A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
IT’S WAY TOO EARLY TO COUNT OUT UF FOOTBALL IN 2021
Sydney Hunte of Saturday Down South doesn’t think too much of Florida’s chances to repeat as the Southeastern Conference East Division champions in 2021. For all practical purposes, Hunte thinks Florida is a flash-in-the-pan that ran out of gas at the end of 2020 while Georgia was just beginning to peak, particularly once Kirby got smart and named JT Daniels the starting QB.
Looking to 2021, Hunte writes, “Maybe the Gators do go toe-to-toe with them in Jacksonville later in the year. But top-to-bottom, this is a Bulldogs team that is much more talented and Playoff-ready than their rivals in Gainesville.”
Hunte’s observations are mere parroting of the media dash to see who can be the first to all but declare Georgia the 2021 national champ in waiting. Oh sure, usual suspects Alabama, Climpson and Oklahoma are ranked ahead of Georgia in most all-too-early predictions for the upcoming season but these same people can’t gush enough about Georgia QB JT Daniels. He played very well in the last four games of the season, but it’s not exactly like Daniels lit up a decent team.
Cincinnati, you say? What the Bearcats proved in the Peach Bowl was they weren’t nearly as good as cracked up to be and they still were within a last second field goal of beating Georgia in what amounted to a home game in Atlanta. And, if Daniels was actually as good as these pundits say, then why did it take him seven games to beat out Stetson Bennett IV? Things that should make you go hmmmm.
Now, I might change my mind about Daniels if he lights up Climpson in the 2021 season opener in Charlotte on September 4, but somehow I doubt it. And I can’t wait to see how a Georgia defense minus six of its eight best defensive backs (five of whom will be drafted), two of its best defensive linemen and its best linebacker and captain will slow down Climpson. If you think the Tigers are going to miss too many beats now that Trevor Lawrence takes his dog and pony show to Team Urban in Jacksonville, then you might want to remember this name: D.J. Uiagalelei, all 6-6 and 250 pounds of him. He throws lasers. Climpson is merely reloading.
Meanwhile, in the haste to see whose pool of drool over Georgia is the largest, the media seems to have all but written off the SEC East chances of the Florida Gators. Yes, the Gators finished 2020 with three straight losses and Dan Mullen is going to have to reboot an offense that will be minus Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. Over on the defensive side, coordinator Todd Grantham has to decide whether to hire a voodoo priest or an exorcist to rid the defense of all its demons.
Most of the offensive speculation centers around the quarterbacks. With Trask, the Gators threw it from the time they got off the bus. Everybody knows Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson can run like deer, but can they throw well enough to beat SEC defenses? Check out what happened at Mississippi State in 2016 after Dak Prescott graduated to the NFL. Mullen’s quarterback that year was Nick Fitzgerald, whose two best offers other than MSU were Mercer and Samford. Fitzgerald threw for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 1,375 yards and 16 more TDs. People tend to forget Mullen whispers to quarterbacks.
Whether it’s Jones or Richardson taking the snaps, the Gators will have far more talent at the skill positions than surrounded Fitzgerald in 2016. The running back room will have Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, Ny’Quan Wright, Lorenzo Lingard and Climpson transfer Demarkcus Bowman. The receivers will be just fine even though with those running backs the ball shouldn’t be in the air as much. The O-line will be stronger physically and improved. Count on it.
Mississippi State’s 2016 problems weren’t on offense, but on defense where the Bulldogs couldn’t stop anyone. A year later, with much the same personnel and Grantham as the new coordinator, Mississippi State sliced 153 yards and nearly 12 points per game from the previous year. Mississippi State went from 110th nationally to 10th in total defense.
Can Grantham transform Florida from the nation’s 83rd-ranked defense in 2020 to a top ten unit in 2021? He has quite a few of the same players, but there is more experience, a couple of key transfers and a couple of new coaches to shake things up. If Grantham gets the Gators anywhere close to top ten defensively Florida will have a very good chance to repeat in the SEC East.
