A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
AVOIDING THE LETDOWN We will find out Saturday if Florida’s stunning 75-49 poleaxing of 6th-ranked Tennessee was just a case of an undermanned, underdog team playing way over its head or a sign of things to come. Playing without Colin Castleton and Scottie Lewis, Mike White was forced to give extended minutes to players who normally spend large portions of games wondering if their feet are going to fall asleep while they sit in those neatly arranged chairs that promote social distancing. The results were stunning as the Gators dominated the Vols in every phase of the game.
When the Gators travel to Athens Saturday to face a Georgia team that has won its last two games including a 63-62 stunner over Kentucky Wednesday night, Castleton and Miller are expected to be ready and available. But, will White shorten his bench with their return or expand it to give more floor time to guys like Omar Payne, Ques Glover and Jason Jitoboh, whose contributions weighed heavily in the beatdown of the Vols? And, will the Gators play with the same kind of intensity in Athens that they showed for the full 40 minutes against the Vols?
The NCAA Net Rankings, the closest indicator of who is likely to get into the NCAA Tournament, saw Florida move from 44th to 29th because of the win over Tennessee. They probably don’t move up any if they beat Georgia (100 in the rankings) but a loss to a tier II team would drop them back into the 40s, which is a precarious position. There is still more than a month to go in the regular season, but with such a limited non-conference schedule, the Gators can’t afford losing to those teams in the lower tiers.
So, job No. 1 Saturday will be avoiding the letdown and playing with the effort and intensity needed to score a win on the road.
Wednesday’s SEC scores
Georgia (9-4, 2-4 SEC) 63, Kentucky (4-9, 3-3 SEC) 62 Arkansas (11-4, 3-4 SEC) 75, Auburn (8-7, 2-5 SEC) 73 Texas A&M (7-5, 2-4 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-4 SEC), postponed
Saturday’s SEC games FLORIDA (7-4, 4-3 SEC) at Georgia (9-4, 2-4 SEC)
Auburn (8-7, 2-5 SEC) at South Carolina (3-4, 1-2 SEC) Arkansas (11-4, 3-4 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-4 SEC) Texas A&M (7-5, 2-4 SEC) at Ole Miss (7-6, 2-4 SEC) Mississippi State (9-6, 4-3 SEC) at #18 Alabama (12-3, 7-0 SEC) LSU (10-3, 5-2 SEC) at Kentucky (4-9, 3-3 SEC) #19 Missouri (9-2, 3-2 SEC) at #6 Tennessee (10-2, 5-2 SEC)
GATORS REMAIN A #10 IN SEC BRACKETOLOGY Joe Lunardi of the SEC has six teams currently in his NCAA Tournament brackets led by Tennessee as a #2 in Region One and Alabama as a #3 in Region Four. The other SEC teams for Lunardi are Missouri #6 in Region Two, LSU #7 in Region Three, Arkansas #10 in Region Four and Florida #10 in Region One.
At CBS, Jerry Palm has five SEC teams making the NCAA field with Tennessee a #2 in what he calls the Bankers Life 2 Region. The other SEC teams in Palm’s brackets are Missouri in Bankers Life 2, Alabama #5 in Bankers Life 2, LSU #7 in Bankers Life 1 and Florida #10 in Hinkle 1.
NO ANNOUNCEMENT YET, BUT CHRISTIAN ROBINSON IS STAYING After a rather serious flirtation with Michigan, Christian Robinson will remain at the University of Florida coaching the outside linebackers. How do we know? Because Michigan and new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald completed the reshuffle of the defensive staff by hiring Maurice Lindquist to coach the defensive backs and George Helow to coach the safeties. Retained on the staff were linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary and defensive line coach Shaun Nua.
With Robinson staying, the Gators have one open spot on the coaching staff. Unless Dan Mullen is able to convince Charlie Strong to join the UF staff as the co-defensive coordinator, the candidate that seems to be the most likely is Pitt safeties coach Cory Sanders, an outstanding on-the-field coach and recruiter, who knows the state of Florida from his two-year stint as defensive coordinator at West Florida (2015-16).
YAHOO SPORTS TOO EARLY TOP 25 HAS GATORS AT NO. 12
Yahoo Sports came out with their too early top 25 for 2021. Ranked 1-2-3 are Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma. A Georgia team that loses nine defensive starters will have the people who do these early ratings scrambling in week two after they got clocked by Clemson in Death Valley is ranked 4th. Another team that will prove overrated is Texas A&M, which will be breaking in a new quarterback and four new starters on the O-line. The Gators at No. 12 get more respect from Yahoo than they’ve gotten from just about anyone else that has done one of these early top 25s.
Write Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper about the Gators: “There’s a lot of talent leaving Gainesville, but Dan Mullen has won at least eight games in each of his three seasons at Florida. There’s no reason to think Florida won’t be good again in 2021. Florida signed QBs Carlos Del Rio-Wilson and Jalen Kitna (son of ex-NFL QB Jon) and both are enrolling early to prep for the season and potentially challenge Emory Jones for the starting job. Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter will be back to catch passes from whomever starts at QB.”
