A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
Feleipe Franks returns to The Swamp Saturday. Although it won’t be a full house due to the virus restrictions on attendance at all SEC games, Franks should still get a warm welcome from a Florida crowd of some 17,000 or so fans who remember his time at UF fondly. His greeting from a Florida defense that is starting to come into their own might not be quite so pleasant.
The 6th-ranked Gators (4-1) have an offense that can light up any team in the country even without All-Interplanetary tight end Kyle Pitts, who is about 99% certain to miss the game due to concussion protocols. The Gators will score some points Saturday against the Razorbacks although they might choose to spend a bit more time working on their running game against an Arkansas defense that has given up an average of 217 yards per game and 4.8 per carry in the last four.
It is the Florida defense that has not only come to life but is starting to play up to its potential. Starting with the Gators’ 41-17 win over Missouri and then followed up with a 44-28 win over then 5th-ranked Georgia, the Gators have begun to look like the type of unit that can get the job done on a consistent basis. Missouri managed only 248 total yards in 40 plays against the Gators. Georgia gained 277 on 58 snaps, but take away the 136 gained on seven plays in the first two possessions and it was a rather miserable effort.
Now Franks is certainly a better QB than either of the two the Gators saw last week against Georgia (1,428 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes) and he has thrown only one interception since the season opening loss to Georgia. Still, he’s been sacked a bunch (19 times) and though he’s quite mobile, he will get a relentless dose of pass rush from Brenton Cox Jr. and Zachary Carter. What the Florida defense has to do is stuff the run first because the Razorbacks have run for 420 yards in their last two outings and force the Razorbacks to rely on Franks throwing it.
Stuff the run and put the pass rush on Franks. That’s what it will take for the Gators to make this a not so pleasant homecoming for Feleipe Franks. The Sayer Says Sooth: Even if Arkansas elects to drop eight into coverage and take its chances that the Gators can’t or won’t run the ball, UF is going to score a bunch of points. Kyle Trask is going to find people to throw the ball to and that three-headed tailback of Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright will get their yards. This should be Florida’s first 200-yard rushing game of the season. FLORIDA 41, ARKANSAS 20
THE SEC SOOTHSAYER
Vanderbilt (0-5) at Kentucky (2-4): The season is already a disaster for Vanderbilt and now the Commodores have to play on the road against a Kentucky team that is going to be fired up to win one for offensive line coach John Schlarman, who died at the age of 45 on Thursday. Kentucky can’t throw the ball a lick but that won’t matter against Vandy, which can’t stop anyone on the ground. Oh, it’s true Mississippi State only ran for -22 yards on the Commodores, but MSU has trouble running the ball for more than a couple of yards in skeleton drills in practice. Kentucky has QB issues but that won’t matter much in this one. The Sayer Says Sooth: Kentucky is a 17-point favorite to win this one, which might be the last chance the Wildcats have to score a win this season. It only gets worse from here on out for Vandy. It will be an upset if the Commodores don’t do a reverse run of the table. Kentucky 30, Vanderbilt 14
South Carolina (2-4) at Ole Miss (2-4): It is being reported that South Carolina has no plans to fire HBC Will Muschamp at the end of the season. Fans might be screaming for it especially if Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral remembers he’s supposed to throw the ball to the guys wearing the same color shirt he’s wearing. Good Matt Corral remembers. Evil Twin Skippy Corral does things like chunk it to the other team (see Arkansas) six times in a single game. There is a really good chance Good Matt Corral shows up Saturday, which is not good news for South Carolina, which desperately needs to make a QB change. If Ryan Hilinski starts Saturday, the Gamecocks might have a chance to keep this one close. If Muschamp starts Collin Hill this one gets ugly early. The Sayer Says Sooth: Ole Miss is an 11-point favorite but this one could go ugly early. The Gamecocks have given up 100 points in their last two games to offenses not nearly as skilled as the one they will be facing against Ole Miss. Hill could make even the Ole Miss defense look respectable. Ole Miss 41, South Carolina 27
MORE SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman died Thursday after a 2-year battle with cholangiocardinoma, one of the rarer forms of the dreaded disease. One of the better O-line coaches in the country, Shlarman was at his best in 2019 after Terry Wilson went down with a season-ending injury and Sawyer Smith proved ineffective. Kentucky moved Lynn Bowden Jr. from wide receiver to quarterback and essentially abandoned the pass. Even with everyone in the ball yard knowing Kentucky wasn’t going to throw, Bowden wound up running for 1,468 yards and 13 touchdowns, UK averaged 278.77 yards rushing per game and the Wildcats ended up a surprising 8-5 which included a win over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
Texas A&M (5-1), which saw its road trip to Tennessee postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak, is ranked 5th nationally. This is the sixth time in the last nine years the Aggies have been ranked in the top 10 during the season but they haven’t finished with a top 10 ranking at any point during the 21st century.
You have to wonder how long freshman QB Carson Beck intends to stay at Georgia. HBC Kirby Smart says Beck “has not gotten a ton of reps since the season started.” He can’t be worse than Stetson Bennett IV or D’Wan Mathis, both of whom have taken all the QB snaps in Georgia’s six games. Additionally, Southern Cal transfer QB JT Daniels, a former 5-star recruit, didn’t transfer to Georgia to sit so the handwriting is on the wall for Beck. I wonder if he can read it or if he’s bought the Kool-Aid?