There are questions, of course, but there are just as many at Georgia although nobody seems to want to talk about potential issues at UGa. Just as it is way too early to consider the Bulldogs national champs in waiting, it’s way too early to count out the Gators as legitimate contenders for the SEC East. Some folks might get a big surprise at the end of November.
BEN TROUPE SAID IT … When asked by ESPN’s Christian Goeckel what is the one thing Tom Brady hasn’t done in three separate decades, Troupe replied, “Seen Georgia win a national championship.”
KEEP AN EYE ON KENTUCKY AT ALABAMA TONIGHT The Gators (8-4, 5-3 SEC) won’t play until Wednesday night when they host Vanderbilt (4-9, 0-5 SEC) at the O-Dome, but it will be a Tuesday night worth watching in the SEC with the headliner Kentucky (5-9, 4-3 SEC) at 9th-ranked Alabama (13-3, 8-0 SEC). When the two teams met in Lexington a couple of weeks ago, Alabama blew the doors off the Wildcats but there is reason to believe Kentucky could hand Alabama its first loss tonight. Kentucky is coming off a beatdown of LSU in its last outing, a game in which the Wildcats played great on the defensive end of the floor, holding LSU to 4-23 shooting from the 3-point line. It will take that kind of defense to handle an Alabama team that has hit 37 of its last 77 3-point attempts. If Kentucky is to have any chance to make the NCAA Tournament this is a must win.
Another game to follow closely is 12th-ranked Missouri (10-2, 4-2 SEC) at Auburn (9-7, 3-5 SEC). Missouri is one of the best defensive teams in the country while Auburn is coming off a 109-point effort against South Carolina. The player to watch is Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper, averaging 21.2 points and 9.0 assists in the five games since he was declared eligible by the NCAA. He is an absolute blur and the most exciting player in the country.
SEC Tuesday Night Games Kentucky (5-9, 4-3 SEC) at #9 Alabama (13-3, 8-0 SEC) Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4 SEC) at #18 Tennessee (10-3, 4-3 SEC) #12 Missouri (10-2, 4-2 SEC) at Auburn (9-7, 3-5 SEC) LSU (10-4, 5-3 SEC) at Texas A&M (7-6, 2-5 SEC) SEC Wednesday Night Games Vanderbilt (4-9, 0-5 SEC) at FLORIDA (8-4, 5-3 SEC) Georgia (9-5, 2-5 SEC) at South Carolina (3-5, 1-3 SEC) Ole Miss (8-6, 3-4 SEC) at Arkansas (12-4, 4-4 SEC)
BASKETBALL RANKINGS ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL: (1) Gonzaga 15-0; (2) Baylor 14-0; (3) Villanova 10-1; (4) Michigan 13-1; (5) Texas 11-2; (6) Houston 13-1; (7) Iowa 12-3; (8) Virginia 10-2; (9) Alabama 13-3; (10) Texas Tech 11-4; (11) West Virginia 10-4; (12) Missouri 10-2; (13) Ohio State 12-4; (14) Wisconsin 12-4; (15) Kansas 10-5; (16) Florida State 9-2; (17) Creighton 11-4; (18) Tennessee 10-3; (19) Illinois 10-5; (20) Virginia Tech 11-3; (21) Minnesota 11-5; (22) Saint Louis 7-1; (23) UCLA 12-3; (24) Oklahoma 9-4; (25) Louisville 10-3
COACHES TOP 25 POLL: (1) Gonzaga 15-0; (2) Baylor 14-0; (3) Villanova 10-1; (4) Michigan 13-1; (5) Texas 11-2; (6) Houston 13-1; (7) Iowa 12-3; (8, TIE) Alabama 13-3, Virginia 10-2; (10) Texas Tech 10-4; (11) West Virginia 10-4; (12) Missouri 10-2; (13) Wisconsin 12-4; (14) Creighton 11-4; (15) Ohio State 12-4; (16) Florida State 9-2; (17) Tennessee 10-3; (18) Kansas 10-5; (19) Virginia Tech 11-3; (20) Minnesota 11-5; (21) UCLA 12-3; (22) Illinois 10-5; (23) Louisville 10-3; (24) Saint Louis 7-1; (25) Oregon 9-3
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
ALABAMA: Early enrollee corner Ga’Quincy McKinstry also plays basketball and is working out with Bama’s 9th-ranked team although it’s unlikely that he will see any action this season.