The Yahoo Sports Early Top 25: (1) Alabama; (2) Clemson; (3) Oklahoma; (4) Georgia; (5) Ohio State; (6) Texas A&M; (6) Ohio State; (7) Iowa State; (8) Notre Dame; (9) Cincinnati; (10) Oregon; (11) North Carolina; (12) FLORIDA; (13) Wisconsin; (14) Southern Cal; (15) Iowa; (16) LSU; (17) Penn State; (18) Miami; (19) Arizona State; (20) Indiana; (21) Coastal Carolina; (22) Oklahoma State; (23) Texas; (24) Washington; (25) Liberty
KADARIUS TONEY MOVING UP DRAFT LISTS A number of mock drafts have Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, an All-SEC and second team All-America selection in 2020, moving into the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. Dane Brugler of The Athletic ranks Toney the 4th best wide receiver for the 2021 draft, trailing only Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith (Alabama) and Jaylen Waddle (Alabama).
Brugler writes: “There are some durability and off-field red flags that confound his draft grade, but Toney is a home run threat every time he touches the football. His start-stop athleticism and ankle flexion leave even the most talented SEC defenders appearing awkward in their pursuit. It is not just his athletic traits: Toney has the body balance and deceiving strength to slip out of tackle attempts.”
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC ALABAMA: Nothing official on former Penn State/Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien joining the staff as the offensive coordinator but two positions have been filled. Doug Marrone is official as the offensive line coach and former Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is a signed contract away from taking over as the running backs coach ... Rimington Award winner Landon Dickerson has declared for the NFL.
AUBURN: Former co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Kodi Burns is joining Josh Heupel’s staff at UCF.
GEORGIA: Georgia issued a statement that Will Muschamp has not joined Kirby Smart’s staff in any capacity. Just the same, you can expect sometime in the next week or so for Muschamp to be named Director of Football Operations or even co-defensive coordinator in the event co-coordinator Glen Schumann departs to be the DC at another school (likely) or DC Dan Lanning bolts for the NFL (possible).
KENTUCKY: Tight end Nikolas Ognenovic has placed his name in the transfer portal.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Defensive back Fred Peters is returning for a second senior season. Peters was in on 20 tackles in 2020.
MISSOURI: Defensive line coach Brick Haley will not return. Haley could resurface at LSU, where he coached from 2009-14.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Greg Adkins, who was on Doc Holliday’s staff at Marshall the next three years, will be the new offensive line coach … Former Gamecock linebacker Shaq Wilson is the staff as a defensive analyst.
TENNESSEE: Four players entered the transfer portal Wednesday – linebacker Henry To’o To’o, linebacker Quavaris Crouch, running back Eric Gray and offensive lineman Jahmir Johnson. To’o To’o had 140 tackles the last two seasons. Crouch had 57 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2020. Gray led the Vols with 772 rushing yards and four touchdowns in addition to catching 30 passes for 254 yards and two TDs … Tennessee didn’t invent dysfunction but it is attempting to make an art form of it. Athletic director Phil Fulmer is being forced to retire, but he will be paid $37,500 per month until his contract expires December 31, 2022 … Interim head coach Kevin Steele is planning to hire Rodney Garner away from Auburn to become the defensive line coach.
PETE THAMEL SAID IT …
Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports writes that where Tennessee went bad was when its fans revolted against the hire of Greg Schiano, which led to the hire of the now-fired Jeremy Pruitt.
“To rewind for those unfamiliar with the latest stanza of the 15-year country ballad of Tennessee athletic underachievement, here’s how the university got here. They fired Butch Jones in 2017 and then ran off former athletic director John Currie when the fans and a skeptical blogger disagreed with Currie’s hiring of Greg Schiano as head coach.
“Schiano was a proven head coach, program builder and developer of talent from 11 seasons at Rutgers and two years as an NFL head coach. His hiring would have been an acknowledgement that Tennessee needed to slowly build back to competence through evaluation, the weight room and a coach who understands roster building.
“When the Schiano hiring famously imploded under the pressure of fan revolt, Tennessee tried to fast track the road to relevancy. They hired an unproven coach with no experience who hired an overmatched staff. A play for SEC recruiting will end in a predictable place – likely infractions hearings, bowl bans and scholarship losses.”
PHILLIP RIVERS RETIRES AFTER 17 SEASONS Phillip Rivers and his goofy looking but effective sidearm delivery are calling it quits after 17 years in the National Football League, 16 with the Chargers, the last one with the Indianapolis Colts. Rivers left the state of Alabama to play college football at North Carolina State where he threw for 13,484 yards and 95 touchdowns in four years. Traded by the New York Giants to San Diego after Eli Manning refused to play for the Chargers, Rivers finished his career with 63,440 passing yards and 421 touchdowns. More impressive is Rivers’ durability. From 2006-20 Rivers started every game for 15 years.
With Rivers gone, the Colts are in the market for a QB. If they go for an experienced QB, there will be deals to be made as Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Teddy Bridgewater (Carolina) and Deshaun Watson (Houston) are likely to be on the market. If Philadelphia wishes to avoid a quarterback controversy, it could unload either Carson Wentz or Jalen Hurts. If the Colts elect to draft a QB, then they could be looking at Mac Jones of Alabama or Kyle Trask of Florida when they pick at No. 21. Jones is Mel Kiper’s 5th-rated QB while Trask is 6th.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Next week the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2021 class and there is a very good chance no one will get the required 75% of the votes necessary for selection. There are players with Hall of Fame stats like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmiero but due to their association with performance enhancing drugs it will take a miracle of water flowing from the rock at Meribah proportions for them to get in. Curt Schilling almost made it last year (74.8% of the votes) but his political involvement could keep some voters from pushing him over the top. As for the rest of the candidates, how many of you think Todd Helton, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter are Hall of Fame material? Good players, yes, but the Hall should be a place for the greats and I don’t think any of them were great enough to have a plaque in the same room with the likes of Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.