NO EXTRA MOTIVATION NEEDED FOR THIS ONE
Hours before the 10th-ranked Florida Gators (5-0, 2-0 SEC) took to the practice field to begin earnest preparation for their Saturday afternoon matchup with 7th-ranked Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC), Josh Hammond could already feel a different vibe among his teammates.
“You don’t get many opportunities like this: College GameDay, top-10 matchup, 3:30 prime-time kickoff,” Hammond said at Florida's Monday media day. “You don’t get many of ‘em, so you definitely try to take advantage of your opportunities. Guys will be flying around all week. Everybody will be motivated just because of the game.”
The fact that the game gets the 3:30 slot on CBS and Herbie, Coach Corso, Reece and Desmond will all be there with the rest of ESPN's GameDay crew should be enough to light a fire under both teams. There is plenty at stake because the winner remains undefeated, at the top of its SEC division (Florida in the East, Auburn in the West) and very much in the College Football Playoff picture even if it is the first week in October and the sixth full week of the season.
There was a time when Florida-Auburn was always one of the headline games in the entire country, but both teams haven't played at a consistently high level since the past few years. Dan Mullen is Florida's third coach since the Gators last won a national championship in 2008. Auburn last won a national championship in 2010 and the Tigers played for the national championship in 2013, but between those peak seasons there have been a few seasons when the Tigers were nowhere close to championship levels.
With so much at stake for the winner Saturday – a chance to remain in the hunt for the SEC championship and one of four slots for the College Football Playoff – there isn't much in the way of extra motivation needed. Dan Mullen won't need to dig deep into his bag of psychological tricks to get the Gators emotionally ready to go.
“I told our guys today, if they need me to give a ‘rah-rah’ to get us going, then they’re pretty messed up in the head right now,” Mullen said. “This is what you come here for, to play in these games.”
AS HEALTHY AS THEY'VE BEEN ALL SEASON
In addition to the much anticipated return of corner CJ Henderson and edge rusher Jabari Zuniga, Florida's defense will get three others back who missed last week's game with Towson – safeties Shawn Davis and Jeawon Taylor and linebacker Ventrell Miller. Barring any injuries in practice or some unforeseen suspension, the Gators will be as close to full strength as they've been all season.
"I'm not going to say everybody is 100% coming back into it, but they are going to be ready to play," Mullen said at his Monday afternoon press conference. "Us getting them prepared throughout the week to get ready to be as close to 100% as possible on Saturday is the most important thing.”
MOON SEC DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
Linebacker/edge rusher Jeremiah Moon was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance in the Gators' 38-0 win over Towson. Moon had five tackles and half a sack as the Gators scored their second shutout of the season. The Gators haven't given up a single point since Feleipe Franks went down with an injury against Kentucky. Since then, they've outscored opponents 88-3.
Others who were singled out for their performances last weekend were: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama (Offensive Player of the Week); D.J. Wonnum, DE, South Carolina (Defensive Player of the Week); Joseph Charlton, P, South Carolina (Special Teams Player of the Week); Mike Horton, OL, Auburn (Offensive Lineman of the Week); and Bo Nix, QB, Auburn (Freshman of the Week).
FLORIDA BASKETBALL GETS 2020 COMMITMENT
Upside is everything when it comes to juco forward Osayi Osifo (6-8, 215, McKinney, TX/Melbourne, FL Eastern Florida State College). Osifo put up modest numbers at the Brevard County junior college last year (4.4 points, 3.9 rebounds) but if you go by potential, he could have a breakout season in 2019-20.
Osifo only began playing basketball when he was 15 so he's still learning the game. He is a tremendous leaper and has a 7-1 wingspan so he will play much taller than 6-8.
