Thoughts of the Day: November 3, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

There was a time and not all that long ago when Georgia was Florida’s personal whipping boy. Steve Spurrier beat Georgia 11 out of 12 times. Ron Zook was two out of three. Urban Meyer was five for six, but since Meyer departed after the 2010 season the Gators have fallen on hard times. Will Muschamp beat Georgia (his alma mater) only once in 2014. Two weeks later he was fired after losing to South Carolina. Jim McElwain beat Georgia twice (2015-16) but the Gators have lost the last three, two with Dan Mullen at the helm.

Since 2011, Georgia has the sixth best record in all of college football at 94-29. Florida is tied for 30th at 73-41. Georgia has won the SEC East the last three years and won the SEC championship and played for the national championship in 2017. The Gators have endured a 4-7 record in McElwain’s exit year of 2017 and while they went 21-5 in Mullen’s first two years on the job, they still haven’t regained the top spot in the SEC East.

The perception is that Georgia will win a national championship sometime in the next two or three years. Kirby Smart keeps bringing in these highly regarded recruiting classes that rank right up there with Alabama and Ohio State so it’s assumed that it’s only a matter of when, not if, Georgia takes home the big trophy.

Perceptions have a way of changing, however. At the time when Steve Spurrier became Florida’s football coach in 1990, Georgia basically owned the Gators. In the 20 years prior to Spurrier landing the Florida job, Georgia held a 15-5 advantage. Once Spurrier had beaten Georgia three straight, Georgia fans came to Jacksonville every year expecting to lose. They thought they turned the corner when they beat Florida in 1997, but Spurrier closed out his Florida coaching career by winning the last four Georgia games.

Ron Zook probably would have beaten Georgia all three years except he was fired on the Monday prior to the Georgia game in 2004. Even with that adversity, Florida still could have won the game (31-24 loss).

Meyer was 5-1, losing only in 2007.

So here the Gators are, 10 years since Meyer beat Georgia in overtime, 34-31, in his last Florida-Georgia game, and the Gators are struggling to change the perceptions. As long as Georgia keeps beating UF on the field, Georgia will beat the Gators on the recruiting trail as well. For Florida to become a consistent challenger for SEC and national championships, Mullen and the Gators have to start recruiting at the same level as Alabama and Georgia. Until they do, the perception is the Gators might be good, but not good enough.

That is why this season’s game with Georgia is so critical. From a pure talent perspective, the perception is Georgia is superior at nearly every position except quarterback (Kyle Trask), tight end (Kyle Pitts) and slot receiver (Kadarius Toney). Those three will be going against a Georgia defense that is injury-depleted so there won’t be a more opportune time for the Gators to score a win and change perceptions.

A Florida win Saturday won’t completely change the perception that Georgia’s program is superior. It’s going to take beating Georgia on a consistent basis for that to happen, but it has to start somewhere and this year is as good as any.

RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC

Some numbers that matter in the SEC

#2 ALABAMA (6-0): While all eyes are on Mac Jones who has elbowed his way into the Heisman conversation by throwing for 2,196 yards (12.4 per attempt) and 16 touchdowns in the first six games, running back Najee Harris is making a case to go in the first round of the NFL Draft. He’s carried 124 times for 714 yards (5.76 per carry), which leads the SEC and ranks seventh nationally. He’s scored 14 rushing touchdowns, most in the country. He also has caught 20 passes for 183 yards. As a team, Alabama is averaging 47.2 points and 555.2 yards per game.

ARKANSAS (2-3): Arkansas fans will tell you what a difference a quarterback makes. A year ago, five different Arkansas quarterbacks combined to threw 14 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in 12 games while averaging a pathetic 5.7 yards per attempt. Enter Feleipe Franks, who transferred in from Florida. Through five games, Franks has completed 105-159 passes for 1,213 yards with 11 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. Franks is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

#24 AUBURN (4-2): Wide receiver Anthony Schwartz is billed as the fastest man in college football (10.15 100 meters) yet the Tigers have problems getting him the football downfield. He did catch a 91-yard touchdown pass from Bo Nix against LSU but his other three catches netted only 123 yards. For the season Schwartz has caught 38 passes for a very pedestrian 11.11 yards per carry and just two touchdowns.

#5 GEORGIA (4-1): Since their 24-point first half outburst against Alabama, Georgia has scored all of 14 points in the last six quarters. Some of that has to do with the ineptitude of quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who has thrown five of his six interceptions over that period. In the las six quarters, Bennett is 15-28 for 223 yards with zero touchdown passes.

KENTUCKY (2-4): Kentucky is finding it more and more difficult to get its running game going against eight in the box, which is what the Wildcats are going to keep seeing until they prove they can throw the ball down the field. Currently, quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Joey Gatewood are averaging 5.4 yards per pass attempt, lowest in the SEC. Kentucky’s 118.5 yards per game ranks 97th nationally out of 103 teams that have played a game so far. Since their loss to Ole Miss in game two, the Wildcats have passed for a combined 321 yards in the last four games. To put that in perspective, Florida’s Kyle Trask threw for 345 yards in the Gators 41-17 win over Missouri.

