A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
If the late Al Davis – the one who was sane before he and his mind had a parting of the ways – were still alive and giving the pregame pep talk to the 10th-ranked Florida Gators Saturday he would conclude his remarks by saying, “Just win, Baby!” Just win. That’s all that is important for the Gators this week. They’ve been idle the last couple of weekends, missed 10 days of practice along the way and it’s anybody’s guess how many of the typical two-deep on both sides of the ball will be able to play when Missouri (2-2) comes to town.
Just win. Whether it’s a blowout (Gators are favored by 12.5), a down to the wire white knuckler or just a sloppy game that makes you think the game of football was set back to the leather helmets era the only important thing is for Florida to come away with a win. Win and they figure to stay even with Georgia in the loss column in the SEC East standings. Win and the stage is set for a game that could well decide the SEC East title next weekend in Jacksonville when Florida and Georgia tee it up
So it doesn’t really matter how the Gators win Saturday, only that they win. Win and they have a week to practice, work out some kinks and get ready for the game they’ve been pointing to since last year. Beat Missouri and then Georgia the following week and the Gators would hold what effectively is a two-game advantage on the Poodles, meaning the. Gators would have to lose twice since they own the tiebreaker over Georgia. The Sayer Says Sooth: Florida’s defense has to stop Missouri from running the football and controlling the clock. When the Gators have the ball, they need to run the ball effectively to keep Mizzou from staying eight deep the whole ball game. This is a game that requires the Gators to get some defensive stops and for Kyle Trask to not only to make good reads but stay patient. If Missouri is dropping eight every play, Trask will have to pick and choose his spots and avoid trying to force the ball into coverage. Trask and Kyle Pitts will be the difference. FLORIDA 35, Missouri 25
SOOTHSAYING IN THE SEC
Mississippi State at #2 Alabama (5-0): The excitement that gripped Starkville after that first week shootout win over LSU has been replaced with the anxiety that the only remaining game that Mississippi State might win is against Vanderbilt. The way players are opting out, you’d think MSU is in the midst of a Covid-19 outbreak, but they’re leaving because Mike Leach has urged those who aren’t completely with him to seek gainful playing time elsewhere. That’s not exactly what you want the week you travel to Alabama. While Mississippi State is nosediving, Alabama’s rocket seems to be just getting ready for the second stage to fire. Even without Jaylen Waddle, this is the SEC’s most explosive offense and there might not be a comparable offense anywhere in the country. Mac Jones (1,905 passing yards, 13 yards per pass attempt, 12 TDPs) is heaving it around the ball yard like an All-American and Najee Harris (595 rushing yards, 14 TDs) is playing better than any running back in the country. And don’t forget about Devonta Smith, John Metchie III and Slade Bolden. They will spend much of their time running free as banshees in the MSU secondary Saturday. The Sayer Says Sooth: Alabama is favored by 30.5 points, which might seem like a lot except the Alabama offense has a gear that no one else in the country seems to have. Mississippi State has quarterback issues, not what you need when you know you need to score about seven touchdowns to even have a chance to win. Alabama 56, Mississippi State 14
#5 Georgia (3-1) at Kentucky (2-3): Welcome to the SEC as a starting QB Joey Gatewood. Not only will you get the start for Kentucky, but you get to face the SEC’s top rated defense. It’s a daunting task for Gatewood but the alternative is sore-wristed Terry Wilson, who can’t throw very well even with a healthy wrist, or true freshman Beau Allen. Gatewood’s job is (a) don’t turn the ball over, (b) make enough downfield throws to loosen up the Georgia defense and (c) run the option well enough to open up the UK running game. Kentucky has to throw it better than it has (122 yards per game average) but it can’t win unless the running game is effective. Georgia’s defensive plan is quite simple. Load up the box and dare Gatewood to throw something other than a two-inch pass. The Sayer Says Sooth: The way Kentucky was playing before laying an ostrich-sized egg at Missouri gave the Big Blue Nation hope that the Wildcats could go toe-to-toe with Georgia. The way they played against Mizzou has them asking how long until basketball season begins? Georgia is a 17-point favorite. Kentucky will have to play with its hair on fire to cover the spread. Win? It might take a miracle of parting the Red Sea proportions unless Gatewood can throw the ball down the field. Georgia 33, Kentucky 10
