extra 15 practice days. The arguments will eventually fall on deaf ears because there will be expansion.


“It’s going to change,” Mullen said. “I think you have to be ready to just embrace the change. Let’s kind of start over, maybe, and say moving forward this might be the best way to do it.”


It’s no longer a matter of if, just a matter of when and the sooner we get to when the better college football is going to be.


IS ALABAMA 2020 ONE OF THE GREATEST TEAMS EVER? Over the next few days, before everyone moves on from Alabama’s 52-24 beatdown of Ohio State, there will be plenty of talk comparing Alabama to some of the greatest teams in college football history. Alabama went 13-0 with 11 wins against Southeastern Conference opponents. The only close game was Alabama’s 52-46 win over Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Every other win was by at least 15 points and nine were by 20 or more. In winning both their games in the College Football Playoff, Alabama outscored two of college football’s iconic programs (Notre Dame and Ohio State) by a combined score of 83-38.


Monday night, Heisman Trophy wide receiver Devonta Smith, who caught 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns before he left with an injury to his hand in the third quarter, finished the season with 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. Quarterback Mac Jones, the third place finisher in the Heisman race, threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns Monday, finishing the season with 4,500 passing yards for 41 touchdowns with only four picks. Jones set an NCAA record for accuracy (77.4%) and averaged 11.2 yards per attempt. Running back Najee Harris, who finished fifth in the Heisman race, ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns Monday while catching seven passes for 79 and a TD. He finished the season with 1,466 rushing yards for 26 touchdowns with 43 catches for 425 yards and four more.


As a team, Alabama scored at least 31 points in all 13 games. The Crimson Tide had a record 10 straight games with 40 or more, which is an NCAA record. For the season, Alabama averaged 48.4 points per game, the same as LSU in 2019 when the Tigers made their 15-0 run to the national championship. That LSU offense averaged 568.4 yards per game. Alabama averaged 543.1 per game.


LSU 2019 is being called a generational team that is on the short list of the greatest teams in history. I would have to put Alabama right there with the Tigers, particularly when considering the constant uncertainty of the 2020 season dating all the way back to March when sports shut down. It wasn’t until August that we even knew there would be a season and each week there was always the possibility that games would be canceled or played without key teammates. To go through what these kids went through while maintaining their focus and the discipline it took to avoid crowds and circumstances in which they could have contracted the virus only adds to the greatness.


A lot of people think that Nebraska 1995 is the greatest team ever, but I’m not certain that Nebraska team could have stopped either the LSU or Alabama offenses. Of course, I’m not sure either LSU or Alabama could have stopped Nebraska, either. Rather than rate teams 1-10 of the best I’ve ever seen, I’ll just offer this short list: Nebraska 1971, Southern Cal 1972, Alabama 1979, Miami 1987 Nebraska 1994, Nebraska 1995, Miami 2001, Southern Cal 2004, LSU 2019, Alabama 2020.


One other note: The national championship was the seventh for Nick Saban, which is the all-time record but it is only the sixth at Alabama, which ties him with Bear Bryant for the school record. Saban is now 163-17 since a 7-6 start at Alabama in 2007.


WHICH GATOR TEAM WILL SHOP TONIGHT VS. OLE MISS?

The Florida team that beat Vanderbilt on the road and followed that up with a win at home against a very good LSU team can beat most of the teams in the Southeastern Conference. The one that has gotten blown out on the road at Alabama and then at home against Kentucky in the last two games is capable of losing to just about anyone in the league. So the question for tonight when Ole Miss comes to the O-Dome is which team is going to show up?


Offensively, the Gators were so solid in the wins over Vandy and LSU, but the offense was way too inconsistent in the two losses. Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis, who were combining for nearly 30 points a game in the two SEC wins have combined for 22 points (18 by Mann, four by Lewis in the last two). To get the offense kick started against Ole Miss, Mike White is moving Mann (13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists) from the point to the wing and starting Tyree Appleby (9.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists) at the point. The hope is that Mann will be able to get into a scoring groove from the wing and that Appleby can get the ball inside to 6-11 Colin Castleton (11.1 points, 5.0 rebounds). Castleton’s offensive output suffered the last two games (19 points combined after scoring 44 in the wins over Vandy and LSU) because he rarely got the ball in any kind of scoring position.


Ole Miss doesn’t have much in the way of size so the Rebels will try to press the Gators the entire game to force tempo and turnovers (18.6 per game by opponents). The key to the Gators will be to take care of the ball, hit some shots and do something they haven’t done much of the last two games – play a little defense. The Rebels come into the game hitting just 28.6% from the 3-point line.


The Florida team that beat LSU will win tonight. The one that lost to Alabama will lose. We’ll know which team shows up later on.


Starting Lineups OLE MISS: Romello White (6-8, 235); KJ Buffen (6-7, 230); Devontae Shuler (6-2, 185); Matthew Murrell (6-4, 200); Luis Rodriguez (6-6, 210) FLORIDA: Anthony Duruji (6-8, 220); Colin Castleton (6-11, 231); Tre Mann (6-5, 190); Tyree Appleby (6-1, 170); Scottie Lewis (6-5, 189)


SEC Tuesday Night Games Ole Miss (6-4, 1-2 SEC) at FLORIDA #10 Tennessee (9-1, 3-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3 SEC) Alabama (9-3, 3-0 SEC) at Kentucky (4-6, 3-0 SEC) SEC Wednesday Night Games Auburn (6-6, 0-4 SEC) at Georgia (7-3, 0-3 SEC) Arkansas (10-2, 2-2 SEC) at LSU (8-2, 3-1 SEC) Texas A&M (6-4, 1-3 SEC) at Mississippi State (8-4, 3-1 SEC)


SEC FOOTBALL STUFF AUBURN: Defensive back Roger McCreary, who had 45 tackles and three interceptions in 2020, will return to Auburn for the 2021 season.

GEORGIA: With the announcement by corner Tyrique Stevenson that he’s entered the NCAA transfer portal, Georgia has now lost six members of its 2020 secondary either to the NFL or transfers.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats anticipate that honorable mention All-Big Ten receiver/running back Wan’Dale Robinson will transfer from Nebraska to UK. Robinson caught 51 passes for 461 yards and ran for 240 in eight games in 2020.

LSU: Right tackle Austin Deculus, who was the only starter from the 2019 season who returned in 2020, announced he will return for the 2021 season.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Cal wide receiver Makai Polk, who caught 36 passes for 478 yards and three touchdowns in 2020, has transferred to Mississippi State.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Former Florida cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray has been hired as the defensive backs coach for the Gamecocks.

TENNESSEE: D-lineman Matthew Butler announced he will return for the 2021 season.

TEXAS A&M: Linebacker Aaron Hansford, who had been invited to the Senior Bowl, announced instead he will return to the Aggies for 2020. The Aggies are losing defensive tackle Bobby Brown III and linebacker Buddy Johnson to the NFL Draft.


ONE LAST OPINION I’m sure Ohio State fans will be in their best if only mode for the days and weeks ahead, as in if only Trey Sermon hadn’t gotten hurt … but even with a healthy Sermon, the Buckeyes weren’t going to beat Alabama. Oh, sure, they might have scored a couple more touchdowns, but that accounts for only one side of the ball. There is no way Ohio State’s defense could stop Alabama and the only reason the game was as close as it was had to do with Alabama growing bored in the second half. I’m sure Jimbo Fisher will be claiming Texas A&M should have been in the playoff instead of Ohio State, too. Alabama beat the Aggies 52-24, the same score the Tide beat Ohio State Monday night. Ohio State was a very good team. Alabama was so much better.

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