A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO BASTE: FRIDAY AFTER NEW YEAR EDITION
(1) Which Florida (8-4) team will show up Saturday night at the O-Dome when Alabama (7-5) comes to town: The one that couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the end of the pier against Utah State or the one that played like a championship caliber team in the final game of 2019 vs. Long Beach State? The Gators that lost to Utah State can lose to anyone in the country. When you can’t even make a layup you lose even the most winnable games. The Gators that moved the ball unselfishly, made shots both in the paint and on the perimeter and played very aggressive defenses. That team is capable of beating anyone in the country. One reason for the peaks and valleys we’ve seen so far has everything to do with youth and inexperience. There are 351 teams in Division I. Only 11 are younger than the Gators. Because they’re so young, it’s important for UF to get off to a good start Saturday night and that means establishing Kerry Blackshear Jr. When Blackshear gets going in the paint, it makes it easy to get open shots on the perimeter for Noah Locke, who has hit 9-19 from the three-point line in the last three games, improving to a respectable 37% for the season. Defensively, the Gators have to put the clamps on hot shooting John Petty Jr., who is 17-24 from the three-point line in his last three games and 51.2% on the deep ball this season. It’s a very winnable game for the Gators if the team that kneecapped Long Beach State shows up.
(2) Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, whose sources are rarely off, and Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, are reporting that Mississippi State is seriously considering firing Joe Moorhead for a number of issues, not the least of which is the Bulldogs’ blowout loss to Louisville in the Music City Bowl. Moorhead is 14-12 in his two seasons since taking over after Dan Mullen left to take the Florida job. It’s not lost on MSU fans, boosters and alums that Mullen is 21-5 with two New Years Six bowl wins at UF while the Bulldogs are heading in just the opposite direction even though Mullen left a fairly loaded roster. When Moorhead beat Ole Miss in the final regular season game to get Mississippi State bowl eligible for the tenth straight year, he was given a one-year extension through 2023 on his contract so serious buyout money will be involved if Moorhead is pink-slipped. If Moorhead gets the axe, who would Mississippi State hire on such short notice? A lot of attention will turn to a pair of Florida assistants – defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy, both of whom know the culture and the state of Mississippi quite well. However, neither has ever been a head coach so that could work against them. The two names I’m told to watch are Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier (10-3 this season with a chance at #11 in the Lending Tree Bowl on Monday night) and Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (47-30 in six years with six straight bowl appearances). Both would be good fits in Starkville.
(3) Here is why Tua Tagovailoa might very well come back for his senior season at Alabama. While going out with a national championship certainly has an appeal to Tua and may very well wind up being the driving factor if he does return, there is that matter of dollars and cents. Prior to dislocating his hip, Tua was certain to be a top three draft pick. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have Tua going in the top five of the 2020 NFL Draft even with the injury, but they (a) aren’t NFL GMs and owners and (b) haven’t seen the medical evaluations that will indicate his healing progress. If Tua has gotten info from the NFL that would indicate his draft stock has dropped into the middle of the first round, he might be very smart to return. As a top three pick, the first contract would be in excess of $35 million with a $20 million plus signing bonus so bolting for the NFL would be a no-brainer. If its mid-first round, then he’s looking at $14-15 million with a signing bonus of perhaps $7-8 million. By returning to Alabama and staying healthy in 2020, Tua would move back into the top five, therefore doubling the money he would make as a mid-first rounder. We might have gotten a hint that Tua is coming back Thursday when All-SEC left tackle Alex Leatherwood elected to come back. Leatherwood is the #3 ranked offensive tackle by Kiper and, at worst, a second rounder. If you see more of the draft-eligible Alabama juniors announcing they’ll be back, that’s almost a guarantee that Tua will announce he’s returning on Monday.
(4) D.J. Durkin, 1-0 as Florida’s head coach (interim for the 2014 Birmingham Bowl), has been hired by Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin as a defensive assistant. This is Durkin’s first coaching job since he was dismissed at Maryland in 2018 after allegations he had a toxic football culture that contributed to the death of a player. Durkin was the D-line coach at Florida from 2010-12 under Urban Meyer (2010) and Will Muschamp. Muschamp elevated Durkin to defensive coordinator in 2013. When Muschamp stepped down following the 2014 regular season, Durkin coached the Gators to a 28-20 win over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. He spent one year as Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator at Michigan in 2015 before landing the head coaching job at Maryland.
