A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED BLOWOUT
The pandemic eliminated the usual suspects who come to Gainesville for a paycheck, but fortunately for 6th-ranked Florida (5-1), the Gators play in the SEC East and that means an annual matchup with everybody’s get well opponent, Vanderbilt (0-6). These are two programs heading in polar opposite directions. The Gators are well on their way toward a divisional championship, the SEC Championship Game and potentially, a shot at the College Football Playoff. Vanderbilt is well on its way to a reverse table run. The Commodores haven’t won a game and it’s going to take an upset of changing water into the walls of Jericho falling down proportions for them to end this perfect season in reverse.
Florida is building a championship future. Vanderbilt is fielding a team for an SEC paycheck that helps balance the athletic department books.
Saturday, the Gators are 31.5-point favorites to waltz into Nashville and do a two-step before a crowd of tens at one of the worst stadiums in all of college football. Florida’s biggest concern won’t be anything Vanderbilt puts out on the field, but instead the tiny Vandy locker rooms. In these days of Covid-19, the last thing needed is 60-or-so players jam-packed into a tiny visitors locker room. Expect the Florida athletic department to figure out a way to keep players spaced out even if it means dressing for the game at the hotel and dressing after the game in shifts.
Once they take the field, this could be one of those Name That Score type of games. Even without Kyle Pitts to throw to, Kyle Trask has plenty of receivers like Justin Shorter and Trevon Grimes to find open space against a Vanderbilt defense that struggles to get stops in skeleton drills in practice. The Vandy secondary has one interception and the only team their front seven has gotten any pressure on is Mississippi State, owner of the worst offensive line (Vandy’s is the second worst) in the SEC.
It will be a fine game for getting reps in the running game so when Trask isn’t carving up the Vandy secondary, Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright should probably rumble for more than 200 yards.
This is also a game where the UF defense will have a chance to get well. Vandy throws a lot of picks (9 so far) and fumbles a lot (5). The receivers aren’t very sure-handed but they compensate by being slow. The Sayer Says Sooth: If this were not a pandemic year complete in which every athletic department is pinching pennies, Derek Mason would be consulting with Nashville real estate brokers to find out who has the best chance to sell his house after he is dismissed. But since it’s a pandemic year, Vandy has no desire to can Mason (the chardonnay and bleu cheese alumni crowd finds that so distasteful) even if he runs the table. Florida will be able to play a lot of players because this one will go ugly early. FLORIDA 56, Vanderbilt 10
THE SEC SOOTHSAYER
KENTUCKY (3-4) at #1 ALABAMA (6-0): Kentucky will always be remembered as the school that ran Bear Bryant off. More than 60 years later, Bear is still Kentucky’s all-time winningest coach with 60 wins. Bear finished his coaching career with 323, 232 of them at Alabama. In the years since Bear left, Kentucky has won exactly 318 games. Alabama has won 559 and 13 national championships since 1954. Alabama is a 30-point favorite when Kentucky comes to town Saturday. The Sayer Says Sooth: Along with wondering what might have been if they hadn’t run Bear Bryant off, Kentucky will be looking wishfully at Alabama QB Mac Jones, who was committed to UK in 2015 before Alabama offered. Jones should be good for about five touchdown passes Saturday. Alabama 49, Kentucky 10
MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-4) at #13 GEORGIA (4-2): Through his first 62 games as Georgia’s head coach, Kirby Smart is 48-14. It must be noted that Mark Richt was 50-12 through his first 62. Richt had at least three near national championships. Smart has one. Smart is in no particular danger of losing his 15th game Saturday against Mississippi State although I’ve been told that donkeys can indeed fly on occasions. This is not one of those occasions. Georgia might be going through the motions Saturday but that’s better than Mississippi State, which can’t wait for this season to be over. The Sayer Says Sooth: It will be 0-0 when the game starts. That’s about as close as it will get. Even without a functional QB, Georgia is better than Mississippi State. If Mike Leach were to somehow score an upset, the Georgia faithful might be thinking about a Go Fund Me page to raise the money necessary to buy out Kirby’s contract. Maybe Mark Richt could be coaxed out of retirement. Georgia 38, Mississippi State 10.
