WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR A POWER SHIFT IN THE SEC EAST The announcement that Jake Fromm is leaving Georgia to enter the NFL Draft Wednesday was significant, but not the only sign that a window of opportunity is opening for a power shift in the Southeastern Conference East Division that highly favors the Florida Gators. Fromm’s departure means Georgia will have to either bring in a graduate transfer and hope he can instigate a seamless takeover of the offense or else go with a completely untested newbie. Whoever the QB is, however, will have to play behind an offensive line that has lost four undergraduates either to the NFL or transfer and he won’t have electric D’Andre Swift or dependable piledriver Brian Herrien to hand the ball off to.
Now throw in the fact that Sam Pittman, probably the best O-line coach in the country and Georgia’s best recruiter, is now the head coach at Arkansas. His loss is monumental but he’s complicated matters by taking with him special teams coordinator Scott Fountain – maybe the second best recruiter on the UGa staff behind Pittman – and two off the strength and conditioning staff.
Losing tackles Andrew Thomas and Issaiah Wynn and left guard Solomon Kindley to the NFL was a bad enough blow but Wednesday starting right guard Cade Mays announced he’s transferring with the expected destination Tennessee, where his dad was the team captain in 1994 and his younger brother has signed an LOI for 2020. Additionally, former four-star corner Otis Reese put his name in the transfer portal and Zach Evans, considered the top running back recruit in the country, was released from his letter of intent and is free to go anywhere in the country.
Those aren’t the only cracks in the Georgia football foundation but they are cause for alarm – among Georgia fans – that the three-year reign at the top of the SEC East could be coming to an end. Georgia will still be formidable because there are enough moving parts returning from a defense that was very good despite getting caught with its drawers down by LSU. The defense will be fine. It’s the offense that is questionable. No Fromm, no Swift or Herrien, four O-linemen gone and the offensive coordinator is still James Coley.
Lest we forget, Mark Richt had it all going his first four years (42-13 record and a “near national title”) just like Kirby Smart. Smart is 44-12 with a loss in the 2017 national championship game.
That brings us to Florida. The Gators went 11-2 and both losses (to #1 LSU and #5 Georgia) were winnable games. Not only does Dan Mullen return quarterback Kyle Trask, who should be considered the top returning quarterback in the SEC now that Fromm is gone, but plenty of speed at the skill positions, four starters on an O-line that played its best game in the Orange Bowl, and an experienced defense whose pass rush will benefit greatly from Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr., who would have started at UGa in 2019 had he not departed for Gainesville, and the return of Jeremiah Moon from injury.
In winning 21 games in two years after taking over a team that went 4-7 in 2017, Mullen has created serious momentum for the Florida program. He’s filled in the gaps so that Florida 2020 will have the fewest holes in the roster of any team the Gators have fielded since 2009. The Gators are deep enough, talented enough and the head coach is more than capable of taking UF to the next level and beyond. They would have been good enough to challenge Georgia even if Fromm had returned, but Fromm’s departure simply opens the door for Florida a little bit wider.
THINKING OUT LOUD ON A THURSDAY
(1) Just when you think Mississippi State has finally made a decision about hiring a new football coach, along comes a report that athletic director John Cohen spent part of his weekend in Key West interviewing Washington State coach Mike Leach. Wednesday morning it seemed that a deal was about to be struck with Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, formerly the head coach at Washington and Southern Cal, but then came the report that Cohen and The Pirate had a little get together down in Key West. Of the two – Sarkisian and Leach – Leach makes the most sense. He’s a proven winner in places almost as remote as Starkville. If you can win Lubbock, Texas and Pullman, Washington, you darn sure should be able to lure good enough talent to Starkville to win. At least in Starkville, Leach wouldn’t have to worry about being eaten by a bear when walking across the campus at night.
(2) Rocky Long stepped down as the head coach at San Diego State after a nine-year run that included three Mountain West Conference championships and an 81-38 record. The Aztecs went 10-3 in 2019 and won the New Mexico Bowl. Long is 69 years old and was under no pressure to leave. He will be succeeded by Brady Hoke, who was the head coach at San Diego State in 2008-09 before leaving for Michigan. It’s a sad day for college football when a coach like Rocky Long hangs up his whistle. He is indeed one of the good guys.
(3) The transfer market for quarterbacks is about to heat up considerably in the next week to 10 days. Right now the top five grad transfers are KJ Costello (Stanford), Feleipe Franks (Florida), Jamie Newman (Wake Forest), Jett Duffey (Texas Tech) and Anthony Brown (Boston College). Costello is thought to be looking seriously at Florida State, Georgia and LSU. Georgia and LSU will both need a quarterback next year. FSU has returning starter James Blackman, but he could be on his way out. Smart money is on LSU. Most folks seem to think Franks will wind up at Kansas, playing for Les Miles, who recruited him at LSU four years ago. Georgia is heavily involved with Newman and Brown. Newman seems to be leaning to either Oregon or Georgia. Brown is being heavily pursued by Miami as well as Georgia but may choose to stay at BC now that Frank Cignetti has been hired as the offensive coordinator. Duffey has had plenty of interest from Miami, but there are reports he will transfer to Tulane.