(5) It’s time for Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer to call it a career after he was knocked out of the Sugar Bowl on a vicious late hit out of bounds by Georgia’s Travon Walker (should have had a targeting call added to the penalty). Brewer has had three concussions in his career including one in the Big 12 Championship Game that required him to stay in a dark room for about a week. To continue playing football after all these head and neck injuries is pure insanity. Life is way too short as it is to continue risking it this way.
(6) I have no idea who is advising Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, but if he (or they) have a functioning brain, they’ll tell him it’s time to move on to the NFL. He played very well in the Sugar Bowl to remind pro scouts just how good he was as a freshman and sophomore, but if he returns to Georgia for his senior season he risks another full year of regression like the one he just had. He will be drafted in the first round in May if he bolts for the NFL. There is no guarantee whatsoever that he’ll be a first rounder if he returns to Georgia and spends another year being coached by James Coley.
(7) Pete Thamel is reporting that Oregon might land Wake Forest grad transfer QB Jamie Newman. Newman is 6-4, 230 with a big arm and can run like a deer. This past season he threw for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns while running for 547 and six more. Oregon runs an offense that requires a dual-threat QB and Newman would be a nice fit to take over now that four-year starter Justin Herbert has exhausted his eligibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if Newman inquires about making LSU his landing spot. Seeing how Joe Burrow went from a late round NFL prospect to the likely first pick in the draft running that offense, I would think Newman might at least reach out to Coach O to see if his there is mutual interest.
(8) The death of Georgia Tech wide receiver signee Bryce Gowdy, who was hit by an oncoming train, has been ruled a suicide. Gowdy, his mother and two siblings were homeless and had been living in hotels or in their car. The family financial problems and the mental health issues of his mother were just burdens that weighed heavily on Gowdy, who felt responsibility for the family. What a tragedy. This just breaks my heart.
GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY From Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network on WNSP-FM talking about Nick Saban electing to score another TD rather than take a knee at the end of Alabama’s 35-16 Citrust Bowl win over Michigan: “I think Saban was showing some of the frustration of the season and showing some of the past frustration of Jim Harbaugh calling him a cheater. He decided, you know what? I’m just going to kick him one more time. I felt like the college football world cheered Saban yesterday in doing that. I know I did. Leave it to Nick Saban in a game against a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team with an additional score at the end to make a statement to end a season with more Alabama fans feeling good about themselves.”
From Steve Deace of Wolverine Digest, on the quarterbacks in the Citrus Bowl, Michigan’s Shea Patterson, who was decisively outplayed by Alabama’s Mac Jones: “Patterson was dramatically out-played by Alabama’s backup quarterback, Mac Jones, who was pressured more often but still played far superior. Patterson was the No. 4 overall prospect in the 247 Composite coming out of high school, Jones, just No. 399. So either the 247 Composite really sucks, or something else does.”
CONFERENCE BOWL STANDINGS
SEC 7-2 Mountain West 4-2 Pac-12 4-3 Big Ten 4-5 ACC 4-6 American Athletic 3-3 Conference USA 3-4 Independents 2-1 Sun Belt 2-2 MAC 2-3 Big 12 1-5
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Don Larsen died Wednesday at age 90 after a bout with esophageal cancer. In 14 years in the Major Leagues, Larsen won 85 games and lost 93. He’s best remembered for his 1956 perfect game in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He needed only 97 pitches that day, striking out seven. The photo of Yogi Berra leaping into Larsen’s arms after the final out is one of baseball’s most iconic photos … Sam Wyche, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1988 and Tampa Bay Bucs from 1992-95, died after a bout with cancer Thursday … It is being reported that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pink-slipped Jason Garrett Thursday, which was largely expected. It is also largely expected that Jones will try to make some sort of splash hire like Urban Meyer or Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley. The coach that makes the most sense is New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel. Good sense and Jones, however, are often two ships that pass in the night.