A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT
(1) Dan Mullen had to know the question was coming. You know the one, about how disappointed was he that the Gators only beat Vanderbilt by 21 points last Saturday in Nashville. Sure enough, Mullen was asked and he answered as diplomatically as possible, letting it be known that he was happy with the win although there were certain aspects of the game he wish had been better.
“I don’t think we played our best game of the year,” Mullen said. “However, you have a 21-point victory. It’s hard to sit there and say everything’s gone wrong. You had a 21-point win on the road at an 11 a.m. kick. I go back to the 2006 game, we had to recover an onside kick. In our 2006 game up there at Vanderbilt, we had to recover an onside kick at the end of the game to win it. We had a pretty good football team that year (national champions), so when you look at those things, you look at some of the positives of, you know what, we really started slow but then we came out. We did all the things you needed to do to win a football game. We get a big score before half. We open the second half with a drive to create a big point swing. We get defensive stops when we needed to. We put a 99-yard drive together to clinch the game in the fourth quarter. All the things you need to do as a team to win, we were able to do. Now as a whole, is that our overall best performance? No. But you can still look at all the positive things that we did as a team you need to do throughout the course of a long season.”
Certainly, it wasn’t Florida’s best game of the season, but this is the Southeastern Conference. Even if Vanderbilt is the perpetual doormat that everyone loves to bring in for Homecoming, the Commodores are still an SEC team and in this league strange things do happen when you strap on your helmet against another team from the league. So don’t expect Mullen to be the least bit apologetic about beating Vandy by 21 in Nashville. No matter how many points you win by it still counts the same in the won-loss column. Right now the Gators are 6th-ranked, 6-1 and fast tracking toward their first SEC East title since 2016. If you’re the coach, you don’t complain about things like that.
(2) Since a rather impressive defensive performance in a 14-3 loss to Georgia in Athens, Kentucky has struggled to get stops. The Wildcats gave up 407 yards and 35 points in a win over Vanderbilt then 509 yards in a 63-3 loss to Alabama. The Wildcats have 12 interceptions, which is tied for fourth nationally, but nine of those picks came in two games against bottom feeders (6 vs. Mississippi State, 3 vs. Tennessee) and two came against Stetson Bennett IV. It’s the rushing defense that has to be concerning to UK head coach Mark Stoops. Kentucky has allowed 841 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in the last four games.
(3) Ohio State fans used to call Earle Bruce “Old 9-3 Earle” because he had six straight seasons when he piloted the Buckeyes to a 9-3 record. People tend to forget he went 11-1 in his first season and would have won the national championship except for a loss to 3rd-ranked Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. That was with the players left behind by Woody Hayes. Bruce recruited very well after that and Ohio State was always loaded with talent, but they just weren’t good enough to win national championships. I see a lot of Earl Bruce in Kirby Smart. I see a lot of Mark Richt in him, too. Georgia will always be good with Kirby in charge, but I don’t think he’s ever going to get the Poodles over the hump. I think that 2017 season (mostly with Richt holdovers) will be as good as it ever gets for him.
(4) The question isn’t if Jim Harbaugh and Michigan aren’t opting out when there remains a year on his contract. That part is a done deal barring a miracle of Samson slaying 1,000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone proportions. The question is who takes over? Hugh Freeze will be the hot name for every opening between now and January but he says he intends to stay loyal to Liberty for resuscitating his coaching career. Still, if Michigan offered something like $6 million or so could Hugh just say no? Some folks think Luke Fickell of Cincinnati would be the right guy but there is this one teensy problem. He is Ohio State through and through and was an Urban Meyer assistant prior to Cincy. Matt Campbell of Iowa State works on a shoestring budget in a place that makes the state of Michigan seem like a resort. He’s Midwest all the way having played at Mount Union and coached at Holy Toledo prior to Iowa State. The off the radar name that probably makes the most sense to me is Mario Cristobal at Oregon. He’s way underpaid at $2.7 million and from his work at Alabama knows the Nick Saban blueprint for success which is building a roster that is bigger, faster and stronger than everybody else.
(5) There were two major screwups by the zebras that helped LSU beat Arkansas 27-24 last Saturday. If you recall, Auburn beat Arkansas earlier in the year thanks to a lousy call by the zebras on an attempted clocking of the ball by Auburn QB Bo Nix. Arkansas fans know fully well they should be 5-3 this season and not 3-5. If those were isolated cases you might say those are the breaks and you live with them, but it’s not isolated and it’s happened in more than one place in the SEC this year plus it’s happening everywhere else in college football. Did you happen to see the phantom offensive pass interference call that cost Purdue a win over Minnesota? That was egregious. So was the blown non-targeting call in Columbus when an Indiana defender clearly did a helmet-to-helmet hit on Justin Fields. Fields could have been out for weeks after that one. And those are just a few of the bad calls. I don’t know the answer to the problem. I’m not sure adding one more official to the crews will make that much of a difference and we already have too many reviews that last way too long. Something does have to give, however. Bad zebras should not be determining the outcome of football games.
