On paper, Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4 SEC) seems just what the doctor ordered for a Florida (7-2, 4-2 SEC) team coming off a bitter loss to arch-rival Georgia in a game that ceded control of the SEC East to the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt has struggled defensively all season, particularly against teams that throw the ball well. The Commodores are allowing 251.1 yards per game and 63.6% completions. They've allowed 18 touchdown passes while picking off only three. Florida comes into the game with a hot quarterback in Kyle Trask (66.8% completions, 8.2 yards per attempt, 16 touchdown passes) and one of the four or five best wide receiver groups in the entire country to go with a tight end in Kyle Pitts (39-469, four touchdowns) who could finish with one of the best seasons in school history for that position.
You would think the receivers are drooling, each one thinking about a huge statistical game but the way this group goes about its business, they're consumed with the bottom line for their position group and not about which one gets the glory. Josh Hammond (20-229 receiving for one TD; 5-96 rushing, one TD) calls his fellow receivers “probably the most unselfish group of guys I've ever been around my entire life from high school, even college.”
There are four seniors in the group and there is a really good chance all four will have ample opportunities to play on Sundays in the future yet there isn't a single case of senioritis in the entire group. Nor is there a consuming ego among the underclassmen. They park their egos at the door of their meeting room and when they go out on the field it's all about the team. They are vital to Florida's offensive success and they play important roles on special teams as well. Surprisingly, no one is consumed by stats. That's probably because they all know that when opponents try to take one of them out of the game, the others will step up and have opportunities to make big plays.
“When you have four seniors, hey, you could have one guy have a lot of touches and nobody else get the ball very much,” UF head coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “And there’s probably one senior that’s really happy and three guys that think this is the worst place in the world. Yet those guys are extremely unselfish. They’re going to play on special teams. Hey, you know what, ‘I have a big game one game, the guy next to me might have a big game the next game.’ I think that’s really special. They just work. They’ve bought in completely. They go hard, they do their job, they’re excited for each other. And you see the balance in success everybody has.”
The numbers tell quite a story. In addition to Hammond, the Gators have five other wide receivers with at least 10 catches – Freddie Swain (29-430, five touchdowns), Van Jefferson (29-362, four touchdowns), Trevon Grimes (23-309, two touchdowns), Tyrie Cleveland (15-205, one touchdown) and Jacob Copeland (12-181, two touchdowns). They've all been productive. They all know what they're capable of doing.
Swain and Hammond might epitomize what makes this group special.
“It’s kind of funny, the two guys that play the same position are two team captains, Freddie and Josh,” Mullen said. “They play the exact same position. One question I can’t answer for you is how many games either one of them have started this year. I would have no idea. You know what, I’ve never had them ask me or tell me or even ask if they could or not.”
GATORS OPEN BASKETBALL SEASON TONIGHT VS. UNF
The Florida team that Mike White sends out on the floor to face North Florida tonight at the O-Dome (7 p.m., SEC Network) is easily the most talented top-to-bottom of the roster in his tenure at UF. This is White's fifth season on the job and he has a legitimate contender for the SEC championship and to make a very deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
Florida's projected starting lineup: Kerry Blackshear Jr. (6-10, 250, GR); Keyontae Johnson (6-5, 225, SO); Noah Locke (6-2, 193, SO); Tre Mann (6-4, 172, FR); Andrew Nembhard (6-5, 191, SO)
Tuesday night's SEC basketball schedule
North Florida at #6 FLORIDA #1 Michigan State vs. #1 Kentucky at Madison Square Garden Georgia Southern at #24 Auburn Western Carolina at Georgia UNC-Asheville at Tennessee Pennsylvania at Alabama Rice at Arkansas Florida International at Mississippi State
FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF POLL OUT TONIGHT The first College Football Playoff Poll is due tonight and while there might be some questions about the order of the first five teams, there is no question who they will be – LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State and Clemson. All five are unbeaten and they're mortal locks to hold the first five positions. With LSU (ranked #1 in the AP poll) and Alabama (ranked #2) facing off in Tuscaloosa Saturday, there will be one less unbeaten team. It's highly doubtful unbeatens Baylor (8-0) and Minnesota (8-0) will crack the top ten although Minnesota faces Penn State Saturday so that will take care of one more unbeaten.
My predicted top ten: (1) LSU 8-0; (2) Ohio State 8-0; (3) Alabama 8-0; (4) Penn State 8-0; (5) Clemson 8-0; (6) Georgia 7-1; (8) Oklahoma 7-1; (9) Oregon 8-1; (10) FLORIDA 7-2
THE DIVISION I HEAD COACHING CLASS OF 2018 Now that Willie Taggart has been fired 21 games into a five-year contract, it seems obvious a a number of Division I coaches who were hired prior to the 2018 season are on very shaky ground. Of the 19 coaches hired, only eight have winning records as the 2019 season enters the home stretch.
