A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN IS NOT A BAD PLACE TO START A FOOTBALL SEASON It is safe to assume that when the Associated Press and Coaches polls come out in August the Florida Gators will be ranked somewhere outside the top ten. The preseason rankings from Athlon (11th) and Lindy’s (12th) are usually fairly close to what we will see from the polls in August. While plenty of Gator fans are disappointed now and will probably be disappointed again in August, this isn’t such a bad place to be.
There is a certain predictability about the magazines and the August polls. Alabama and Clemson are the usual suspects at the top with Alabama this year’s number one and Clemson relegated to No. 2. Oklahoma, which is almost always top five and an occasional College Football Playoff party crasher, is No. 3. Ohio State, which nearly always makes the playoff is No. 4 at Athlon and five at Lindy’s. Georgia, which only made the playoff in a fluke year (2017) is once again over-hyped, four at Lindy’s, five at Athlon.
Starting the season ranked in the top five is no guarantee of future playoff success. Georgia is living proof of that. The Poodles made it to the championship game of the playoff in 2017 where they lost to Alabama, which won the national championship despite not playing in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia was No. 3 in the 2018 preseason, No. 3 again in 2019 preseason and No. 4 in 2020. Of course, they haven’t won the SEC or made the playoff any of those years.
There will be pressure on Georgia this year, as much or more than any year since the 2017 championship game collapse against Alabama. The fan base is restless, wondering when the 40-year national championship drought will end. There are only so many Near National Championships that even a delusional fan base can handle. Barring an upset of monumental proportions in the other 10 games on the regular season schedule Georgia’s 2021 season will be determined by two games, both played on neutral sites – Nov. 4 against Clemson in Charlotte and October 30 against Florida in Jacksonville. The pressure to win those two games will be enormous.
Florida, on the other hand, may also have what amounts to a two-game schedule – September 18 against Alabama in Gainesville and October 30 against the Poodles in Jacksonville – but the pressure won’t be anything like it will be for Georgia. Georgia is expected to win the SEC East, play Alabama for the SEC Championship, and if that’s the only loss, be the second team from the SEC in the playoff. If you go by preseason projections Florida is supposed to lose to both Alabama and Georgia but consider this: The Gators get Alabama on a September afternoon when the heat at field level and the decibels can be a rather powerful 1-2 punch; and if Georgia should lose the opening game to Clemson the Poodles will have the weight of the world on their shoulders in Jacksonville.
At least in the mind of the media, it is the uncertainty at quarterback and on the defensive side of the ball that keeps the Gators outside the top ten in the preseason and it’s why they think the Gators are certain to lose to Alabama and Georgia. However, Dan Mullen is a known quarterback whisperer who tells anyone who will listen he thinks Emory Jones is primed for a big year and thanks to the additions of Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Shelton at the tackles, a corps of fast, active linebackers and improved coaching for the secondary, the Gators aren’t going to give up nearly as many yards or points as last year. Could they beat Alabama and Georgia? While it may not be probable, it’s within the realm of possibility if Jones is electric and the defense is vastly improved.
Just because the Gators start the season outside the top ten doesn’t mean that’s where they will finish. You can bet the ranch Mullen isn’t complaining. He knows he’s at Florida to win big games, but he also knows the pressure on the Gators isn’t going to be anything like it is for Georgia.
CULPEPPER, RHETT ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME BALLOT
Former Gator All-Americans Brad Culpepper and Errict Rhett were on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot that was released Wednesday. Because he won the Draddy Award as college football’s top scholar-athlete in 1991 and was a first team All-American anchor of a nasty Florida defense, I think Culpepper is probably a lock to get in the hall this year. I think Rhett is quite deserving – he did, after all, run for more than 4,100 yards and catch more than 140 passes in a marvelous 4-year career – but I think he will have to wait a year or two before he is inducted.
ECHOLS MAKES FIRST TEAM NFCA ALL-AMERICA
Florida third baseman Charla Echols, who led the team in hitting (.387), home runs (15) and RBI (55) while striking out only three times, was named first team All-America by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Making the third team were third baseman Hannah Adams (.356, 10 HR, 38 RBI) and pitcher Elizabeth Hightower (17-6, 1.61 ERA).
COACH K RETIRING AFTER NEXT SEASON
At a press conference the night before the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in December of 1973, then North Carolina State coach Lou Holtz was asked if someday he would want to succeed Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Holtz, who was once one of Woody’s assistants, replied, “No. I never want to be the coach who follows a legend, but I wouldn’t mind being the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend.” In 1977 Holtz broke his own vow and tried succeeding Frank Broyles at Arkansas. He went 60-21-2 in seven seasons there, which is actually better than Broyles did in his last seven years as the Arkansas HBC, but it wasn’t all rosy. Broyles was the AD and he had a cult-like fan base. Nothing Holtz did was going to satisfy them so he left for Minnesota of all places, sorry he had violated his own vow about following a legend. After Minnesota he had the good sense to follow the inept Gerry Faust at Notre Dame.
