A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
If the 10th-ranked Florida Gators (2-1) had been able to practice last week, you might feel a bit more confident heading into Saturday’s matchup with a very surprising Missouri (2-2) team that will arrive in Gainesville riding the momentum of a most unexpected two-game winning streak. Since all football operations have been shut down for about 10 days there are far too many variables in the Gators’ equation, especially on the defensive side of the football.
Over on the offensive side, Dan Mullen has a veteran quarterback in Kyle Trask who ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency (quarterback rating of 196), sixth in passing yards per game (332) and seventh in touchdown passes (14). Mullen has the nation’s best tight end in Kyle Pitts (17-274, 7 TDs), the SEC’s most versatile offensive weapon in Kadarius Toney (18-237, 4 TDs receiving; 5-60 rushing) and a veteran offensive line that might see Ethan White (6-5, 335, SO) return from injury this week. With so many veterans who were playing at such a high level when Covid-19 forced back-to-back open weekends, the offense seems the least of Florida’s worries heading into the Missouri game.
Defense? That’s a different story. Had they been able to practice last week, coordinator Todd Grantham might have been able to implement some personnel and scheme changes. Because the Gators start game-week preparations today, it’s going to be very difficult to make a lot of changes on the fly, particularly against a Mizzou team that threw it all over the ball yard to beat LSU and then ran it right down Kentucky’s throats to win that one.
Of course, there is also the matter of who’s available and who’s not coming off of quarantine. How many were false positives? How many had the equivalent of the sniffles or a mild cold? How many recovered quickly? Are there players still in quarantine? The Gators should have no problems meeting the SEC minimum of 53 available players but even if they’re at full strength will there be lingering physical issues from this shutdown? The earliest we’ll know any of those answers will be at Mullen’s midday press conference.
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
(1) Clemson 6-0; (2) Alabama 5-0; (3) Ohio State 1-0; (4) Note Dame 5-0; (5) Georgia 3-1; (6) Oklahoma State 4-0; (7) Cincinnati 4-0; (8) Texas A&M 3-1; (9) Wisconsin 1-0; (10) FLORIDA 2-1; (11) BYU 6-0; (12) Miami 5-1; (13) Michigan 1-0; (14) Oregon 0-0; (15) North Carolina 4-1; (16) Kansas State 4-1; (17) Indiana 1-0; (18) Penn State 0-1; (19) Marshall 5-0; (20) Coastal Carolina 5-0; (21) Southern Cal 0-0; (22) SMU 5-1; (23) Iowa State 3-2; (24) Oklahoma 3-2; (25) Boise State 1-0
COACHES TOP 25 POLL
(1) Clemson 6-0; (2) Alabama 5-0; (3) Ohio State 1-0; (4) Notre Dame 5-0; (5) Georgia 3-1; (6) Oklahoma State 4-0; (7) Cincinnati 4-0; (8) Texas A&M; (9) FLORIDA 2-1; (10) BYU 6-0; (11) Wisconsin 1-0; (12) Miami 5-1; (13) North Carolina 4-1; (15) Oregon 0-0; (16) Kansas State 4-1; (17) Penn State 0-1; (18) Marshall 5-0; (19) Indiana 1-0; (20) Southern Cal 0-0; (21) Coastal Carolina 5-0; (22) Iowa State 3-2; (23) SMU 5-1; (24) Oklahoma 3-2; (25) Army 6-1
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#2 ALABAMA (5-0): Jaylen Waddle broke his ankle early in the win over Tennessee so it’s next man up for the Crimson Tide. With Waddle gone, John Metchie III (7-151 receiving vs. UT) steps into the #2 receiver role and Slade Bolden (6-94) becomes the #3. Alabama won’t miss a beat in the passing game, but is there anyone who can be as explosive as Waddle in the return game? Mac Jones was 25-31 for 387 yards and Najee Harris was 20-96 with three TDs running and 6-61 receiving.
