TIME TO SEND A LOUD AND CLEAR MESSAGE Florida fans are happy to joke that the distance between Gainesville and Tallahassee is 150 miles and 250 SAT points. Saturday night, Dan Mullen needs to send a loud and clear message to recruits throughout the state and the Southeast that the distance between an ascending Florida (9-2) program and a Florida State (6-5) program that seems to have lost its direction is even greater and widening by the minute.
A Florida win will give the Gators a 10-win season and all but ensure a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game appearance. Win the bowl game and the Gators will have 21 wins in the last two seasons while playing in the Southeastern Conference. Florida State, on the other hand, has won 11 games in the last two years playing in the weakest top to bottom conference in the country (the ACC) and is currently projected to spend its holidays preparing for a trip to exotic Detroit to play in something called The Quick Lane Bowl.
With Mullen in charge, Florida is the picture of stability. From the first day he set foot on campus as the head ball coach, he’s set the Gators on a path of regaining their place among college football’s truly elite programs. Mullen wants to be at Florida and has made it perfectly clear he’s here for the duration.
Meanwhile Florida State is that dumpster fire that rages because someone keeps tossing on cans of gasoline. When Florida made the smart choice by hiring Mullen, FSU hired Willie Taggart, who managed to get himself fired 19 games into a five-year contract. While contemplating what went wrong, Willie and family will have to squeeze by on $17.8 million of buyout money. That shows another contrast in the Florida and FSU programs. When Florida fired its previous coach and hired Mullen, it didn’t even blink at the buyout because the program is prospering, more so now that Mullen has football fast tracking to the championship level. Raising the money for the Taggart buyout was a struggle for an FSU athletic department wrestling with declining revenues and tens of thousands of empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Making matters worse for the Seminoles, they’ve reached out to several high profile coaches to replace Taggart only to get their hands slapped. The Brothers Stoops have already said no thankee and FSU shot blanks in their efforts to entire James Franklin, Matt Campbell and Matt Rhule to leave their successful gigs for a chance to compete for second place in the same division as Clemson. Mike Norvell is a guy they would like but he’s not committing to anything until after the American Athletic Conference Championship Game and if he’s 12-1 after that one, he’s going to the Cotton Bowl. FSU desperately needs a head coach in place before the Early Signing Date, so draw a red line through Norvell’s name, too.
It is clearly a case of Down and Out in Tallahassee for Florida State and that is exactly where Mullen needs to keep the Seminoles. Would he kick a rival while it’s struggling to regain its footing?
You darn right he would and should Saturday night!
The Sayer Says Sooth: The strategy for the Gators is simple. Defensively, make life miserable for FSU quarterbacks James Blackman and Alex Hornibrook. The Seminoles have allowed 36 sacks this season, which ranks #122 nationally. Cut loose Jonathan Greenard and Florida’s other fast, talented pass rushers. Offensively, the strategy is keep Kyle Trask’s jersey clean. The Seminoles give up a whopping 273.8 passing yards per game so if Trask has time to set his feet, then the senior foursome of Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond are going to have a chance to catch a lot of passes and leave The Swamp with a big win over FSU. I like it FLORIDA 37, FSU 17.
GATOR HOOPS: BUILDING ON THE CHARLESTON MOMENTUM As encouraged as he is about Florida’s three-game run to the championship of the Charleston Classic, Mike White knows the Gators (5-2) are just now starting to figure things out, especially on the offensive end. White is quick to mention “we’ve got so far to go, especially on the offensive end” but he did indeed like what he saw in Charleston, when the Gators hit a collective 50.3% in the three wins over St. Joseph’s, Miami and Xavier along with 40% from the three-point line.
“It starts with making shots,” White said Wednesday. “Sometimes basketball is as simple as whether it goes in or not. It’s going in more for us. We’re executing better. Our tempo is better. Certain guys are growing in confidence.”
Prior to Charleston, the Gators were struggling on the offensive end but playing well defensively. The good defense continued in Charleston – St. Joseph’s, Miami and Xavier all scored in the 60s – the shots began to drop. Noah Locke, who was just 5-22 from the three-point line in the first four games, was 8-16. Keyontae Johnson, who was the tournament MVP with 49 points and 24 rebounds in the three games, was 20-33 from the field. Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored 34 points with 21 rebounds in the last two games and Andrew Nembhard had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists in his three games.
The Gators will be tested tonight by a tall Marshall team (Thundering Herd starts three 6-9s across the front line) that will be playing for the first time in more than a week. For the Gators tonight’s game (9 p.m., SEC Network), will be Florida’s last until next Saturday when they will face Butler in Indianapolis.
White says, “We hope to win, but most importantly we got to continue to grow.”
