Thoughts of the Day: January 6, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

TRASK HAD THE STATS, JUST NOT ENOUGH WINS

Kyle Trask had what can only be described as a dream season with 4,125 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes, both records at the University of Florida, which has produced three Heisman Trophy quarterbacks. Trask had the stats to get a statue alongside Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. What he didn’t have was enough wins to mount a serious challenge to 2020 Heisman winner Devonta Smith, who outpolled second place finisher Trevor Lawrence of Clemson by nearly 700 points to become Alabama’s third winner of the big trophy since 2009. Alabama QB Mac Jones finished third while Trask finished a distant fourth, more than 1,100 votes behind Smith.


Smith also had the kind of stats that wow Heisman voters as he leads the country in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641) and touchdown catches (20), numbers that are likely to get better when Alabama faces Ohio State in the national championship game on Monday. He also has the advantage of being the best player on the nation’s best team that is 12-0. That’s not taking away anything from the kind of season Smith turned in. It’s just a fact that players with the best stats on the best teams have a leg up when it comes to Heisman voting. Smith was so good that it didn’t matter that teammates Jones and running back Najee Harris (finished fifth) had Heisman-worthy seasons and stats – Jones threw for 4,036 yards and 36 touchdowns; Harris rushed for 1,387 and leads the nation with 27 touchdowns, 24 on the ground.


The Gators finished 2020 with an 8-4 record. Forget the Cotton Bowl, a game UF lost with its three leading receivers opting out. It’s the other 11 games that were the deciding factors in Trask’s Heisman bid. The Gators were one possession away from a win in regular season losses to Texas A&M and LSU and an SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama. Win those three games and it’s Trask who’s the best player on the nation’s best team.


The four losses and a fourth place finish in the Heisman voting take nothing away from Trask’s remarkable story. That he even made the Heisman finalists is almost a fairytale for an outstanding young man who had the patience and loyalty to wait his turn even if it meant spending his entire collegiate career the same way he spent his high school career – as a backup.


Backup is in Trask’s future. He will probably apprentice for awhile after he is selected in National Football League Draft – most likely in the lower half of the first round to the middle of the second – but if pro football doesn’t work out he has the right kind of backup plan for the future in the form of a masters degree in sports management from the University of Florida.


THE MULLEN WATCH: DAY TWO There are more rumors that Mullen met with the Atlanta Falcons but if it happened, it was in Gainesville. There are accurate reports that Mullen spent the day talking with players who are making decisions about returning for another year or leaving either as graduates, transfers or for the NFL Draft. This is another sign that Mullen isn’t planning to leave for the NFL but instead will return to Florida for his fourth season.


Currently there are six NFL openings and CBSSports.com doesn’t have Mullen listed among the top three candidates for any of them.


While continuing exit interviews the remainder of the week, it’s likely that Mullen will focus in on replacements for departed secondary coaches Ron English and Torian Gray. Former Florida defensive backs assistant and South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson continues to be a favorite for one of the openings. A new name that has popped into the discussion is Texas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, formerly the head coach at Rutgers and Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator in 2014-15 at Ohio State. Ash spent a couple of years (2012-13) as Bret Bielema’s defensive coordinator at Arkansas.

EVAN MCPHERSON DECLARES FOR NFL DRAFT About the only way to describe McPherson’s decision to enter the NFL Draft is shocking. While he has had a great collegiate career through three seasons – 51-60 on field goals and 149-150 on extra points – McPherson isn’t likely to be selected and if some team does take him, it’s almost certain to be in the last two rounds.


He leaves Florida with 302 career points, which ranks fourth on the school’s all-time list.


BAD NIGHT IN TUSCALOOSA FOR FLORIDA BASKETBALL The Gators (5-2, 2-1 SEC) had a 13-12 lead over Alabama (8-3, 3-0 SEC) at the 13:23 mark of the first half when second-leading scorer Scottie Lewis went to the bench with his second foul. Lewis is also Florida’s best one-on-one defender so his absence the rest of the first half was felt in a big way on both ends of the floor. When he returned to the game in the second half, Lewis was unable to get into any kind of rhythm and this is not a Florida team that is capable of playing well when one of its key players is good for only two points and a single rebound in 20 minutes of playing time.


Lewis isn’t the only Gator who had a night to forget. Other than Tyree Appleby, who scored 18 off the bench, it was a bad night as Florida suffered its first SEC loss, 86-71, to an Alabama team that outplayed UF in nearly every phase but never so obvious as in the paint, where the Tide outscored the Gators 46-28 with 21 layups compared to just seven for Florida. Florida defenders seemed almost helpless to stop Alabama from penetrating at will to get any shot they wanted. The Gators struggled to get clean looks from the outside and had all sorts of problems in the paint on the offensive end.


“We just came out slow,” said Florida’s Tre Mann. “We weren’t paying attention to details that we talked about all week in practice. We knew we had to box out and hit them and rebound and we just didn’t. They took advantage of it, so you know.”


Following Appleby in the Florida scoring column were Colin Castleton (13 points, game-high eight rebounds), and Noah Locke (11 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers, and Tre Mann (11 points, 2-4 on 3-pointers, six rebounds and six assists).


The Gators will return to the friendly confines of the O-Dome Saturday when Kentucky (3-6, 2-0 SEC) comes to town, fresh off a 77-74 win over Vanderbilt.

