FIVE OPEN WEEK POINTS FROM AN ALREADY BASTED MIND (1) The late, great Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” So, I’m not going to look back at Florida’s losses to LSU and Georgia and wonder what might have been if the Gators had been healthy on the defensive side of the ball. While I like to think the Gators might have won those games with a healthy Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga bringing the heat off the edge, the Gators had chances to win both those games even without them. It is fair to note that even in an injury-filled year, Todd Grantham’s defense has shown serious improvement over 2018. The Gators are giving up 14.2 points (20.0 last year) and 303.5 yards (343.3 last year) per game. The Gators are giving up 110.45 yards per game rushing (162.54 last year), they’ve picked off 15 passes (14 last year) and gotten to the QB for 38 sacks (37 last year). With the FSU and a bowl game to go, the Gators could improve even more.
(2) If Arkansas is serious about getting the program back on a winning foot then it needs to engage The Pirate in some heart-to-heart negotiations. Mike Leach has proven at both Texas Tech and Washington State that he can win with a whole lot less than he would have at Arkansas which has incredible facilities and numerous gozillionaires on speed dial who regularly write big checks to the athletic department. It’s not that far from Texas and Louisiana to Fayette Nam so Leach would have a better talent pool closer to campus than he has at Wazzoo, and he wouldn’t have to worry about being eaten by a bear on his way to and from the practice field.
(3) Other than Ohio State, I’m not sold on any team from the Big Ten Plus Four belonging ranked among the top 15 teams in the country. I think you’ll see the Buckeyes destroy Penn State this weekend, do their annual kneecapping of Michigan the following week and then lay waste to either Minnesota or Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. I don’t think Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin would be anything more than 7-5 or 8-4 if they were in the SEC and this were a normal SEC year. Top to bottom I think it’s an average SEC year. I believe the five teams at the top of the SEC – LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Auburn – that I think would dominate anyone except maybe Ohio State in the Big Ten Plus Four.
(4) Clemson’s run to the ACC championship is an exercise in snoozerobics. If you weren’t already convinced, then 2019 should have made it perfectly clear that the ACC is a basketball league that has maybe three teams – Clemson, Miami and Florida State – capable of consistently playing football at a high level. Emphasis on capable because neither FSU or Miami is very good this year. I’m not at all sure FSU is going to repair the damage done by Willie Taggart anytime soon nor am I convinced that Manny Diaz can breathe life back into Miami. As for Clemson, I could see the Tigers running the table – again – this year and then doing it again next year. Am I the only one who thinks Clemson belongs in the SEC? One more note about the ACC: Other than Clemson there isn’t a single ranked team from the ACC.
(5) The Orange Bowl Committee is inching toward widespread panic. In years in which the Orange Bowl is not a part of the College Football Playoff, it’s contracted to match the highest ranked ACC team against a team from either the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. Here’s the kicker. Clemson is the only ranked team and the Tigers are going to be in the College Football Playoff. That means unless a miracle of walking on water proportions, the Orange Bowl will become the first bowl in the CFP era to have an unranked team.
GATORS REMAIN #11 IN CFP POLL Florida’s dominant win over Missouri in its final SEC game of the season didn’t impress the committee for the College Football Playoff Poll, but it didn’t hurt, either. The Gators remained at the #11 position and they are still the highest ranked team with two losses.
This could be a week in which there isn’t a lot of movement among the teams ranked ahead of the Gators. The marquee matchup is #8 Penn State at #2 Ohio State, a game in which the Buckeyes are favored by 17-1/2 points. A blowout win for Ohio State should move the Gators up at least one notch. Another game to watch will be Texas A&M at #4 Georgia. Georgia is favored by 13-1/2 points but the Bulldogs have had to tough out wins over Florida and Auburn in their last three games. This is a battle of former Nick Saban assistants from his LSU staff (Aggies Jimbo Fisher, Georgia’s Kirby Smart). The other teams ranked ahead of the Gators that play Saturday are all favored by at least double digits.