(6) Alabama (7-0) will be a 24-point favorite over 22nd-ranked Auburn (5-2) when the Iron Bowl is played Saturday in Tuscaloosa. It should be noted that Gus Malzahn has a 3-4 record against Nick Saban and has a 1-game winning streak over the Crimson Tide (48-45 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium last year). That’s pretty impressive considering Saban has only lost 23 games in 13-plus seasons at Alabama. The only other current SEC coach with a win over Saban is LSU’s Ed Orgeron.
(7) Thanksgiving weekend approaches and it just feels weird the Gators are not playing Florida State like they always do. I do understand that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey’s first obligation is to all 14 schools in the league which is why he made sure he had open dates for every team in the middle of the season and a makeup date on December 12. He’s even doing some further jiggling of the schedule to make sure every team in the league gets to play 10 games. Sankey gets it when it comes to doing what’s best for the SEC. Still, I still wish he had found a way for inter-conference rivalry games like Florida-FSU, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson and Kentucky-Louisville to be played. Because of this virus we don’t have tailgating, full stadiums and the electricity that is generated in the Southeastern Conference and other leagues around the country. Losing these rivalry games is just one more tradition lost in a season where traditions have been set aside in the interest of survival.
(8) While on the subject of Sankey, he showed Monday why he’s the best commissioner in college sports when he did some more juggling of SEC schedules. Because Arkansas has Covid-19 issues, its game with Missouri was postponed, but Sankey stepped in immediately and rescheduled the Vanderbilt at Missouri game that was postponed back on October 17. The Tennessee at Vandy game for this weekend was obviously postponed, likely to be rescheduled on December 19. Tennessee will play host to Texas A&M on December 12, a game that was postponed a couple of weeks ago because of the virus. Missouri’s game with Georgia, originally scheduled for November 14, is expected to be rescheduled for December 12. There is still a dilemma about LSU. Florida is scheduled to play the Tigers on December 12, but LSU’s game with Alabama was postponed as well. Since Florida and Alabama are likely to play in the SEC Championship Game on December 19, odds are that Sankey will give both teams an open date on December 12 and he’ll re-arrange schedules so that LSU has games on December 12 and 19.
(9) Since the Gators won’t have the chance to grind the lowly Seminoles to a pulp this weekend, here are nine of my favorite Florida-FSU moments. 1. Steve Spurrier waves Charlie Casey into the end zone for the game-winning TD in 1965; 2. Wilber Marshall standing at midfield calling the Seminoles all sorts of unmentionable names prior to the 1983 game won by Florida 53-14; 3. Florida beats FSU 14-9 in 1991 at The Swamp, maybe the best defensive game ever for a Florida team; 4. Ike Hilliard’s ankle-breaking stop on a dime touchdown after catching a pass from Danny Wuerffel in the Gators’ 52-20 Sugar Bowl win for the national championship; 5. Doug Johnson to Jacquez Green for 63 yards to set up the game-winning touchdown by Fred Taylor in Florida’s 32-29 upset of 2nd-ranked and previously unbeaten FSU, preventing the Seminoles from playing Nebraska for the national championship; 6. It’s still called “The Swindle in the Swamp” when Jack Childress and his crew of ACC zebras made five calls that replay (didn’t have it then) would have reversed in the Seminoles, 38-34, win over the Gators; 7.Ron Zook beating the Seminoles 20-13 on his final game as Florida’s head coach in 2004, the same night they christened it Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium; 8. Marcus Thomas blocked an FSU field goal attempt and Reggie Lewis ran it back for a TD as the Gators beat FSU, 34-7, in 2005; 9. FSU linebacker Geno Hayes vowed the Seminoles would shatter Tim Tebow’s Heisman dreams but Tebow ran for two touchdowns and threw for three in a 45-12 rout that included Tebow decleating Hayes in the second quarter; 10. Florida’s 45-15 win over the Seminoles in 2008 is known fondly by Gator fans as the “Braveheart” after end zone paint at Doak Campbell Stadium painted Tebow’s face when he dived head first into the end zone for a TD, but it’s also the game when Tebow ran over James Robinson at the end of a 24-yard run … Robinson still hears the footsteps.