(4) On Instagram Wednesday, Tom Brady announced he still has the drive and fire to continue playing in the National Football League. Stating “I know I still have more to prove,” Brady let it be known he intends to play in 2020 and perhaps beyond. It’s difficult to imagine Brady playing for anyone but the New England Patriots, but at this point the Patriots don’t seem 100% committed to doing whatever it takes to bring him back for another season. At some point, the Patriots are going to have another starting QB not named Tom Brady, but do they cut the cord now or bring him back for another season. The Patriots have already let two NFL starters go – Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers) and Jacoby Brissett (Colts) – because Brady was still in his prime, but they don’t have a serious talent waiting in the wings anymore. That means either they bring back Brady and draft someone that Brady can mentor, or let Brady go and bring in someone via the free agent route. I can’t imagine Patriots’ fans reacting calmly if they let Brady go. I also think the Patriots are in good position to draft Georgia’s Jake Fromm, who would need a season or two before taking over as a starter and who has the football intellect that translates well to what New England does best.
(5) I keep waiting for the NCAA hammer to drop on the basketball programs involved in the corruption scandal. In particular, I’m eager to see if the NCAA will actually go after Kansas, Arizona and LSU since there is wiretap evidence of Bill Self, Sean Miller and Will Wade discussing payments for players. The NCAA has already smacked North Carolina State with probation. I’ll be very interested to see if they go after Mark Gottfried, now the coach at Cal State-Northridge but the coach at NC State when Dennis Smith Jr. was bought and paid for. TCU received its notice of allegations from the NCAA Wednesday.
Thursday’s scores Alabama (8-6, 1-1 SEC) 90, Mississippi State (9-5, 0-2 SEC) 69 #5 Auburn (14-0, 2-0 SEC) 83, Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-1 SEC) 79 LSU (10-4, 2-0 SEC) 79, Arkansas (12-2, 1-1 SEC) 77
Saturday’s games FLORIDA (11-4, 2-0 SEC) at Missouri (8-6, 0-2 SEC), SEC Network South Carolina (8-6, 0-1 SEC) at Tennessee (9-5, 1-1 SEC), SEC Network Alabama (8-6, 1-1 SEC) at #4 Kentucky (11-3, 2-0 SEC), ESPN Mississippi State (9-5, 0-2 SEC) at LSU (10-4, 2-0 SEC), ESPN Texas A&M (7-6, 1-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-1 SEC), SEC Network Georgia (10-4, 0-1 SEC) at #5 Auburn (14-0, 2-0 SEC), ESPN Arkansas (12-2, 1-1 SEC) at Ole Miss (9-5, 0-1), SEC Network, SEC Network
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
From ESPN’s David M. Hale, LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry on one particular team meeting in which Coach O got the team fired up: “Coach O comes in to try to get us fired up. He’s carrying two Red Bulls. He rips his shirt off and shotguns both Red Bulls. Everybody was fired up after that.”
Seth Emerson of The Athletic on Jake Fromm’s decision to declare for the NFL rather than return for his senior season at Georgia: “Part of it is Fromm betting on himself. He’s betting that when he meets with NFL teams he will wow them with his knowledge and intangibles. That seems a good bet. He’s also betting that he will impress in workouts. Fromm’s arm strength has been questioned, he’s only 6-foot-2, and his accuracy certainly depends more on good timing than pure zip. He’s not going to scare any defenses with his running ability. All true. But the NFL game has changed to where more teams will be receptive to a quarterback whose intangibles are beyond question, at least enough to overlook the perceived warts.”
Jeff Schultz of The Athletic on what’s next for Georgia following Jake Fromm declaring for the NFL: “Fromm’s decision to leave was a little bit surprising but not stunning. Those things happen in great programs. If Georgia takes a significant step back because of it, (Kirby) Smart hasn’t built nearly the program he thought he had.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Michigan State coach George Perles died Tuesday night at the age of 85. During his 11 years coaching the Spartans, he won the 1987 Big Ten championship and shared the Big Ten title in 1990. When he retired from coaching after the 1995 season, he was succeeded by Nick Saban, who was his defensive coordinator from 1983-87 … Nearly half the roster for #1 Gonzaga is made up of foreign-born players. File away the names of Filip Pretrusev (Serbia) and Killian Tille (France). You’ll probably hear their names called in the first round of the NBA Draft in June … Nike’s suit against attorney Michael Avenatti, accused of trying to extort $25 million from the shoe giant, will move forward and go to trial on January 21 after a ruling in US District Court in New York Wednesday.