College Football Playoff Top 25
(1) LSU 10-0; (2) Ohio State 10-0; (3) Clemson 10-0; (4) Georgia 9-1; (5) Alabama 9-1; (6) Oregon 9-1; (7) Utah 9-1; (8) Penn State 9-1; (9) Oklahoma 9-1; (10) Minnesota 9-1; (11) FLORIDA 9-2; (12) Wisconsin 8-2; (13) Michigan 8-2; (14) Baylor 9-1; (15) Auburn 7-3; (16) Notre Dame 8-2; (17) Iowa 7-3; (18) Memphis 9-1; (19) Cincinnati 9-1; (20) Boise State 9-1; (21) Oklahoma State 7-3; (22) Iowa State 6-4; (23) Southern Cal 7-4; (24) Appalachian State 9-1; (25) SMU 9-1
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF (College Football Playoff Rankings)
#5 Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC): Nick Saban wasn’t afraid to show his emotions when talking about Tua Tagovailoa. “I’m hurting,” Saban said. “I call him on Saturday night to cheer him up, he cheers me up. I call him last night because I’ve been in that room watching film … I call him up, he cheers me up ... The first thing he says to me last night when I tell him good luck with your surgery tomorrow, he said, ‘I just can’t wait to get back and see the game on Saturday.’” Saturday: vs. Western Carolina (3-8)
Arkansas (2-8, 0-6 SEC): Arkansas has been established as a 44-point underdog Saturday when the Hogs visit LSU. Saturday: at #1 LSU (10-0, 6-0 SEC)
#15 Auburn (7-3, 4-3 SEC): Criticized that Auburn threw 50 passes in its loss to Georgia, HBC Gus Malzahn explained that it was almost a 50/50 balance threw the first three quarters “but you get in the fourth quarter and you’re down 21 points …” Saturday: vs. Samford (5-6)
#4 Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC): Georgia’s offensive line is a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line. The other semifinalists are LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Washington and Kentucky. Saturday: vs. Texas A&M (7-3, 4-2 SEC)
Kentucky (5-5, 3-5 SEC): Punter Max Duffy has been named a semifinalist for the Ray guy Award. Duffy ranks first in the SEC and second nationally with an average of 48.3 yards per punt. Saturday: vs. UT-Martin (7-4)
#1 LSU (10-0, 6-0 SEC): Regarding the return of linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. to the team after tending to some personal matters for a couple of weeks, Coach O said, “We love Michael being back on the team. Michael is a great member of our football team, brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of things to our practice. He is still unable to play but he is able to practice with the team as of now.” Expect Divinity to sit this week against lowly Arkansas but be back in uniform ready to play in two weeks against Texas A&M. Saturday: vs. Arkansas (2-8, 0-6 SEC)
Mississippi State (4-6, 2-5 SEC): Nowhere is the drop-off on defense more evident than in the sacks category. The Bulldogs got to opposing quarterbacks 39 times last year. This year they have 14 sacks. Saturday: vs. Abilene Christian (5-6)
Missouri (5-5, 2-4 SEC): Describing what’s going on with the offense, coordinator Derek Dooley said, “We’re kind of in a little bit of a football Hell right now.” Saturday: vs. Tennessee (5-5, 3-3 SEC)
Ole Miss (4-7, 2-5 SEC): Ole Miss has added Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference to its 2024. The other non-conference teams on the schedule are Furman, Middle Tennessee and (at) Wake Forest. Saturday: Open
South Carolina (4-7, 3-5 SEC): It is speculated that Will Muschamp will make significant changes to his offensive staff in the offseason. If he changes offensive coordinators it will be his sixth since becoming a head coach in 2011. Saturday: Open
Tennessee (5-5, 3-3 SEC): At the end of Monday’s practice, HBC Jeremy Pruitt awarded scholarships to three walk-ons – corner Kenny Solomon, wide receiver Isaiah Montgomery and defensive back Kwauze Garland. Saturday: at Missouri (5-5, 2-4 SEC)
Texas A&M (7-3, 4-2 SEC): The Aggies have completed their 2023 non-conference schedule by adding games with Louisiana-Monroe and Abilene Christian. ULM will get a $1.6 million guarantee and Abilene Christian a $550,000 guarantee. The Aggies also added New Mexico State to the 2024 schedule, offering a $1.6 million guarantee. Saturday: at #4 Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC)
Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6 SEC): To the groans of alumni and boosters, it was announced that HBC Derek Mason will return in 2020. As bad as Vandy is this year, the Commodores should be worse next when they lose their three best players – RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Kalijah Lipscomb and TE Jared Pinkney, all three of whom will be paid to play football on Sundays next fall. Saturday: vs. East Tennessee State (3-8)
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF Tuesday’s Games
Boston University 78, South Carolina (3-1) 70 LSU (3-1) 77, Maryland-Baltimore County 50 Alabama (1-2) 79, Furman 73 Arkansas (4-0) 82, Texas Southern 51
Georgia Tech at Georgia (3-0) Alabama State at Tennessee (3-0) Morehead State at Missouri (3-1) Troy at Texas A&M (2-1) Austin Peay at Vanderbilt (2-1)
GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY
Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network on the potential effect of Tua Tagovailoa’s injury on college football players in the future: “There isn’t a college player in America who watched what we all saw Saturday and didn’t start thinking about their own mortality. I think you’ll start seeing it very soon here, especially when we get to the bowl games … when players say, ‘You know what, I’m not playing in some [minor] bowl. It’s just not worth it. Maybe for the national championship or the Rose Bowl, but of these meaningless bowls, players are not going to participate, especially the elite athletes.”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on the state of football at the University of Texas: “Texas is not back, not close to back, and there is no reason to believe it will be back until proving it in games that actually matter.”
Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on what Bama fans would consider a fate worse than death: “In cruel irony for Alabama fans, Jalen Hurts in a year’s time might go from rescuing the Tide in a conference championship game to vanquishing them by winning another … Simply put, Alabama at 11-1 is not going to beat out any potential 12-1 Power 5 champions beside Baylor, who the committee clearly doesn’t respect and seems unlikely to jump from No. 14 to No. 4 over the next three weeks.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Michigan State HBC Mark Dantonio says he intends to return in 2020. The Spartans need two wins to be bowl eligible and the natives are restless, particularly since Dantonio gets a $4.3 million longevity bonus on January 15. Let’s see if MSU says, yeppers, he’ll be our coach one more year … Former New England Patriots all-interplanetary tight end and Tom Brady best bud Rob Gronkowski hasn’t ruled out a return to the NFL although he points out it won’t be this year … Rutgers wants Greg Schiano to return as its head football coach, but it will take a vote of the school’s 14-member Board of Governors to approve the hire.