A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
My grandmother always told me that idle fingers made for idle minds. Just to prove my mind hasn’t been idle since taking a day off from writing to tend to family matters, here are a few of the thoughts that stormed the gates of my mind and demanded they be shared with the masses.
(1) DOES 13 POINTS SEEM A TEENSY BIT TOO HIGH?: As of Wednesday night, the 10th-ranked Florida Gators (2-1) are 13-point favorites to beat Missouri (2-2) at Ben Hill Griffin Saturday night (7:30 p.m., SEC Network Alternate Channel). That seems a teensy bit too high to me given the Gators (a) weren’t able to practice for a full 10 days; (b) might not have all their personnel available including some starters; (c) have a shaky (at best) defense and (d) Missouri is coming off a game (20-10 win over Kentucky) in which it snapped the ball 92 times including 62 running plays. In Missouri’s first win of the season (45-41 over LSU), the Tigers threw it all over the ball yard (406 passing yards) and still ran the ball effectively (180 yards). In the win over Kentucky, it was time to pound the rock (220 yards) but they still threw effectively for 201 yards. Because they knew Kentucky couldn’t throw the ball well, Mizzou played eight in the box and dared UK to open things up. Will Missouri choose a similar ground and pound offensive strategy that worked against Kentucky while dropping eight into coverage and daring Kyle Trask to throw the ball? Can the Gators get Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis going in the running game to force Mizzou to play the receivers straight up? And, can Kyree Campbell make enough of a difference at nose tackle that the Florida defense shows signs of life? Since we won’t know answers to any of these questions until Saturday night, that 13-point spread seems awfully high.
(2) LEAVING THE BRIGHT LIGHTS OF STARKVILLE: So maybe you don’t have Starkville on your must visit bucket list but a lot of people who grew up in small towns in Mississippi think of it as bright lights, big city. The tallest building in town (Davis-Wade Stadium) can be seen from 30 miles out as you make your way to Starkville and Mississippi State from Birmingham. Obviously the lure of Starkville isn’t enough to keep a few more players from bolting Mike Leach’s program. With the announced departures of defensive ends Tre Lawson and Jamari Stewart and wide receiver Tyrell Shavers plus the expected opt out of running back Kylin Hill, Mike Leach will have lost eight players off the roster he began with back in August. Leach said two or three weeks ago that some players might need to find a new bright lights, big city to live in. It’s not clear if these most recent players are departing on their own accord or if they’ve been nudged out the door.
(3) WILL THE REAL TEXAS A&M PLEASE STAND UP?: The Aggies (3-1) are ranked eighth nationally, mostly because they scored a 41-38 win over then 6th-ranked Florida. Are we reading too much into the Aggies’ success? They have unimpressive wins over Vanderbilt (0-3) and Mississippi State (1-3) and a 41-38 win over defensively challenged Florida that was an absolute gift. When the Aggies faced 2nd-ranked Alabama it was blowout city (52-24). Even though A&M played its safeties 30 yards off the line of scrimmage, the Alabama wide receivers still got behind them. Bama had little reason to run the ball that day because there was no way the Aggies could cover in the secondary. What we’ve seen so far is inconclusive. We don’t know if the Aggies are real or if they’re going to limp in at 7-3 when the regular season concludes. This weekend’s homer with Arkansas (2-2) could go a long way toward unearthing who the Aggies really are. If Barry Odom dials up a defense that reverts Kellen Mond into the indecisive QB of the last three years, then bet the farm the Aggies are way overrated. If they light up Arkansas, then maybe, just maybe they’re for real. And lest we forget, this is the Feleipe Franks redemption tour. If F-Square can avoid completing passes to the Aggies he might just have an upset in his quiver.
(4) WILL MYLES BRENNAN BECOME LSU FOOTBALL’S VERSION OF WALLY PIPP?: For those of you unfamiliar with baseball lore, New York Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp asked manager Miller Huggins for a day off because he had been beaned the day before. Huggins inserted Lou Gehrig into the lineup who responded with three hits. Gehrig went on to play 2,130 consecutive games and Pipp went on to play three more seasons with the Cincinnati Reds before he retired. Fast forward to 2020 and college football. LSU quarterback Myles Brennan got hurt in the Tigers loss to Missouri. He’s still not able to play three weeks later so true freshman TJ Finley is the QB, coming off a rather auspicious debut in which he threw for 265 yards (17-21) and two touchdowns and ran for another. If Finley goes on the road and lights up Auburn this weekend will Brennan (1,112 passing yards, 11 TDPs) get his job back when he’s healthy again? Prediction: If TJ Finley retains his starting job, Myles Brennan and his family will become very familiar with the NCAA transfer portal. There will be many, many suitors.