The Gators have the full contingent of 13 scholarship players and only one player – 6-10 grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. – will use up his eligibility this season. Expect UF HBC Mike White to proceed cautiously regarding any other commitments. The Gators could lose one or two underclassmen to the NBA Draft but he has transfers Anthony Duruji (from Louisiana Tech) and Tyree Applebee (from Cleveland State) sitting out per NCAA transfers rules. Both will be expected to contend for starting minutes next season. Additionally, White has been extraordinary at landing top grad transfer talent (Canyon Barry, Egor Koulechov and Blackshear) so he may play wait and see for the annual transfer migration.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
#1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Through five games, QB Tua Tagovailoa has completed 113-148 of his passes (76.4%) for 1,718 yards (11.6 per attempt) and 23 touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception. Saturday: Open
Arkansas (2-3, 0-2 SEC): HBC Chad Morris has a week off to sort out his QB situation. Nick Starkel left the Texas A&M game in the second quarter with an injury to his left arm. Ben Hicks came off the bench to finish the game and played well enough that Morris might have a QB controversy on his hands when Starkel is able to practice and play again. Saturday: Open
#7 Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Auburn's true freshman QB Bo Nix has completed 73-125 of his passes (57.6%) for 980 yards (7.6 per attempt) and seven touchdowns with two interceptions. Nix is also the team's second leading rusher with 173 yards (4.94 per carry) and two touchdowns. Saturday: at #10 FLORIDA (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
#3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC): HBC Kirby Smart is expecting corner Eric Stokes (knee) to practice this week and guard Solomon Kindley (lower leg) to get clearance to play Saturday against Tennessee. Saturday: at Tennessee (1-3, 0-1 SEC)
Kentucky (2-3, 0-3 SEC): With Sawyer Smith trying to battle through some injuries, Kentucky will work with Walker Wood and all-purpose athlete Lynn Bowden Jr. at quarterback this week. HBC Mark Stoops is optimistic Smith might be able to practice by the end of the week Saturday: Open
#5 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Although Coach O says linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson is still a little gimpy, Chaisson says he is ready to get back on the field and play. Chaisson has missed LSU's last two games. Saturday: vs. Utah State (3-1)
Mississippi State (3-2, 0-2 SEC): It is being reported by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic and New Jersey Advance Media that MSU head coach Joe Moorhead will be one of the coaches Rutgers targets to replace Chris Ash, who was fired Sunday after going 8-32 in three-plus years. Saturday: Open
Missouri (3-1, 1-0 SEC): Missouri's defense, which ranks third nationally (231.3 yards allowed per game) will be facing a Troy offense this week that is averaging 40.8 points and 5125 yards per game. Troy QB Kaleb Barker has thrown 13 touchdown passes and averages 341.8 passing yards per game. Saturday: vs. Troy (2-2)
Ole Miss (2-3, 1-1 SEC): Defensive tackle Patrick Lucas (torn Achilles) is done for the season while defensive end Ryder Anderson (knee) is expected to miss fpur or more weeks. Quarterback Matt Corrall, who missed the loss to Alabama, will start throwing again at practice Tuesday. Saturday: vs. Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC)
South Carolina (2-3, 1-2 SEC): Running back Rico Dowdle, who ran for 102 yards and a TD in 15 carries in the Gamecocks' win over Kentucky, is working through an injured ankle but is expected to be able to practice by the end of the week. Saturday: Open
Tennessee (1-3, 0-1 SEC): Jeremy Pruitt will not name a starting quarterback ahead of Saturday's game with Georgia. “We're not going to give Georgia a scouting report of what we're going to do this week,” Pruitt said. The starter against Georgia will be either Jarrett Guarantano or true freshman Brian Maurer. Guarantano started all four of Tennessee's games but was briefed briefly in the third quarter of the Vols' loss to Florida. Saturday: vs. #3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC): Wide receiver/punt returner Roshauud Paul will take a redshirt this season. Paul will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. Saturday: Open
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC): After giving up 1,638 yards and 138 points in its first three games, Vanderbilt held Northern Illinois to 388 yards and 18 points, prompting HBC Derek Mason to state, “Those dudes were out there battling and I'm excited because I think we can make a run.” Saturday: at Ole Miss (2-3, 1-1 SEC)
GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY
From Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on the Florida-Auburn matchup:
“How long has it been since the Gators beat Auburn? Well, it was 2002 and their coach was Ron Zook. It’s the former rivals’ first meeting since 2011. Florida QB Kyle Trask, currently completing 77 percent of his passes, can attain hero status if he keeps it up against the Tigers’ D.”
From Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network addressing what he thinks could be Alabama's Kryptonite when it comes to a championship run:
“When Alabama moves up in class, thought it was going to be against A&M, but it will be obviously against LSU, for that three- or four-game gauntlet, are they equipped to make enough stops? Because that offense can score with reckless abandon, but the defense is going to have to do something for them to win a championship.”
From Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated on potential problems with California's Fair Play to Pay Act if it is implemented nationwide by the NCAA along with a rule that would make players able to transfer freely without having to sit out a year:
“But let’s anticipate what happens if college athletes can profit off their likeness and can transfer and play right away. Players will essentially be free agents after every season—free to sell their services, literally, to the highest bidder. Oh, officially the schools couldn’t pay them. But if the booster who owns a Norman car dealership offers Hurts $300,000 to be the face of his marketing campaign, as long as he (wink-wink) chooses a nearby school, who is going to stop him?”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the remainder of the season after his vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle. Burfict is no stranger to suspensions, having been suspended or fined by the NFL 13 times in his seven year career including twice (three games each) for illegal hits … Orlando attorney John Morgan scored a win over the NCAA Monday when a confidential settlement was reached that will restore the honors and statistics of Louisville players affected by the vacating of the Cardinals 2012 Final Four appearance and their 2013 NCAA championship … Despite its notice of allegations from the NCAA that were tied to the school's shoe/apparel contracts, Kansas signed a 14-year extension with Adidas valued at $196 million.
SINCE SEPTEMBER IS GONE …
I felt compelled to offer up the song “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire. I was fortunate enough to see the band in the late 1970s when they didn't play concerts, they put on an unforgettable extravaganza.