A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
The bad news is the scheduled game between 10th-ranked Florida (2-1) and LSU (1-2) has been postponed due to the Gators being hit by an outbreak of Covid-19. The good news is it will be rescheduled for December 12 thanks to the foresight of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.
Back when he was making football possible for 2020 in the Southeastern Conference, Sankey set aside three weeks around midseason so that all 14 teams would have one open date (either October 24, October 31 and November 7). The 10-game, conference-only schedule also includes an open date between the last game of the regular season (December 5) and the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on December 19. So far only the LSU at Florida and Vanderbilt (0-3) at Missouri (1-2) games have been postponed but Thursday should be interesting. Ole Miss (1-2) is reporting the first outbreaks since August, which potentially puts the Rebels’ game at Arkansas (1-2) in jeopardy.
The blockbuster of the day was the report that Nick Saban has tested positive. If he is positive, then how many of 2nd-ranked Alabama (3-0) football players will also test positive? Is it possible Saturday night’s showdown game with 3rd-ranked Georgia (3-0) will also be postponed?
Also, what happens if we see a wave of outbreaks in the next couple of weeks that force multiple postponements? Will all the postponed games be re-scheduled for December 12 or will Sankey use the three open date weekends to do what would amount to a re-start? That would involve re-arranging the schedules of every single team in the league, but it’s not like changing up on the fly is an impossibility. For one thing, the massive stadiums in the SEC are working at 25 percent capacity (at least they say there were only 20,524 at Georgia and 24,709 at Texas A&M) with limited availability for visiting fans so there are far fewer travel concerns for visiting teams. Re-arranging can be done if necessary.
It’s been a weird season already, one that has required tremendous flexibility since nothing is remotely close to normal. Thanks to Sankey, at least the SEC has a decent chance for all 14 teams to play the entire 10-game schedule. Now imagine the Big Ten, which is going to try to play eight straight weeks or the Pac-12 which will try to go seven. Neither of those leagues will have the benefit of an open date nor will they have a makeup date prior to their conference championship games on December 19. Of course, neither of those two leagues have a commissioner as good as Greg Sankey.
THE END OF THE NCAA AS WE KNOW IT?
The Knight Commission did a survey in which 61 percent of the Power Five schools are in favor of establishing their own division within the NCAA. That same survey polled all 351 NCAA Division I members (both those that play football and those that don’t) and less than 44 percent favor the Division I football schools from separating from the NCAA.
It sounds good if you’re a non-football playing Division I school or one that doesn’t issue scholarships. After all, they benefit from the TV money brought in by the Power Five schools and all of them receive a fat check from the profits of the NCAA Basketball Tournament whether they march to the madness or not.
Does it sound good for the Power Five? Not really. Despite what the Knight Commission is reporting there is a movement under way to break away from the NCAA altogether, at least for football. Remaining in the NCAA would probably mean abiding by NCAA rules regarding recruiting, scheduling and even academics. Leaving the NCAA will allow the Power Five schools to write their own rules. In regards to recruiting it means eliminating volumes of ridiculous statutes that require armies of compliance people at every school in favor of something very simple.
Now, the Power Five schools may elect to remain under the NCAA umbrella with five football divisions – Power Five, Group of Five, D1AA, DII and DIII – but the only way that will happen is if the NCAA allows complete autonomy to write their own rules. For some reason, that doesn’t seem like something the NCAA would agree to.
As for the new commissioner of the Power Five, a couple of people who are extremely well connected at the highest levels to all things college football are saying Greg Sankey will be the guy who runs things when – not if but when – the decision is made to break away.
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#2 ALABAMA (3-0): With Nick Saban out Saturday, the head coaching responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. It’s not like it will be the first rodeo for Sarkisian, who has been the head coach at both Washington and Southern Cal in the past.
ARKANSAS (1-2): The Razorbacks, who would be 2-1 if not for a blown call by the zebras at Auburn last week, are as improved as any team in the SEC largely because the defense has improved and they have a QB who isn’t completing passes to the defense. Best evidence of the defensive improvement is in yards per pass attempt. The 2020 Razorbacks are allowing only 5.6 yards per attempt compared to 8.1 last year, which is huge. A year ago, Arkansas QB’s threw more INTs (15) than TDPs (14). Feleipe Franks has gone two straight games without a pick and has only two in three games.
#14 AUBURN (2-1): On Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn reported zero positive Covid-19 cases. Auburn had 10 players test positive the second week of September but hasn’t had any positive tests since then.
#3 GEORGIA (3-0): Will Georgia be able to put the pressure on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones Saturday night? The Bulldogs have gotten to opposing QBs 10 times in three games including five last week against Tennessee. When given time to throw Jones is lethal, completing 79.5% of his passes and averaging 13.3 yards per pass attempt. Georgia is allowing opponents only 5.2 yards per attempt and just 55.7% completions.