(5) BRAIN DEAD IN THE BIG TEN (PLUS FOUR): Big Ten (Plus Four) purists were hoping their opening weekend would drown out the talk that their commissioner and presidents would get knocked on their collective butts if an intelligent thought ever struck them. The first weekend giddies have been replaced by the sobering reality that no one bothered to come up with a Plan B in case Plan A didn’t work. Example 9th-ranked Wisconsin. The Badgers were scheduled do a roadie to Nebraska this weekend but last week’s record setting QB Graham Mertz (20-21 passing, 248 yards, 5 TDPs) tested positive for Covid-19 so per Big Ten directives, he’s out for 21 days. Then came the news that the backup QB also tested positive and Wednesday, it was revealed that six players and six coaches including head coach Paul Chryst are now in quarantine. So the road trip to Nebraska has been cancelled. If this were the SEC then the game would be re-scheduled for December 12, the universal makeup date that commish Greg Sankey inserted just for such occasions. But that is smart and nobody to my knowledge has accused the Big Ten (Plus Four) brain (dead) trust of being smart. There is no makeup date possible in the league’s eight-game schedule and with the mandatory 21-day quarantine, Wisconsin’s entire season could be torpedoed, especially if the virus has spread among the team and coaching staff. It is entirely likely that there will be other cancellations in the Big Ten (Plus Four) in the next few weeks and there will be no way to make up the games because the people in charge had no backup plan. Imagine if Justin Fields tests positive and has his Heisman campaign derailed or there is an outbreak of the virus that forces Ohio State to shut down for three weeks?
(6) SPEAKING OF OHIO STATE …: The mighty Buckeyes travel to Penn State Saturday for what looked like the game of the year whether it was played on its original week seven or in week two. Penn State took a powder against Indiana while the Buckeyes were steamrolling a bad Nebraska team, which is why the Nittany Lions are now a 12-point home dog. Judging by the preseason hype that has been re-booted now that the Big Ten (Plus Four) is playing football again, the mighty Buckeyes are the next thing to an No Fun League franchise. So what happens if Penn State kneecaps them Saturday night? That might be a very clear signal that (a) Ohio State wasn’t nearly as good as advertised; (b) Penn State was looking ahead to the Buckeyes last week when they lost to Indiana; and (c) the Big Ten (Plus Four) as a whole isn’t nearly as good as the hype.
(7) LIFE IN THE FUN BELT: Coastal Carolina (6-0) might be the only unbeaten team in the Fun Belt Sun Belt, but the Chanticleers (that’s a big rooster that is king of the barn yard) are only 3-point favorites at Georgia State Saturday. Obviously, the gamblers in Las Vegas question whether Coastal can stop a Georgia State offense that is averaging 42 points a game and features a stud freshman QB in Cornelious Brown IV. On paper it looks like the Chanticleers could go down in flames, but Coastal already has blown out Arkansas State (which beat now 16th-ranked K-State of the Big 12) by 30 and Louisiana (which beat now ranked 23rd-ranked Iowa State) on the road in Lafayette. I like Coastal by more than the three … Appalachian State is a mere 31.5-point favorite to make life miserable for Louisiana-Monroe … Louisiana is a 16.5-point favorite to dispose of Texas State. Louisiana coach Billy Napier is going to be on a number of hot lists.
(8) A FEW OTHER COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS: Southern Miss lost its head coach Jay Hopson after game one when he “resigned” (which is a kind way to say he was allowed to say he quit when in fact he was forced out). Earlier this week interim coach Scotty Walden resigned to take the head coaching job at D1AA Austin Peay. Southern Miss would love to hire Liberty’s Hugh Freeze, who is a USM alum, but Liberty plans to do whatever it needs to do to keep Hugh in Lynchburg. The smart move for USM would be to go after Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who is definitely ready to be a head coach … The folks in Michigan think they have their answer at QB in Joe Milton, who prepped at Orlando Olympia … I’ve watched 7th-ranked Cincinnati (4-0) twice. The Bearcats are pretty good, but 7th nationally? I don’t think so. I think they have a real shot at losing this weekend against Memphis (3-1) … UCF (3-2) leads the nation in total offense (646.8 yards per game) … Just in case you’re holding your breath, the Pac-12 doesn’t begin playing tackle football until next weekend.
A PITHY THURSDAY TO YOU TOO: Former Gator Carlos Dunlap has gotten his wish. Thanks to a trade Wednesday, he won’t be seen in that varicose pumpkin helmet the Cincinnati Bengals wear and instead will be dressing out in the navy and lime green of the Seattle Seahawks. One fashion statement to another and with a potential Super Bowl to boot. Dunlap has 82.5 sacks in his pro career ... I thought Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash yanked starting pitcher Blake Snell way too early Tuesday night in the deciding game six of the World Series. Through 5-1/3 innings Snell had allowed two hits and had struck out nine Dodgers … Deebo Coleman of West Nassau High School committed to play basketball for Georgia Tech and Josh Pastner Wednesday. The only question is why? He’s too good to be playing there and Pastner should have been fired long ago … I keep wondering what the course at Augusta National is going to look like when the Masters tees off on November 12. In the spring when the tournament is traditionally played, it’s the most beautiful course you can imagine. The grass might be green in a couple of weeks but I have to wonder if the species of azaleas will be in bloom. Of course, they’ll also play some golf and I predict someone not named Tiger Woods will win.