A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
The comparison is fairly easy. One team has an offense that runs like a Ferrari. The other one has an offense like a Chevy Volt that needs to be recharged very soon.
The Ferrari is 8th-ranked Florida (3-1), which comes into Saturday’s game with 5th-ranked Georgia (4-1) averaging 42 points and 476.5 points per game. The Volt – or is it a Prius? – is Georgia, whose offense the last six quarters has lacked both imagination and explosiveness. Now Georgia has a defense that looked dominant in the first three games of the season, but along came Alabama to shoot holes in the theory the Bulldogs could get just enough offense and win with their defense. Florida’s offense, led by QB Kyle Trask (18 TDPs and 335.3 passing yards per game, is good enough to do to the Georgia defense what Alabama did and that was a Georgia defense at full strength. Saturday, Georgia will be without at least three key starters – All-America safety Richard LeCounte and stud tackles Julian Rochester and Jordan Davis. Rumor has it that two or three other starters might be out for the game or at least not at full speed.
With Trask at the helm and with receivers like tight end Kyle Pitts (22-355, 7 TDs) and slot receiver Kadarius Toney (22-297, 6 TDs receiving; 8-83, 1 TD rushing) there isn’t a defense in the country that can’t be stretched. And, with an offensive line that has given up only four sacks and seems to be improving every game, it’s entirely possible that Florida will run the ball well. Certainly, the Gators will run it better than they did last year (19 attempts, 21 yards).
Georgia, which comes into the game a shaky 3-point favorite, has hit the skids offensively and most experts agree the reason is QB Stetson Bennett IV, who has thrown five interceptions in the last six quarters (last two against Alabama and all four against Kentucky). When analyzing what is going wrong with Georgia, nobody seems to point a finger at offensive coordinator Todd Monken, although they probably should since his is a paint by numbers offense and Florida’s is a Picasso original. But Monken’s rather pedestrian approach might be as much as Bennett is capable of handling. Former FSU QB and CBS analyst Danny Kannell tweeted out that Georgia’s problems throwing the ball are that “They’re still playing like it’s 2000 not 2020.” The Sayer Says Sooth: This is the game that will decide who wins the SEC East title, claimed by Georgia each of the last three years. Georgia has the higher ranked team and is the slight favorite because no one trusts the Florida defense. If the Gators were playing a team that has proven it can light people up in the passing game, maybe Georgia’s favorite status could be justified. As it is, the Gators are going to force Bennett to beat them while making the Poodles match them score-for-score. Florida is more than capable of winning a shootout. Georgia, meanwhile, is offensively challenged. FLORIDA 31, Georgia 20
THE SEC SOOTHSAYER
#7 TEXAS A&M (4-1) at SOUTH CAROLINA (2-3): Everything seems to be falling in place for the Aggies to perhaps get an at-large invite to the College Football Playoff. That two-game end of the year gauntlet of LSU and (at) Auburn doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did when the SEC came out with its schedule back in August. So what the Aggies have to guard against is overlooking any of the remaining five teams on the schedule starting with Saturday’s game with South Carolina in Columbia. On paper, it would seem the Aggies should be favored by more than 10 points, particularly considering the way South Carolina folded like a cheap tent against LSU in Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago. So why aren’t they favored by more? Maybe it’s because nobody trusts Kellen Mond to continue playing at the level he’s played at four of the five A&M games. Mond has always been a good QB, but he’s been playing at a higher level than any time in his Aggie career. He’s always had great games, but he’s always had games that make you scratch your head and wonder why. Will this week be one of those games? South Carolina, meanwhile, plans to start Collin Hill at quarterback once again. Maybe he’s the best Will Muschamp has but the fact Hill will start against the Aggies makes you wonder once again why they’re only favored by 10. The Sayer Says Sooth: The Gamecocks are much better at home than they are on the road. Just ask LSU about playing them in Columbia. Just ask LSU about playing them in Baton Rouge. But are they good enough that they can spring an upset over a team ranked 7th nationally and seemingly with a good path toward an at-large playoff bid? If the South Carolina defense can play as well as it did against Auburn, maybe the Gamecocks can spring the upset. If they play like they did against LSU, this will be a rout. The thought here is that they will play somewhere between inspired and abysmal. Texas A&M 30, South Carolina 17
TENNESSEE (2-3) at ARKANSAS (2-3): For a team that was strutting around like a contender after the first two weeks of the season, the Vols have been blown out three consecutive games. For unexplained reasons, HBC Jeremy Pruitt has a contract extension. Vol fans by the thousands are being coaxed off the ledge, told by the few folks who remain optimistic that things are better than what they seem. They aren’t. Meanwhile, Arkansas, which hadn’t won an SEC game since 2017, has won two this year and could have won three if not for a blown call by the zebras at Arkansas. So the Razorbacks are playing with house money which means they’ll be loose and feeling they have nothing to lose when the Vols come to town Saturday. There is no pressure on Arkansas. There is a ton of pressure on Tennessee. Lose this one and the Vols could be looking at a 3-7 season. They’re favored by 1.5 points Saturday in Fayette Nam and the only other game in which they will be favored is at Vanderbilt on November 28. As for Arkansas, Sam Pittman has his team believing they can break even or better. Do that and he might be the national coach of the year. The Sayer Says Sooth: When Feleipe Franks goes to bed Friday night, he will be remembering the Heave to Cleve in 2017 that beat Tennessee on the last play of the game when he was a Gator. He will also be remembering the 2018 game in Knoxville in which he threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as the Gators ran the Vols out of Neyland Stadium. He’s going to feel very, very confident going against Tennessee given his history for playing well against them. The Vols are going to play like they’re on the verge of apoplexy and Barry Odom’s defense is going to make them feel like the whole world is caving in on them. Arkansas is going to play like a team on a mission. Arkansas 33, Tennessee 24