KENTUCKY (1-2): How long will HBC Mark Stoops go with QB Terry Wilson if he’s no more effective against Tennessee Saturday than he was in the Wildcats’ win over Mississippi State last week? While Wilson has shown himself to be a very good runner (221 yards, 4.6 per carry, 3 TDs) but a poor passer (463 yards and a well below average 6.2 per attempt). Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood waits in the wings. He’s an exceptional runner and has a much stronger arm.
LSU (1-2): Having the Florida game postponed actually worked out well for LSU, which was probably going to play a true freshman at quarterback. Starter Myles Brennan took a big hit in the Missouri game and was considered doubtful for the trip to UF. The freshman backups are Max Johnson and T.J. Finley.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-2): This is going to be a critical week for the Air Raid offense. We know Mike Leach’s offense works just fine in the Big 12 and Pac-12 where defense is rarely played, but the last two games (both losses) have produced 588 yards but only 4.52 yards per attempt. The running game has produced only 116 yards in three games, an average of 2.15 per carry.
MISSOURI (1-2): Senior linebacker Nick Bolton, who had 11 tackles and three pass breakups in Mizzou’s win over LSU last week, was named Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week. One of the pass breakups occurred on the 1-yard line in the final minute of the game.
OLE MISS (1-2): Could Saturday’s road trip to Arkansas be in doubt for the Rebels? Apparently Ole Miss has had to deal with its first Covid-19 cases since training camp began.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-2): The Gamecocks lead the SEC and rank third nationally in third down defense, having allowed just six conversions in 31 third down attempts. The Gamecocks also rank fourth in the SEC and 18th nationally in total defense (330.3 yards per game).
#18 TENNESSEE (2-1): As erratic as he is against most of the decent teams in the SEC, Jarrett Guarantano has been money against Kentucky, whom the Vols play Saturday in Knoxville. He’s 2-0 as a starter (2017-18) and 1-0 coming off the bench in relief (last year). In the three previous games, Guarantano is 37-51 passing (72.5%) for 554 yards (10.3 per attempt) with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
#11 TEXAS A&M (2-1): The Aggies have allowed only one sack in three games so far this season, the best mark in the SEC and in a four-way tie for third nationally.
VANDERBILT (0-3): The combination of injuries and Covid-19 forced Vanderbilt to cancel its road trip to Missouri. The Commodores are back on the practice field this week and hope to return some injured players in the next several days.
SHOW ME THE MONEY (IN THE SEC)
As a group, SEC football coaches are the highest paid in the nation. Per USA Today, six of the top ten salaries in the country belong to SEC coaches. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the highest paid coach in the league and in the country. Sam Pittman of Arkansas is the lowest paid SEC coach but his salary ranks 53rd nationally, which means 77 Division I coaches make less.
(1, national rank 1) Nick Saban, Alabama $9,300,00; buyout $36,800,000
(2, national rank 2) Ed Orgeron, LSU $8,918,500; buyout $23,850,000
(3, national rank 5) Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M $7,500,000; buyout $53,125,000
(4, national rank 6) Kirby Smart, Georgia $6,933,000; buyout $19,835,834
(5, national rank 7) Gus Malzahn, Auburn $6,927,589; buyout $21,450,000
(6, national rank 10) DAN MULLEN, FLORIDA $6,070,000; buyout $12,000,000
(7, national rank 15) Mark Stoops, Kentucky $5,013,600; buyout $23,750,000
(8, national rank 16) Mike Leach, Mississippi State $5,000,000; buyout NA
(9, national rank 22) Will Muschamp, South Carolina $4,370,000; buyout $15,378,500
(10, national rank 29) Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri $3,925,000; buyout $14,350,000
(11, national rank 30) Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee $3,846,000; buyout $12,880,000
(12, national rank 34) Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss $3,764,250; buyout NA
(13, national rank 38) Derek Mason, Vanderbilt $3,534,497; buyout NA
(14, national rank 53) Sam Pittman, Arkansas $2,900,000; buyout NA
A VERY PITHY THURSDAY MORNING: The Indianapolis Dolts spent $25 million to land 38-year-old Philip Rivers, expecting him to turn the Dolts into winners? Don’t the people who run these NFL teams ever check the stats? Rivers is 5-6 in the playoffs in his career and he only got his previous team to the playoffs twice in the last 10 years. Through five games, Rivers has thrown four TDPs and five INTs. For this he makes $1,562,500 a game …Per Nielsen, only 5.6 million Americans watched the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat in game six for the NBA championship Sunday night, the least watched NBA finals in more than 40 years. I didn’t even know they were playing … Regarding the NBA’s historic ratings collapse, Bob Costa of NBC said, “It doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s just a fact that there is alienation over having this [social justice messaging] thrust in everyone’s face every time you just want to watch a game. I’m not saying that to take a stand; that’s just the reality. This is also a business.’’ … The wife of New England Patriots corner Stephone Gilmore has taken umbrage with ESPN’s Adam Schefter who reported Gilmore caught Covid-19 after having dinner with Cam Newton. Gilmore’s wife tweeted out, “There was no dinner out, I’m going to help you out so you guys stop reporting false news. I’ve seen it circulating a couple times and now I’m annoyed.”