Next week: vs. Mississippi State (1-3)
ARKANSAS (2-2): Can Barry Odom come up with another defensive game plan that frustrates a QB? In scoring the Razorbacks’ first two wins over an SEC opponent since 2017, the Hogs have force 11 turnovers (4 vs. Kentucky, 7 vs. Ole Miss). The task will be a bit more daunting this week because Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond has thrown only two picks and both of them were in the Alabama game. Next week: at #8 Texas A&M (3-1)
AUBURN (3-2): Officially what happened Saturday at Ole Miss will go down as an Auburn win. Realistically, it’s the second Auburn time this season Auburn has won a game because the SEC zebras and replay crew blew a critical call. Ole Miss was leading 28-27 with 5:43 remaining in the game. On the ensuing kickoff the ball hit the hand of Auburn’s Shaun Shivers. Television replays were seemed to indicate the ball hit Shivers but the zebra crew said no and told Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin the play was briefly reviewed. I can’t wait for the SEC explanation.
Next week: vs. LSU
#5 GEORGIA (3-1): In his first game of the season, former Georgia QB Justin Fields went 20-21 passing for 276 yards and two TDs while running for 54 more plus another TD in the Ohio State’s blowout win over Nebraska. Meanwhile back in Athens, former Georgia walk-on Stetson Bennett IV is the QB and Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels is riding the pine because he can’t beat Bennett out. Do you think Kirby Smart looks back and wonders what might have been? Next week: vs. Kentucky (2-3)
KENTUCKY (2-3): What the Wildcats’ 20-10 loss to Missouri told us is (1) the UK defense isn’t nearly as good as it appeared to be the two previous weeks and (2) if Kentucky hopes to have a decent season then it’s time for Mark Stoops to find himself a new QB. Defense – or lack of it – first. The Wildcats couldn’t get off the field. Mizzou snapped the ball 92 times, including 60 rushing plays and held the ball for 43:10. Terry Wilson (3-9 for 35 yards against Mizzou; -2 yards rushing) was worse than bad. For UK to have a chance to win games against even mediocre teams they have to throw the ball decently and Wilson can’t do it. It’s Joey Gatewood time in Lexington.
Next week: at #5 Georgia (3-1)
LSU (2-2): ESPN announcer Dan Wischusen and analyst Dan Orlovsky were so enamored with the play of true freshman QB TJ Finley (17-21 passing, 265 yards, 2 TDs; 8-24 rushing, 1 TD) Saturday night that they think he should retain the starting job even when Myles Brennan returns from an injury. All Brennan has done in three games is throw for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns, with three consecutive games of more than 300 yards, the first time in LSU history that a QB did that in his first three starts. Next week: at Auburn (3-2)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-3): Will a week off be all Mike Leach needs to figure out who’s playing quarterback from here on out? K.J. Costello has thrown 10 interceptions in four games and hasn’t averaged more than 5.3 yards per completion since that opening win over LSU. Freshman Will Rogers has thrown more interceptions (2) than touchdowns (1) and averages only 4.9 yards on his 33 pass attempts. Next week: at #2 Alabama (5-0)
MISSOURI (2-2): Expect the Tigers to try to do against Florida what they did against Kentucky, which is play defense with their offense. Mizzou ran the ball 62 times against UK with Larry Rountree III, the SEC’s most underrated running back, carrying 37 times for 126 yards as part of a 220-yard team effort. That kept Missouri’s defense fresh. They only had to play 36 snaps, allowing just 145 total yards. Next week: at #9 FLORIDA (2-1)
OLE MISS (1-4): Lane Kiffin might bet fined by the SEC for re-tweeting a fan going off on SEC officiating which had plenty to do with the Rebels’ 35-38 loss to Auburn. The tweet read, “Y’all are a disgrace @SEC your officiating is absolutely atrocious. If y’all want to just keep gifting Auburn wins, just say it.” Next week: at Vanderbilt (0-3)
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-3): Following South Carolina’s 52-24 loss to LSU, HBC Will Muschamp said, “We got outcoached and outplayed.” The biggest problem for the Gamecocks is at quarterback where Collin Hill is an immobile statue in the pocket (sacked five times by LSU) who doesn’t make quick decisions with the football, therefore missing opportunities to hit open receivers. Since this season won’t count against eligibility Muschamp needs to make the move to Ryan Hilinski. No sense in saving him and he can’t do any worse than Hill.