AUBURN: Darren Uscher is the new director of recruiting at Auburn. Uscher was Bryan Harsin’s director of recruiting at Boise State ... Bodie Reeder, formerly the offensive coordinator at Utah State, has joined the staff as an analyst.
LSU: Finally, someone said yes to Coach O. After striking out at least three times in his search for a new defensive coordinator, Coach O got a yes from Minnesota Vikings secondary coach Daronte Jones. Prior to working in the NFL, Jones worked under former LSU DC and now Baylor head coach Dave Aranda at Wisconsin.
MISSOURI: Newly hired defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is the highest paid assistant coach in Missouri history. His base salary for 2021 is $800,000 with a $200,000 retention bonus if he elects to stay beyond the 2021 season.
TENNESSEE: The Texit continues. Former 4-star linebacker J.J. Peterson is the latest Vol to put his name in the transfer portal. Counting the guys who have already transferred, declared for the NFL and those who have their names in the portal, Tennessee is down more than 20 players.
TEXAS A&M: The Aggies game with Colorado has been shifted from Boulder to Mile High Stadium in Denver on September 11.
THEY PLAY FOOTBALL OUTSIDE THE SEC Gary Andersen, who was fired by Utah State three games into the 2020 season, walked away from a $2.7 million buyout. People who know Andersen say he doesn’t think it’s right to be paid not to coach. That’s called integrity. What a concept.
Clemson linebacker Mike Jones Jr. has entered the NCAA transfer portal. Jones started for the Tigers and finished with 26 tackles and a couple of interceptions in 2020.
Among the potential candidates to replace Larry Scott as commissioner of the Pac-12 are former West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, Alabama AD Greg Byrne, Ohio State AD Gene Smith and America Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco.
Keep an eye on reports coming out of the Senior Bowl this week where Jamie Newman is trying to resuscitate his draft stock after his opt out at Georgia back in August. After transferring to Georgia from Wake Forest Gump, Newman was supposed to be the greatest thing since Moses, but amid reports that he struggled with understanding the offense and reading defenses, he opted out, claiming fears of Covid-19. Better to take your chances with the scouts buying that excuse than trying to explain why you couldn’t beat out Stetson Bennett IV for the starting QB job.
Don’t be surprised if there aren’t nice reviews this week for former Gator QB Feleipe Franks. His year at Arkansas did wonders for his career and draft stock by throwing 17 touchdown passes while completing only four passes to the other team. He probably has the strongest arm of any QB at the Senior Bowl and will wow the scouts with his ability to throw a 25-yard out pattern on a rope.
ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT: I think new Tennessee athletic director Danny White has to be very careful to avoid the trap the last zillion or so athletic directors fell into in Knoxville. He’s got this laundry list of potential coaches like Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell and SMU head coach Sonny Dykes. Each one of them would be a nice hire, but why would they leave for Tennessee, whose roster has been decimated by transfers, without knowing how long the NCAA probation will be? The UT chancellor said last week that the internal investigation found numerous Level I and Level II recruiting violations. If Tennessee’s own investigators found a bunch of violations, figure you can double it when the NCAA gets through, particularly with the whole world thinking the organization is inept. They need a big score and what better one than Tennessee right about now? The fan base needs to see White looking for a coach with a hot name, but if he strikes out several times as previous athletic directors have done he winds up with another Derek Dooley, Butch Jones or Jeremy Pruitt. If he’s smart he makes one stab at one of the big name hires and if/when he gets rejected goes straight for someone who can get the job done like Lance Leipold at Buffalo or Bill Clark from UAB.