LSU (2-3): LSU fans are up in arms with coordinator Bo Pelini’s defense or lack of. Through five games the Tigers are giving up 33.6 points, 143.4 rushing yards and 335.2 passing yards per game. In the three losses, the Tigers have given up 1,329 yards (443 per game), 10.98 yards per attempt and 12 touchdowns. The 143.4 rushing yards allowed per game is a bit deceiving when you consider Mississippi State ran for only nine yards on 16 attempts in the first game of the season.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-4): Mississippi State’s offense is certainly sputtering (only four touchdowns in the previous four games) but the defense is holding up fairly well despite an offense that can’t sustain drives. MSU is allowing just 336.2 yards per game (21st nationally) and that number is inflated by the 499 Alabama put up last week. Mississippi State is averaging only 348.8 yards per game offensively, which ranks 82nd nationally.

MISSOURI (2-3): Despite the 10-game schedule, linebacker Nick Bolton has a legitimate shot at a second straight 100-tackle season. Bolton, who registered 107 tackles in 12 games last season, has 53 through five games in 2020.

OLE MISS (2-4): Wide receiver Elijah Moore is on his way to a record setting season even if it’s only for 10 games. With four games to go, Moore has caught 61 passes (10.1 per game) for 829 yards (13.59 per catch) and six touchdowns. The Ole Miss offense is averaging 541 yards and 38 points per game. Ole Miss averages 215.67 yards rushing and 325.3 passing.

SOUTH CAROLINA (2-3): The Gamecocks have a budding star in sophomore running back Kevin Harris (93-535 rushing for eight touchdowns). Harris has gone over the 100-yard mark three times with a season best 171 against Vanderbilt. Now if the Gamecocks could only develop a consistent passing game to take the heat off him.

TENNESSEE (2-3): Things weren’t supposed to be this bad for the Tennessee offense. With an O-line touted before the season as perhaps best in the SEC and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano working with coordinator Jim Chaney for a second year, the Vols were supposed to be explosive and efficient, none of which has happened so far. Tennessee through five games is averaging 323.8 yards per game, which ranks 88thnationally and 12th in the SEC. Guarantano is averaging only 6.8 yards per pass attempt and has thrown for only six touchdown passes with three picks in five games.

#7 TEXAS A&M (4-1): Kellen Mond, who is off to the best start of his career with 1,244 yards and 12 TDPs, continues to take over the record book at Texas A&M. He’s thrown for 8,623 yards and 64 touchdowns, passing Jerrod Johnson and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in both categories as the all-time leader in school history.

VANDERBILT (0-4): The Commodores are one of the worst offensive teams in the country (297.8 yards and 11.8 points per game), but they do have a bright spot in true freshman quarterback Ken Seals. Seals is 79-118 passing (66.9%) for 755 yards with five touchdown passes and six interceptions. His numbers would probably be better if Vandy had some semblance of a running game. The Commodores average just 109 yards per game and 2.95 per carry.

TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYED SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THE SEC Will 6th-ranked Cincinnati (5-0) cash the College Football Playoff party if the Bearcats finish the season unbeaten? No Group of Five team has ever made the playoff although UCF fans would collectively groan if Cincy made it in with a 11-0 record when the Knights were snubbed in 2017 when they were 13-0 after winning the American Championship. Cincinnati’s biggest obstacle will probably be UCF on November 21 in Orlando. Cincinnati ranks 7th nationally in scoring defense (12 points per game) and 15th in total defense (306.2 yards per game). UCF’s offense averages 45 points and a staggering 652.5 yards per game.

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) gets its season started Wednesday night when all 12 teams spring into action. To qualify for a division championship in a seven-game abbreviated schedule, teams must only play three games.

The betting line for Saturday night’s #1 Clemson at #4 Notre Dame game has moved a little bit. After starting Sunday night with Clemson favored by seven the line dropped to 5.5 on Monday.

Michigan is a shaky 3.5-point favorite to knock off 13th-ranked Indiana on the road Saturday. If the 23rd-ranked Wolverines lose, how big an uproar will there be to fire Jim Harbaugh at the end of the season?

PITHY THOUGHTS ON A TUESDAY: Tom Brady threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns Monday night to lead the Tampa Bay Bucs to a 25-23 win over the New York Giants. The Bucs are now 6-2 while Brady’s former team, the New England Patriots, are 2-5. How much do you figure Bill Belichick is missing Brady these days? … And speaking of Belichick, he told a Boston radio audience Monday that the Patriots “have less to work with” this year. Really? … They play the Masters in Augusta next week. I’m glad they’ll play it, but it is going to seem really weird playing in November instead of April.

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