If you caught the ending of Western Michigan’s 41-38 win over Toledo Wednesday night then you got to see one of the great trick plays ever with 15 seconds to go for the game-winning touchdown. WMU had no time outs remaining with first and goal at the Toledo nine when QB Kaleb Eleby took the snap under center, retreated a couple of steps and then faked clocking the ball. Everyone on the Toledo defense thought the ball had been clocked so imagine their surprise when Eleby lofted an easy pass into the end zone to wide receiver Jaylen Hall for the game-winning touchdown.
MEDIA PICKS VOLS TO WIN SEC HOOPS; KEYONTAE SEC POY
This is an oddity. In a preseason poll of the SEC media, someone other than Kentucky was chosen to win the league championship. In the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll, Kentucky was ranked 10th while Tennessee was ranked 12th. The media members voted LSU to take third with Florida coming in fourth.
Florida’s Keyontae Johnson, an All-SEC first team performer last year as a sophomore, was the preseason choice to win SEC Player of the Year honors.
SEC Preseason Poll
(1) Tennessee; (2) Kentucky; (3) LSU; (4) FLORIDA; (5) Alabama; (6) Arkansas; (7) Auburn; (8) South Carolina; (9) Ole Miss; (10) Missouri; (11) Texas A&M; (12) Mississippi State; (13) Georgia; (14) Vanderbilt
All-SEC First Team: John Petty Jr., Alabama; KEYONTAE JOHNSON, FLORIDA; Brandon Boston Jr., Kentucky; Trendon Watford, LSU; John Fulkerson, Tennessee
All-SEC Second Team: Olivier Starr, Kentucky; Javonte Smart, LSU; Dru Smith, Missouri; AJ Lawson, South Carolina; Yves Pons, Tennessee; Savion Flagg, Texas A&M
SEC WOMEN’S HOOPS SHOCKER Matt Mitchell, the winningest women’s basketball coach in Kentucky history, resigned unexpectedly Thursday citing health reasons. Mitchell, who had surgery during the summer for blood on the brain, said his recovery has gone slower than expected. Mitchell won 303 games at Kentucky and had an overall career record of 333-162. Kentucky immediately made associate head coach Kyra Elzy the interim head coach.
NON-SEC SPORTS STUFF FROM ACROSS THE U.S. OF A
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said on Sirius XM Radio Thursday that it is possible Covid-19 may cause the postponement of the College Football Playoff as well as the New Years Six bowl games. Bowlsby said, “I don’t know if I see us playing a championship game in February but you just never know. These are unusual times and things that might not otherwise be acceptable have to be considered I this kind of circumstance.”
Former Florida State wide receiver/corner Isaiah Bolden, who was one of the first Seminoles to put his name in the NCAA transfer portal, is Jackson State bound to play for former Seminole Deion Sanders. Bolden played corner in 2019 then switched to wide receiver before bolting. How many more Seminoles – current and opted out – will leave for Jackson State and how soon before FSU declares Deion persona non grata?
The Ivy League has canceled winter sports for 2020-21 and won’t allow spring sports to begin at least until the end of February due to concerns of Covid-19. Does this mean the league will forfeit its share of NCAA Basketball Tournament money, which is substantial?
Saturday’s ACC matchup between Pittsburgh (4-4) and Georgia Tech (2-5) in Atlanta has been postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak at both schools. The game has been rescheduled for December 12.
Virginia Tech (4-3) is a 2-point home favorite over 9th-ranked Miami (6-1), Florida State (2-5) is a 9.5-point road dog at North Carolina State (4-3), UCF (4-2) is a 25.5-point home favorite over Shirley Temple, South Florida (1-6) is a 14-point road dog at Houston (2-3) and Florida Atlantic (3-1) is a 9-point favorite on the road at Florida International (0-3).
Even down 14 players due to Covid-19, Boise State still hammered out a 52-21 win over Colorado State Thursday night.
COMMENTING PITHILY ON FRIDAY: Maybe this playing a lot of golf thing is overrated. Tiger Woods, who hasn’t exactly been wearing out the PGA Tour with his presence lately, shot a first round 4-under par 68 Thursday at The Masters, three shots behind first round leader Paul Casey. In second place, two shots back are Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele. Those three guys play nearly every week. Also at -4 is Lee Westwood. If we’re lucky, the announcers at ESPN and CBS will only tell us about 153 times this weekend that he’s the best player in the world to have never won a major. Also notable is Bernhard Langer, who was -3 after 11 holes when play was suspended. It only seems Langer is 90 years old. He’s really a spritely 63 … If they’re unable to play in Canada when the NBA season opens due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the Toronto Ruptures have their eye on Tampa as a temporary home. If that happens will there be a requirement to play “Oh Canada” prior to each game? … Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves was voted National League MVP and Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox won the American League MVP. I’m sure you were all sitting on the edge of your seats awaiting those announcements.