A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
URBAN TO JACKSONVILLE
Urban Meyer is the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars where he is expected to lift the Jags out of the NFL septic tank and take them to the promised land. They’ve been close to the Super Bowl before but they never got there but that was long ago. In the last three years, the Jags are a combined 12-36 so the former Florida and Ohio State head coach has his work cut out for him.
The question is why take a job at a place that consistently rolls snake eyes? To start with, it has nothing to do with money even though reports have it that he will be paid anywhere from $12-15 million per year.
When it came time to agree to take the pro football plunge these were the factors that lured him in: (1) Drafting Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with the overall No. 1 pick in April; (2) Eleven draft picks in the 2021 draft; (3) $100 million in cap space that will allow him to pick and choose veterans that he can plug in for immediate help; (4) An owner that knows nothing at all about football and doesn’t pretend to who will allow Meyer to hire his own personnel guys and coaches; and (5) Location, location, location.
The NFL is a quarterback-centric league and Lawrence is considered a franchise altering QB. Good enough that he would have been the top draft pick after his freshman year in 2018, he’s perhaps the most NFL ready quarterback in years.
Of the 11 draft picks there are two each in the first, second and fourth rounds. There will be no shortage of trade offers so Meyer will have the option of drafting college players that can play immediately, trading some of the picks for veterans, or even doing a Bill Belichick by selective trading for even more draft picks.
One thing he’s almost certain to do with a portion of the cap space is bring in linemen on both sides of the football. The Jags allowed 44 sacks so finding some pass blockers to protect his franchise QB is imperative. Over on the defensive line, the Jags managed only 18 sacks, barely more than one per game. That will also have to change. Something else Meyer will need to do is bring in a veteran quarterback who can mentor Lawrence. That won’t come cheap but it will be well worth the investment.
Unlike Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, who thought he knew so much about football that he ran Jimmy Johnson off, Jags owner Sam Khan isn’t a football guy so Meyer is going to bring in his own talent evaluators and assistants he knows and trusts. There is no limit on the number of assistant coaches Meyer can hire. Bill Belichick, for example, has one of the smaller staffs in the business while the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles employ more than 20 each.
Then there is that matter of location. When it comes to good weather this is one of the two best divisions in pro football. Indianapolis plays in a dome. Houston has a retractable roof. Tennessee and the Jags play in pleasant weather conditions outdoors most of the time. Once the calendar hits November and December there aren’t many games where snow and cold will factor in.
I was skeptical that Meyer would take the job. I know how comfortable he was with the Fox gig but also knew he might return to coaching someday if he perceived it to be the perfect situation. Texas would have backed up a Brinks truck to his home in Sarasota to lure him back to the college ranks but he declined. He could have had the Southern Cal job for the asking but I never thought that’s a job he would take. Of course, I didn’t think he’d go to the NFL either but he has what he believes is a perfect situation with both the control he needs and a standoff owner willing to give him whatever he needs to make it all work.
Jacksonville was willing to give Meyer what he wanted. If it stays that way, I have no doubt he will win in a big way.
MULLEN ADDS VITAL PIECE TO DEFENSIVE FRONT There was good news from the transfer portal Thursday defensive tackle DaQuan Newkirk (6-3, 317) announced he is transferring in from Auburn. Newkirk, who is from Orlando, will have two full years of eligibility remaining. The addition of Newkirk and Penn State grad transfer Antonio Shelton (6-2, 337) should add strength and stability at a position that underperformed dramatically in 2020 when the Gators gave up 170.5 yards per game on the ground, 68 per game more than they allowed in 2019.
Now that the American Football Coaches Association convention is over, there should be a good bit of coach movement nationwide this weekend. There is one opening on the Florida defensive staff but will Dan Mullen hire a safeties coach or will there be even more movement? Quite a few NFL assistants are available and where they land could create movement on college staffs.
One thing for sure, all eyes will be on former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who spent the last season as an analyst for Nick Saban at Alabama. Steve Sarkisian has already hired Bama O-line coach Kyle Flood and special teams coordinator/tight ends Jeff Banks. Associate head coach/safeties Charles Huff could be the DC at Missouri and corners coach Karl Scott is in high demand. With a shuffle of his staff inevitable, Saban might take Strong off the market by adding him to the full-time staff.
There are persistent rumors that Strong will join Meyer in Jacksonville but former Gator All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted that he had talked to Strong and the info is not true. Spikes also said UF would benefit greatly from having Strong come back to Gainesville for a fifth time (He’s worked for Charley Pell, Galen Hall, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Meyer at UF).
HAVE THE GATORS FOUND THEIR CATALYST IN CASTLETON?
When Colin Castleton gets it going, the Gators (6-3, 3-2 SEC) have a great shot at winning. Castleton has scored more than 20 points in each of Florida’s three SEC victories including his best game ever as a collegian in the comeback win over Ole Miss when he was good for 21 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocked shots and three assists. When Castleton plays well, the Gators play well. They will need him to come up big Saturday in Starkville.