VANDERBILT (0-4) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-4): This is Vanderbilt’s one chance to avoid an oh-fer and it might be Mississippi State’s last chance to win another game. The Commodores are bad. Really, really bad, but so are the Bulldogs, who made sure they don’t do a reverse run of the table in game one when they shocked LSU in Baton Rouge. Vanderbilt can’t say its season has gone south since it never was north to begin with. Mississippi State can say it’s been an adventure picking up the nuances of the Air Raid offense that Mike Leach runs. Vandy will drop eight and dare the Bulldogs to run. The question is will Leach ignore the dare and try to throw into coverage all day or will he force the Commodores to adjust and play him straight up? The Sayer Says Sooth: This tells you how bad Vanderbilt is. They’re 19-point road dogs against a team that has gone from bad to worse to horrible in the last four games. The consolation for MSU is that the defense has played pretty well in the three games sandwiched between LSU and Alabama. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt would have trouble scoring against a decent powder puff team. Mississippi State 33, Vanderbilt 10
CBSSPORTS.COM GIVES PRESEASON #21 RANKING FOR UF HOOPS
Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com came out with the network’s first power ratings for the 2020-21 season, ranking Mike White’s Florida Gators 21st. Florida is one of four SEC teams in Norlander’s top 25 (Kentucky is #10; Tennessee #15; LSU #18). One of the big reasons the Gators will start out as a top 25 team, per Norlander, is the return of All-SEC Keyontae Johnson, who led the Gators in scoring and finished second in rebounding last year. Regarding Johnson, Norlander writes, “A couple of SEC coaches told me they’d tab UF’s Keyontae Johnson as the guy to be SEC Player of the year. If that happens Florida’s a top-four seed for sure.”
Other rankings for SEC teams: (27) Alabama; (52) Arkansas; (55) Missouri; (67) South Carolina; (72) Ole Miss; (80) Mississippi State; (84) Texas A&M; (88) Auburn; (114) Georgia; (129) Vanderbilt
ELSEWHERE IN THE TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYING WORLD Here we are opening weekend of play in the Pac-12 and we already have our first cancellation due to Covid-19. The Washington-Cal game won’t be played because a single Cal player tested positive for the virus. Thanks to the brilliance and foresight of commissioner Larry Scott, the only commissioner in college sports who might be dumber than Kevin Warren of the Big Ten, there are no makeup dates on the schedule, so instead of a 7-game slate, both Cal and Washington will at most play six. That is, of course, if they are able to play next week and since they are scheduled for different opponents (Cal at Arizona State; Washington at home vs. Oregon State) there is a potential ripple effect that will further make the Pac-12 look stupid for not putting any wiggle room in the scheduling for just such moments as this.
It’s a bad weekend for the military. Air Force-Army was postponed and they will try to reschedule although it isn’t certain it can be due to current conflicts. Also, there was an outbreak of the virus at Navy so this week’s game with Tulsa has been postponed. It’s the first time Navy has had a game postponed but it’s the fourth time for Tulsa.
In yet another postponement. North Texas had its game with Louisiana Tech postponed, the third time that UNT has lost a game due to the virus. They will try to make up the game on December 5.
The late T. Boone Pickens, the oil gozillionaire who gave $165 million to Oklahoma State back in 1965, is being honored with a 9-foot tall statue outside Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater. To see the statue you don’t have to go to the end of the earth, although you’ll get the impression it’s fairly close by time you get to Stillwater.
Rumor has it that Michigan HBC Jim Harbaugh is putting out feelers for a return to the NFL at the end of this season. Paul Finebaum says Harbaugh and Michigan have come to terms for an amicable divorce which might have something to do with the interest in returning to the NFL. If Harbaugh is indeed leaving Michigan he might look back on two things that brought about his demise: (1) Failure to recruit elite quarterbacks and develop the position; and (2) defensive coordinator Don Brown. Brown’s defenses do well against the bad teams, but they get burned beyond recognition every time they play Ohio State (56 points in 2018; 62 last year) and that’s the one game by which every Michigan coach is judged.
Cincinnati (5-0 and 6th) and BYU (7-0 and 9th) are the two highest ranked Group of Five teams. Cincinnati has a pair of wins over ranked opponents (#22 Army and #16 SMU). BYU has a chance to get a win over a ranked team this weekend vs. #21 Boise State. If one of these two teams runs the table, there will be howls for inclusion in the College Football Playoff, but with the SEC with three top ten teams and playing a 10-game conference schedule and the ACC with three ranked in the top 11 and playing 10 conference games, it’s going to be very hard for Cincy or BYU to have a good enough strength of schedule to crash the playoff party.
END OF THE WEEK PITHY COMMENTS: ESPN has been bleeding subscriptions by the gallon for months now. Thursday morning, the network announced substantial layoffs (some 300 positions), one of which is Ivan Maisel, who’s been with the network 18 years. Maisel is one of the most accomplished college football writers in the country … Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has tested positive for Covid-19 … The NFL fined Las Vegas Raiders coach John Gruden $150,000, fined the Raiders $500,000 and took away a 6th-round draft pick for violating Covid-19 protocols repeatedly. With viewership of NFL games setting record lows every week it would seem Roger Goodell has better things to do than act like a tough guy over virus concerns.