Next week: Open
TENNESSEE (2-3): The good news is that Jarrett Guarantano went an entire game without throwing a completion to the other team, threw two touchdown passes and he wasn’t sacked a single time. The bad news is he’s still the Tennessee QB and the Vols have lost three straight games. Teammates want freshman Harrison Bailey. Late in the game against Bama, HBC Jeremy Pruitt inserted Brian Maurer into the game, not Bailey. Was that because Pruitt didn’t want Bailey injured by Bama’s defense or was it a purpose message to his team that he, not they, will decide who’s playing QB? Next week: Open
#8 TEXAS A&M (3-1): The Aggies could stake a claim to having the best offensive line in the country through the first half of the season. They’ve given up only one sack for -2 yards while the running game averages 5.34 yards per carry and the passing game is good for 250 yards per game.
Next week: vs. Arkansas (2-2)
VANDERBILT (0-3): The good news for the Commodores is they didn’t play the last two weeks so they couldn’t lose. Their race to an oh-fer continues Saturday when they serve as a get well game for Ole Miss. Next week: vs. Ole Miss (1-4)
THEY PLAY FOOTBALL OTHER PLACES THAN THE SEC
Louisville’s 48-16 poleaxing of Florida State tells us two very important things: (1) Reports of Florida State’s resurrection from the dead are tremendously exaggerated; and (2) the Always Climpson Conference is not very good. Regarding point number one, this is a bad Louisville team that lost by 19 to the same Georgia Tech team that beat Florida State and lost to Climpson 73-7. Louisville ran for 291 yards (threw for 278). As far as point two, there is Climpson and there is a very good but not great Notre Dame (5-0) team and a 5-1 Miami team that looks very good but only because it’s in the ACC. The other 12 ACC teams would have problems beating anyone in the SEC not named Vanderbilt.
Today’s winner of the Peter Principle Award is Mike Locksley at Maryland. He’s a fine assistant coach, coordinator and recruiter. He’s abysmal as a head coach and in way, way over his head. The Yertles (if that’s over your head brush up on your Dr. Seuss) got hammered by Northwestern, 45-3.
Hugh Freeze put the squeeze on his alma mater Saturday as Liberty (6-0) remained unbeaten with a 56-35 kneecapping of Southern Miss. The Southern Miss people are hoping that Hugh will come home and rescue the program at the end of the season. Can you imagine a state with Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Hugh Freeze and Deion Sanders as head coaches? Speaking of Deion, he’s the coach at Jackson State, which just got hit with two years probation by the NCAA for recruiting violations prior to his taking the job.
Graham Mertz, who completed 20-21 passes for 248 yards and give touchdowns in Wisconsin’s win over Illinois Friday night, has tested positive for Covid-19 per a couple of newspaper reports. If confirmed, Mertz will have to miss a minimum of 21 days per the Big Ten’s Covid-19 protocols.
Coastal Carolina (6-0) continues to lead the Fun Belt and is the league’s only ranked team (20th). Fun Belt purists will argue that the league is 3-0 overall and 2-0 against ranked Big 12 teams (16th-ranked Kansas State and 23rd-ranked Iowa State).
HOW PITHY CAN ONE GET ON A MONDAY?: Saturday night I wanted to watch the Cincinnati-SMU game on ESPN2. Beth Mowins was doing the play-by-play. I had to watch without sound. I would rather deal with fingernails on a chalkboard instead of listening to her … I don’t like Colin Cowherd at all, but I give him credit for this tweet: “I give @Vol_Football fans credit. Haven’t been a legit title contender for over two decades but they never stop believing 1998 is pulling into the driveway any day now.” … With Dak Prescott done for the season and Andy Dalton probably in concussion protocol, the Dallas Cowboys need a QB in the worst way. They wouldn’t be dumb enough to make a deal with the Saints for Jameis Winston would they? … The Tampa Bay Rays will have to win two in a row over the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series after losing 4-2 in game five Sunday night. If you saw the last two innings of Saturday night’s 8-7 win by the Rays then you know miracles do happen.