SEC TUESDAY NIGHT BASKETBALL SCORES Alabama (8-3, 3-0 SEC) 86, FLORIDA (5-2, 2-1 SEC) 71 Kentucky (3-6, 2-0 SEC) 77, Vanderbilt (4-4, 0-2 SEC) 74 Mississippi State (7-4, 2-12 SEC) 78, #13 Missouri (7-2, 1-2 SEC) 63

WEDNESDAY NIGHT SEC SCHEDULE Arkansas (9-1, 1-1 SEC) at #9 Tennessee (7-1, 1-1 SEC)

Georgia (7-1, 0-1 SEC) at LSU (6-2, 1-1 SEC) Texas A&M (6-2, 1-1 SEC) at South Carolina (2-2, 0-0 SEC)

Auburn (6-4, 0-2 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-3, 0-1 SEC)


FOOTBALL STUFF IN THE SEC

ALABAMA: Kristen Saban Setas, Nick Saban’s daughter, is walking back a tweet earlier in the day that questioned the validity of COVID-19 reports coming out of Ohio State. The tweet read, “If you’re not confident to play then SAY IT. I call BS on the COVID cases. They’re just worried about their QB and want him to have time to heal. If he’s hurt put in your backup. You didn’t see us postpone the rest of the season to wait on [Jaylen] Waddle.”


ARKANSAS: Defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who was considered for the DC job at Texas, will be back with Arkansas in 2021.


AUBURN: Wide receiver Eli Stove has declared for the NFL. New HBC Bryan Harsin will be minus all three of Auburn’s leading receivers as Seth Williams and Anthony Schwarz have already declared for the NFL.


GEORGIA: Running back James Cook and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt will be back for the 2021 season. Gone, however, is wide receiver Matt Landers, who has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal.


LSU: Tight end Arik Gilbert is official in the NCAA transfer portal … A Louisiana judge has ruled that LSU must turn over to USA Today an unredacted police report that accuses former running back Derrius Guice of rape.


MISSISSIPPI STATE: Linebacker Erroll Thompson, who led the Bulldogs with 95 tackles, has declared for the NFL Draft.


OLE MISS: Special teams coordinator Blake Gideon is leaving for Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Texas … Ole Miss has given a contract extension to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby ... Defensive back Jay Stanley has placed his name in the transfer portal.


SOUTH CAROLINA: Defensive lineman Keir Thomas has put his name in the transfer portal.


TENNESSEE: The Vols lost two of their best players Tuesday when running back Ty Chandler entered the transfer portal and corner Bryce Thompson declared for the NFL Draft. Chandler has rushed for 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 58 passes for 465 yards and three TDs.


TEXAS A&M: Left tackle Dan Moore Jr. has declared for the NFL Draft.


FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT EXPANDING THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF The more I think about it, the more I believe if college football is to rebound from the financial disaster that is the pandemic year of 2020 it will have to expand the College Football Playoff to a minimum of eight teams. Yes, there is a contract with ESPN through 2024 for a four-team playoff, but contracts were made to be broken and if ESPN intends to hold onto the playoff beyond 2024, it better be ready to start all over again.


For one thing, the number of kids opting out rather than play in non-playoff bowl games is going to increase unless there is expansion which means ESPN is going to see advertising dollars for non-playoff game broadcasts dry up. Then there is the fact that in a four-team playoff at least one of the Power Five leagues sees its champion passed over. Usually it’s the Pac-12. How much longer can ESPN afford to cut out the bulk of the viewing audience west of Texas? That is what will continue happening unless there is expansion that will assure the Pac-12 its champion is in.


The Pac-12 was once one of the more dominant college football conferences, but that has changed since the advent of the College Football Playoff. Only two Pac-12 teams – Oregon in 2014 and 2016 Washington – have made the final four. That might have something to do with the best players from west of Texas gravitating in increasing numbers to leagues whose champions make the playoff. You want proof? The top three quarterbacks in the country in the recruiting class of 2020 were Bryce Young (Santa Ana, CA), DJ Uiagalelei (Bellflower, CA) and CJ Stroud (Rancho Cucamonga, CA). Young went to Alabama, Uiagalelei to Clemson and Stroud to Ohio State. Alabama and Ohio State are in the national championship game while Clemson lost to Ohio State in the semifinals. Expand the playoffs so the Pac-12 has a chance to at least get its champion in and it’s probable that some of these kids who are heading east will elect to stay closer to home.


One of the great things about March Madness is there is always a chance that Cinderella will surpass all expectations and make a deep run. Maybe even someday a team from absolutely nowhere will one-up the Butler teams of 2010 and 2011 that made it to the NCAA championship game only to see the clock strike midnight. College football needs to add the Cinderella element to the playoff by expanding to at least eight teams, one of which is the best from the Group of Five. Make it a 16-team playoff and it would be possible to have every conference champ from both the Power Five and Group of Five plus wild cards. Play all first round games on campus in an eight-team playoff. Play the first two rounds on campus in a 16-game tournament.


Expand and the playoff becomes something other than the Bama-Clemson-Ohio State invitational with either Oklahoma or Notre Dame filling in the fourth spot. Expand and Cinderella comes into play. Expand and the interest generated brings in far more money than a four-team invitational ever did.


It’s time to do it.

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