Here are the records of significant Division I coaches hired prior to the 2018 season:
Josh Heupel, UCF 19-3 Dan Mullen, Florida 17-5 Mario Cristobal, Oregon 17-6 Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M 15-7 Sonny Dykes, SMU 13-9 Billy Napier, Louisiana-Lafayette 13-9 Herm Edwards, Arizona State 12-8 Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State 12-10 Willie Taggart, Florida State 9-12 Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee 9-12 Kevin Sumlin, Arizona 9-14 Scott Frost, Nebraska 8-13 Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina 7-13 Chip Kelly, UCLA 7-14 Sean Lewis, Kent State 5-15 Jonathan Smith, Oregon State 4-14 Steve Campbell, South Alabama 4-16 Chad Morris, Arkansas 4-17 Dana Dimmel, UTEP 2-18
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
#2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0): The question of the week is the status of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who missed Alabama's last game with a high ankle sprain. Nick Saban said Monday, “If he [Tua] can play in the game it will be a game time decision. We'll see where he's at today and then we'll manage the reps accordingly. When I say that, I cannot predict – if he goes out there today and he looks good, then his rep count will go up and we'll prepare as if will play.” Saturday: vs. #1 LSU (8-0, 4-0 SEC)
Arkansas (2-7, 0-6 SEC): Tight end C.J. O'Grady, who was suspended for Arkansas' 54-24 loss to Mississippi State, has left the program. O'Grady caught a team high 33 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Saturday: vs. Western Kentucky (5-4)
#12 Auburn (7-2, 4-2 SEC): Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network thinks HBC Gus Malzahn should tell Auburn to stick it: “I've got respect for Gus Malzahn. I think Gus Malzahn ought to call Jimmy Sexton and say, 'Jimmy, get me out of here. Get me a new job. Fine me one, there are plenty of openings right now. There's one at Florida State. There may be one in the SEC West, and let's figure out a way to do this on a high caliber fashion with class and let's move on. I'm not saying that in a negative way, I'm saying no matter what Gus Malzahn does, I don't think it's going to be enough for the Auburn family.” Saturday: Open
#6 Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC): Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson, who flopped to draw an offside penalty on Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga said, “I saw five yards but I wanted the ref to see it too.” Saturday: vs. Missouri (5-3, 2-2 SEC)
Kentucky (4-4, 2-4 SEC): HBC Mark Stoops deflected questions that he might be a candidate for the vacant job at Florida State. Stoops said, “It's something you don't want to address during the season … For me it's 100 percent focus on Tennessee. With success you're going to have some of that. Coach Cal (UK basketball coach John Calipari), every year he's going to the NBA, right? I'm not going to get into speculation. I'm going to talk Kentucky and Tennessee.” Saturday: vs. Tennessee (4-5, 2-3 SEC)
#1 LSU (8-0, 4-0 SEC): Starting linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. is no longer part of the team. “Michael Divinity has left the team for personal reasons,” Coach O said Monday. Divinity had 23 tackles even though he missed three games – two due to a suspension and one due to an injury. Coach O has not ruled out Divinity returning to the team. Saturday: at #2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC)
Mississippi State (4-5, 2-4 SEC): The Bulldogs set a school record for total offense in an SEC game Saturday when they racked up 640 yards in their 54-24 win over Arkansas. The Bulldogs ran for 460 yards and added another 180 passing as they ended a four-game losing streak. Saturday: Open
Missouri (5-3, 2-2 SEC): Missouri is hoping to recharge its running game Saturday at Georgia. In their last two games (losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky) the Tigers gained a combined 278 yards and averaged 3.75 yards per carry. Georgia is allowing 77.63 yards rushing per game and just 2.85 yards per carry. Saturday: at #6 Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC)
Ole Miss (3-6, 2-4 SEC): HBC Matt Luke says it's time for the Rebels to start winning instead of just playing close games. “If we execute better we feel we'll win the games.” Saturday: vs. New Mexico State (0-8)
South Carolina (4-5, 3-4 SEC): Wide receiver Bryan Edwards set a school record with 14 catches in the Gamecocks' 24-7 win over Vanderbilt. For his career, Edwards has 225 catches for 2,955 yards and 21 touchdowns. Saturday: vs. Appalachian State (7-1)
Tennessee (4-5, 2-3 SEC): True freshman quarterback Brian Maurer is expected to return after missing the last two games on concussion protocol. HBC Jeremy Pruitt says Maurer, Jarrett Guarantano and J.T. Shrout could all take snaps at QB at Kentucky Saturday. Saturday: at Kentucky (4-4, 2-4 SEC)
Texas A&M (6-3, 3-2 SEC): The Aggies announced a home and home series with Louisville in 2028-29. Louisville will play at Kyle Field in 2028 with the Aggies traveling to Louisville the next year. Saturday: Open
Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4 SEC): Mo Hasan missed the South Carolina game while in the concussion protocol. Riley Neal might have suffered a concussion in that game. Both quarterbacks might not be cleared to play against Florida Saturday. Saturday: at #10 FLORIDA (7-2, 4-2 SEC)
GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY
From Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN on Florida State football the last several years, even before Willie Taggart was hired and fired: “It got to the point where that if you watched Florida State last year and this year, they're not just losing games. It's how they're playing. You know, how undisciplined they're playing. I just don't think it was the right fit now that you look back at it as far as the kind of coach that Willie is, the kind of personality more importantly that he has, and what was going on at Florida State. It's unfortunate … [Florida State] has to clean the program up and get it back to players playing for each other and playing for that tradition and not just for themselves or to get to the NFL. I think that's where they've been the past few years.”
Tashan Reed of The Athletic on the financial difficulties of Florida State, made more complicated by the firing of Willie Taggart: “That said, the financial implications of letting Taggart go at this point still will be wide-ranging. Florida State needed a $6.15 million transfer from Seminole Boosters, which liquidated reserve assets, just to balance its athletic budget this summer. A new $60 million football operations building, which was set to open July 2021, was postponed this summer so the athletic department could retool its finance plan.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: After intercepting a pass in the third quarter against FSU Saturday, Miami safety Bubba Bolden and teammate Gurvan Hall celebrated with a leaping hip bump. It seemed like a good idea at the moment, but Bolden landed awkwardly on his leg and will miss the rest of the season with an undisclosed leg injury … Former Miami All-American and NFL tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. pleaded guilty in San Diego County Superior Court to raping an unconscious teenager and sexual battery on a 54-year-old hitchhiker. Winslow faces 12-18 years in prison … Miami Dolphins running back Mark Walton has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL's conduct and substance abuse policy all because of three offseason arrests between January and March.