I am reminded of the Holtz story because Duke basketball coach Mike Kryzyzewski will be retiring at the end of the 2021-22 season. He has five national championships and 1,170 wins to his name. He is a living legend who turns 75 in February and has a recruiting class that he hopes will bring home a sixth and final NCAA title. When he hangs it up someone will have the unenviable task of following one of sports’ all-time legends.
Gary Parrish, the nation’s best basketball writer who broke the story that Coach K was doing the big adios, believes that Duke assistant Jon Scheyer will get the call even though he’s only 33 years old and has no head coaching experience. Duke fans may prove to be more patient with a head coaching novice than they would someone who has experience. For years, everyone thought Jeff Capel would succeed Coach K but he was connected to NCAA violations at Oklahoma and has posted three straight losing seasons at Pitt. Bobby Hurley hasn’t exactly ripped and shredded at Arizona State. Steve Wojciehowski was a fan and Coach K favorite when he played at Duke, but he was fired at Marquette after seven seasons. Chris Collins has had four straight losing seasons at Northwestern so he’s out. Mike Brey and Johnny Dawkins are too old. Quinn Snyder cheated and was forced out at Mizzou.
There is one other reason that Scheyer probably makes the most sense. Six miles from the Duke campus is Chapel Hill where Roy Williams walked away a few weeks ago. Hubert Davis, who has never been a head coach, is the replacement for the Carolina legend but he’s Tar Heel blue through and through, played for Dean Smith, spent 10 years in the NBA and coached for a bunch of years for Roy. If Carolina is going to turn the program over to a blueblood but untested Hubert Davis, then Duke probably feels safer giving the keys to the Caddy to the cabana boy.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
Alabama: Former Alabama DB Scooby Carter is transferring to Arkansas State. It’s the second transfer for Carter, who left Alabama after the 2019 season and spent last year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school in Mansfield, Texas ... No. 3 seed Alabama opens play in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City tonight (7 p.m.) against 10th-seeded Florida State ... Former Bama All-America running back Shaun Alexander and center Sylvester Croom are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.
Arkansas: On the College Football Hall of Fame ballot are former Arkansas DT Dan Hampton and former offensive guard Brandon Burlsworth.
Auburn: Former Utah State special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Roc Bellantoni is joining the Auburn staff as an analyst.
Georgia: Cornerback Daran Branch, who was a 2020 recruit, is leaving the Georgia program although there is no indication whether he is transferring out, was kicked off the team or is retiring from football … Georgia faces No. 5 seed Oklahoma State at 2:30 today as play begins in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City ... Former defensive back Champ Bailey and running back Garrison Hearst are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.
Kentucky: Nine UK baseball players entered the NCAA transfer portal Tuesday, raising speculation that HBC Nick Mingione’s job is in jeopardy. Kentucky hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2017, Mingione’s first year on the job … Former UK All-America QB Tim Couch is on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.
LSU: LSU has fired offensive line coach James Cregg after three seasons on the job … Former LSU running back Kevin Faulk and linebacker Bradie James are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot … Redshirt freshman running back Kevonte Bradford has entered the NCAA transfer portal. He carried the ball 10 times for 58 yards in 2020. Bradford is a former 4-star recruit who was listed as the No. 13 running back recruit in the country in 2020.
Missouri: Former Mizzou head football coach Gary Pinkel is on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot as is former wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks got a rare bit of good news for a basketball program that has seen eight departures since March. Forward Keyshawn Bryant (6-5, 197, JR) and guard Jermaine Couisnard (6-4, 211, SO) both withdrew their names from the NBA Draft and made the decision to return to South Carolina for the 2021-22 season. Bryant averaged 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season while Couisnard averaged 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Tennessee: Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, who quarterbacked Oklahoma to the 2000 national championship, is on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot. Also on the ballot are former UT safety Eric Berry, wide receiver Willie Gault and wide receiver Larry Seivers.
Texas A&M: Former Aggie defensive back Kevin Smith is on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot … Former Aggie D-lineman Josh Rogers is transferring to Buffalo. Signed in 2017, Rogers was in on five tackles during his time in Aggieland.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: In a very offhand way, Roy Williams pointed to the upcoming issues with a transfer portal gone crazy and name, image and likeness as reasons why he shocked the college basketball world by stepping down as North Carolina’s basketball coach a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t shock me if Mike Kryzyzewski’s decision to step down at Duke isn’t rooted in the exact same issues. College sports are changing and I’m not at all convinced for the better. I think we need to brace ourselves for the eventuality that a lot of iconic and respected coaches in both football and basketball decide they would rather ride off into the sunset than deal with what’s in the future.