TENNESSEE (2-4) at #23 AUBURN (4-2): The Vols are on a fast track toward nowhere but it doesn’t matter. They aren’t going to fire Jeremy Pruitt because to do so would entail Phattus Maximus (the former coach and now AD) admitting he blew it when he hired Pruitt even though he had never been a head coach of a junior high team. Auburn, on the other hand, has incentive to win. Lose and there is every good chance the Auburn faithful will raise the bazillion or so dollars it takes to buy out Gus Malzahn. If he goes 7-3 or 8-2, his job will be safe. Well, maybe. These are Auburn fans we’re talking about. But, all things considered, Auburn can run the football and Tennessee can’t stop anyone on the ground. Also, Bo Nix can hit the broad side of a barn when he throws. Jarrett Guarantano of Tennessee can’t. Auburn is a 10.5-point home favorite. It’s not going to be that close. The Sayer Says Sooth: As long as he doesn’t slip on his own drool when he sees how big those holes are to run through, Tank Bigsby has a chance at a 200-yard game and there isn’t much Tennessee can do to stop him. If Guarantano could throw, the Vols might have a chance. He can’t. Auburn 33, Tennessee 20
LSU (2-3) at ARKANSAS (3-4): The Fighting Feleipes have a legitimate shot at a winning record, which would be a rather impressive accomplishment in Sam Pittman’s first year on the job. Pittman has things moving onward and upward in Fayette Nam, in no small part thanks to Feleipe Franks, who has substantially elevated play at QB for an offense that keeps getting better. LSU, meanwhile, can’t stop anyone defensively and will be relying on a true freshman QB on the road. When TJ. Finley made his last start (also on the road), LSU got poleaxed by Auburn, 48-11. This is a season that can’t get over soon enough for LSU, which won’t be down long if you are to believe recruiting rankings. Arkansas, which has been down a long time, is just getting started. The Sayer Says Sooth: LSU is a 2.5-point favorite on the road which seems rather strange considering the Tigers just aren’t very good this year, especially on defense. Ball Park Franks is going to have one of his better games and Arkansas is going to even up its record at 4-4. Arkansas 33, LSU 27
MISSOURI (2-4) at SOUTH CAROLINA (2-5): Connor Bazelac could set some Mizzou passing records Saturday. Since South Carolina gave Will Muschamp an involuntary opt out back on Sunday, the Gamecocks two best defensive players – corners Israel Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn – have voluntarily called it quits for the season. That leaves a South Carolina defense which has given up 159 points in the last three games vulnerable to a rapidly improving Missouri passing game led by Bazelac, a redshirt freshman who has completed 69.1% of his passes and is averaging 7.9 yards per attempt. When Bazelac isn’t picking on the South Carolina secondary, Larry Rountree III should be good for at least 125 or so yards. The Sayer Says Sooth: The president of South Carolina probably thought he was doing the right thing when he canned Muschamp, but Will was quite popular with his players. There will be a serious emotional letdown because they aren’t going to win one for The (Mike) Bobo. Based on what we’ve seen of the South Carolina defense these last three games, it could get ugly early. Missouri 40, South Carolina 24
TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYED SOMEWHERE BESIDE THE SEC Trevor Lawrence will be back Saturday, which is good news for 4th-ranked Clemson (7-0), bad news for Florida State (2-6). Clemson is a 35.5-point favorite. I’ll be surprised if it’s that close. This will be dial-a-score. If you haven’t read the outstanding piece on the dire straits of the FSU program written by Andrea Adelson and David M. Hale at ESPN.com, then you’re missing out on an outstanding analysis of how the wheels came off in Tallahassee and how it might take years and years – if ever – before the program is anything more than break even. Things aren’t bad in Tallahassee. They’re worse.
Third-ranked Ohio State (3-0) is a 20.5-point favorite to dismantle 9th-ranked Indiana (4-0) Saturday afternoon in Columbus. If Indiana does the unthinkable and scores the upset, the higher-ups in the Big Ten (Plus Four) Conference will be on suicide watch. The last thing – at least in their puny little minds – they need in a season in which Penn State (0-4) and Michigan (1-3) stink is for Ohio State to take one on the chin.
The biggest game for the Group of Five is in Orlando this week when unbeaten and 7th-ranked Cincinnati (7-0) faces UCF (4-2). Cincinnati is a 6-point favorite. I’ll take UCF in this one. Maybe by a couple of touchdowns. Although I don’t trust any defense coached up by Randy Shannon to get the job done, I think UCF and QB Dillon Gabriel have (a) too much speed and (b) the heat (81 degrees Saturday afternoon) and humidity working for them.
The second biggest game in the Group of Five has Appalachian State (6-1) traveling to 15th-ranked and unbeaten Coastal Carolina (7-0) in a clash of Fun Belt Sun Belt titans. Coastal is a 5.5-point favorite to win this one on the teal turf (and here you were thinking the Smurf turf at Boise State was ugly).
Wouldn’t this be a great year for a Group of Five playoff? Right now there are ten (count ‘em) unbeatens in the Group of Five: 7th-ranked Cincinnati (7-0); 8th-ranked BYU (8-0); Marshall and Coastal Carolina, both tied for #15 and both 7-0; 21st-ranked Liberty (8-0); Nevada (4-0); San Jose State (4-0); Buffalo (3-0); Kent State (3-0) and Western Michigan (3-0). Since there won’t be such a playoff, I’m hoping the people who do the bowls will figure out a way to match up BYU and Cincinnati if they both finish the year unbeaten.
Liberty (8-0) is a 3.5-point road dog at North Carolina State (5-3). Should the Fighting Freezes win this one, they’ll be 3-0 against the Always Climpson Conference this year.
THINKING OUT LOUD WITH PITHY THOUGHTS ON A FRIDAY: The NCAA is planning to hold its entire 68-team (remember you have four teams that play in) basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Let’s seen how they make that work not only scheduling the games but for hotel space. The NCAA has to have a tournament this year to make up for the loss of $375 million last year. There are a lot of basketball-only and lower level football schools that can’t make ends meet without their cut of the TV revenue. Leave it to the NCAA that if there is a way to screw this up, they will do it … The NBA held its draft Wednesday night. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Georgia’s Anthony Edwards with the #1 pick. I’m still shaking my head about that one but that pales in comparison to the Charlotte Hornets picking LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick. Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever in the league but he’s well on his way toward becoming the Dan Snyder of the NBA when it comes to ownership … The Oklahoma City Thunder have a ton of draft choices stockpiled over the next few years. Maybe they’ll draft some people who won’t require an interpreter. Their three draft picks from Wednesday night hail from Serbia, France and the Czech Republic.