THE SEC SOOTHSAYER (College Football Playoff rankings) Friday’s game Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) 35, Arkansas (3-8, 0-7 SEC) 14: The NCAA denied Mizzou’s appeal to go to a bowl game, so the Tigers will take it out on Vanderbilt this week. Vandy really has nothing to play for, but Mizzou can avoid a losing season with a win so that will be the incentive to play well, at least well enough to win.
#2 LSU (11-0, 6-1 SEC) 38, Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3 SEC) 24: LSU is trying to act like this is a normal game, but it’s payback for last year’s seven overtime affair in College Station. The Aggie defense put the clamps on Georgia last week but in its wildest dreams Georgia isn’t anything close to the offense they will see Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Jeaux Burreaux will nail down the Heisman Trophy with another 300-plus yards and three or four more touchdown passes. #4 Georgia (10-1, 7-1 SEC) 31, Georgia Tech (3-8) 7: This one should be over by halftime. Georgia Tech is really bad and while Georgia has struggled offensively, it won’t get much resistance from Tech Saturday. The biggest concern for Kirby Smart is getting some reps for his first team troops and then getting them on the bench injury free ahead of next week’s SEC Championship matchup with LSU. #5 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) 27, #15 Auburn (8-3, 4-3 SEC) 24: Alabama needs help to get in the College Football Playoff. Beating a ranked Auburn will help and doing it decisively it would certainly help even more although Bama will need Georgia and Utah to lose as well. As for Auburn, what happens if Alabama lowers the boom and wins by three or four touchdowns? Will that be the end of the Gus Malzah era? And if it’s a close call loss, will the boosters still call for his firing? This is going to get juicy. Tennessee (6-5, 4-3 SEC) 30, Vanderbilt (3-8, 1-6 SEC) 13: This game has blowout written all over it. The Vols have found a groove and settled in to become a decent football team while Vanderbilt gives the appearance of a team that is mailing it in. Win or lose, the Vols have clinched third place in the SEC East. Clemson (11-0) 49, South Carolina (4-7, 3-5 SEC) 14: Unless someone spikes the Clemson Gatorade with Valium, this one will be over by the end of the first quarter. Clemson played the first half of the season bored but awakened from its slumber and now is starting to look like that team nobody wants to play in the College Football Playoff.
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF Thursday’s games Harvard 62, Texas A&M (3-2) 51 Iowa State 104, Alabama (2-4) 89
Friday’s games Temple vs. Texas A&M (3-2) in Orlando #17 Tennessee (5-0) vs. Florida State in Niceville, FL UAB at #9 Kentucky (5-1) Missouri State at LSU (4-2) Ole Miss (5-1) vs. Oklahoma State in Brooklyn, NY
GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY
From my old friend Tom Archdeacon, the superb columnist of the Dayton Daily News, on the NCAA suspension of Chase Young, who borrowed money (and paid it back) from a longtime friend to buy a plane ticket so his girlfriend could come to see him play in the Rose Bowl:
“The loan wasn’t done to help him get to Ohio State and he paid it back over the summer. And now he has paid a penalty. The hypocrisy of the NCAA comes to light in this situation. Had he come from a wealthy family, his parents or grandparents could have paid for the girlfriend’s trip without anyone turning a head. The rules are skewed for the rich.”
Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and perceptions that he can’t win the big one: “Jim Harbaugh does not have a big game problem. He has an Ohio State problem, and so does every other team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have just been that good. They are 39-4 in the league since Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor. No team has beaten them more than once. When Ohio State is focused and motivated, Ohio State wins – and against Michigan, Ohio State is always focused and motivated. In 2016, Harbaugh was one play away from beating Ohio State, winning the Big Ten and probably making the playoff. If Michigan wins that game, which went into overtime, the entire conversation around him is quite different.”
From Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated on Joe Burrow’s lifetime dream to be a quarterback at Nebraska only to be snubbed by the Cornhuskers twice, once coming out of high school and the second time when he decided to transfer from Ohio State: “Burrow went to Ohio State instead, where he sat on the bench for three seasons. When he decided to transfer as a redshirt junior, Nebraska, mired in a dismal stretch, could have landed him again. The Cornhuskers passed. When asked about Burrow at the time, Nebraska coach Scott Frost said, ‘You think he’s better than what we got?’”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC) became bowl eligible Thursday night with a 21-20 win over Ole Miss. The win was secured when Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore was flagged for excessive celebration after scoring a touchdown with four seconds to go, cutting the MSU lead to a single point. Forced to kick the extra point from the 25, the ball sailed wide right, giving MSU the win and guaranteeing its 10thstraight bowl appearance … In case you missed it, Tate Martell, who has never thrown a pass at Miami since transferring from Ohio State and hasn’t played since a couple of snaps while playing wide receiver in week six, has taken a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons. Smart money says he transfers again, this time to a D1AA team ... The Conference USA West Division could wind up in a three-way tie with Louisiana Tech, UAB and Southern Miss all finishing with 6-2 records. In the last week the league has revised its tiebreaker at least two times.