The 6-11 Castleton will be going against a pair of big, physical front court defenders at Mississippi State in 6-10, 245-pound Tolu Smith (12.8 points, 8.5 rebounds) and 6-11, 255-pound Abdul Ado (5.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks). The two are far from invincible as they combined for 12 points and 11 rebounds in State’s 56-55 loss to a much smaller Texas A&M team. The key for Castleton will be to stay out of foul trouble while playing effectively in the paint at both ends of the court. If he’s able to score in the paint, it will open up the outside game for Tre Mann (17 points vs. Ole Miss) and Noah Locke (15 points including 3-6 on 3-pointers). If those three are scoring, the Gators have a good chance to win their second straight SEC game.
SEC Saturday Games
FLORIDA (6-3, 3-2 SEC) at Mississippi State (8-5, 3-2 SEC) Georgia (7-4, 0-4 SEC at Ole Miss (6-5, 1-3 SEC) #17 Missouri (7-2, 1-2 SEC) at Texas A&M (7-4, 2-3 SEC)
Kentucky (4-7, 3-1 SEC) at Auburn (7-6, 1-4 SEC) Arkansas (10-3, 2-3 SEC) at Alabama (10-3, 5-0 SEC) Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4 SEC) at #10 Tennessee (9-1, 3-1 SEC) South Carolina (3-2, 1-1 SEC) at LSU (9-2, 4-1 SEC)
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC ALABAMA: Underclassmen leaving for the NFL are quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, corner Patrick Surtain II and D-lineman Christian Barmore. Also leaving is senior linebacker Dylan Moses, who could have returned for another year.
ARKANSAS: Wide receiver Tyson Morris is returning for 2021 … defensive back Michah Smith placed his name in the transfer portal.
AUBURN: Tracy Rocker has departed South Carolina to take the Auburn D-line job. He’s the third South Carolina staffer to leave for Auburn (Mike Bobo and Will Friend are the others).
GEORGIA: O-lineman Netori Johnson has transferred to Middle Tennessee State of Conference USA.
KENTUCKY: Quarterback Nik Scalzo has pulled his name out of the transfer portal and will return to Kentucky in 2021.
LSU: Coach O says he’s not locked in on a defensive coordinator who is necessarily a 3-4 guy or a 4-3 guy. That flexibility might come in handy because he’s already run through a few candidates who have said no.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Zach Arnett’s name keeps popping up for every available defensive coordinator job. The latest is Texas, where he reportedly has interviewed ... Wide receiver Kyziah Pruitt has put his name in the transfer portal.
MISSOURI: Among the candidates for the vacant defensive coordinator job are Charles Kelly, Alabama’s associate defensive coordinator, and Alabama analyst and former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops.
TENNESSEE: Already under investigation for alleged recruiting violations, the Vols have self-reported several minor recruiting violations both for football and for women’s basketball … Wide receiver Brandon Johnson, who caught 79 passes for 969 yards and a TD during his time at Tennessee, will be a grad transfer to UCF.
TEXAS A&M: Corner Myles Johnson announced he’s returning to A&M for the 2021 season.
MORE FOOTBALL STUFF
Red Wilson will always have a place in Steve Spurrier’s heart. Back in 1979 when Georgia Tech hired Bill Currie as its new head coach, Spurrier was out of a job. Currie told Spurrier he didn’t think he had a future in coaching. The story goes that Currie offered to get him a job selling insurance. Wilson, the former head coach at Elon, had just taken the job at Duke. He offered Spurrier the job as offensive coordinator and give him carte blanche with the offense. Wilson loved telling the story that he would ask Spurrier on the sideline, “What play did you call, Steve?” and Spurrier would answer, “Touchdown Coach!” Spurrier’s success with Duke is what got him the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL, which led him back to Duke as the head coach in 1987 and then on to Florida in 1990. Rest in peace Coach! The Gator Nation is eternally grateful.
Remember when the New York Jets were supposed to be talking in earnest with Dan Mullen? Well, they never talked to Mullen – at least officially or anything beyond casual conversations – and ended up hiring San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Thursday. Now, will Saleh decide to keep former No. 1 draft pick Sam Darnold as his QB or will he draft Ohio State’s Justin Fields? Dane Brugler of The Athletic has the Jets taking BYU quarterback Zach Wilson but his mock draft was done before Saleh was hired.
Steve Sarkisian lured Kyle Flood from Alabama to be the new O-line coach at Texas. Now he’s hired away Bama special teams coordinator Jeff Banks at a salary of $1 million.
ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT FOR FRIDAY: At some point the bowls are going to either be merged into the fabric of the College Football Playoff or made completely obsolete. Until that happens, the bowls need to find a way to avoid the opt-outs. Here are a couple of thoughts. Let’s not fool ourselves, the opt-outs aren’t doing it to “prepare for the NFL Draft” and they aren’t doing it for fear they will be hurt. They’re opting out because they’re jumping the gun on signing with an agent. So here are a couple of thoughts: (1) Make sure every player who is draft-eligible gets an NFL evaluation. Every college coach has them ready for players who are considering leaving so just move the date up a week or so. (2) If a player projects as a first or second round pick then the bowl buys an insurance policy for say $3 million, $2 million for third or fourth, etc. It’s not going to be that expensive since it’s only a policy good for a week or two, not like one that covers a kid the entire season. (3) Instead of gifts that the players typically sell as soon as they get back home, give them a check for $5,000 or $10,000. These guys are going to be leaving anyway so it’s not that big a deal. Instead of opting out, you might find a high percentage of them delay signing with an agent until AFTER the bowl game.