Arkansas (2-2) at #8 Texas A&M (3-1): Even though the Aggies are 12-point favorites, this game seems to be heading in one of two directions – either a Texas A&M blowout or Arkansas scoring a white knuckles win. Although the Aggies are 3-1, they really don’t have an impressive win. Sure, they beat Florida but that had more to do with the Florida defense doing their best AWOL act than the Aggies playing brilliantly. Against Alabama, the Aggies were really bad. Now that’s not to say Arkansas is playing at the same level as Alabama, but the Razorbacks are better than you think. Barry Odom is the kind of coordinator who can dial up a defense capable of creating multiple brain farts by opposing QBs and Kellen Mond’s career has been checkered with several brain fart games. Critical for the Hogs’ chances to win is Feleipe Franks playing steady and turnover free. If he does that, Arkansas could score another unexpected win. The Sayer Says Sooth: Arkansas is the feel good story in the SEC this year and Feleipe Franks is its poster child. The Aggies have the personnel to blow the doors off the Razorbacks, but they haven’t really shown that capability so far. To win Saturday, Arkansas has to make this a back alley knife fight and hope an artery avoids slashing. The thought here is that it’s going to be close. Texas A&M 23, Arkansas 17
LSU (2-2) at Auburn (3-2): Auburn is 3-2 and could just as easily be 1-4. The Auburn fan base is well aware of this and that has everything to do why Saturday’s game with LSU is an absolute, positive must win game for Gus Malzahn. To say Auburn fans aren’t enamored with The Gus Bus is the understatement of the century. For Auburn to score a win over LSU, Bo Nix has to play even better than he did last week against Ole Miss. LSU, meanwhile, is 2-2 but while Gus Malzahn’s seat is blowtorch hot, LSU fans are perfectly content with Coach O. They’re well aware that 32 players from that national championship team last year are gone, 16 of them to the NFL. They’re also aware that LSU is playing a whole bunch of kids, one of whom is freshman TJ Finley, who lit up South Carolina in his first ever college football start last week. If LSU loses, the fans will blame it on having to play a kid at QB instead of Myles Brennan. If Gus Malzahn loses, Auburn fans will be starting Go Fund Me pages to raise the $14 million it will take to buy him out. The Sayer Says Sooth: Auburn is a 3-point home dog which means LSU would be a 10-point favorite if this game were played in Baton Rouge. Neither team has played very good defense this year but Auburn’s has been better and coordinator Kevin Steele can come up with some exotic looks to daze and confuse Finley. It will be up to the LSU folks to keep it simple enough that Finley isn’t fazed. LSU 30, Auburn 24
Ole Miss (1-4) at Vanderbilt (0-3): This has the look of Vandy’s only chance to win a football game this year but to accomplish that the Commodores will have to win a shootout. Ole Miss will score plenty of points, but the Rebels have problems stopping people. Vandy has problems getting first downs, but this is the Ole Miss defense we’re talking about so the Commodores are hoping they can score some touchdowns. What a concept when you consider Vandy is averaging one (count ‘em) touchdowns per game. Ole Miss might be in the process of shifting its offense on the fly to a run-first attack because Matt Corral has been completing too many passes to the other team lately. Whether it’s bombs away in the passing game or pound away in the running game, Ole Miss has better speed and skill people than Vandy has defenders. The Rebels are 16.5-point favorites. The Sayer Says Sooth: Ole Miss fans are still perturbed with an officiating gaffe that might have cost the Rebels a win last week against Auburn. They’ll get over it this week when they take on Vandy, which is making a run at an oh-fer season. The Ole Miss defense will look vastly improved, but that’s only because the Vanderbilt offense redefines ineptitude. The only way the Ole Miss offense will look bad is if Matt Corral is completing passes to the bad guys. Corral will do well and so will the Ole Miss running game. Ole Miss 41, Vanderbilt 17
TACKLE FOOTBALL OUTSIDE THE SEC Trevor Lawrence has tested positive for Covid-19 so he will miss the first start of his Clemson career Saturday against Boston College. Due to the ACC’s virus protocols, Lawrence has to quarantine for 10 days before he can practice again so there is a very real chance he misses the November 7 game at Notre Dame. Also in jeopardy is Lawrence’s Heisman Trophy campaign. With him missing this game and perhaps Notre Dame, it opens the door for Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones to step into the frontrunner position.
They won’t be playing tackle football at Wisconsin this week and maybe not next week either. Wisconsin’s roadie to Nebraska has already been cancelled and there is a rather good chance next week’s game with Purdon’t will also get the axe since six more Wisconsin players have tested positive. That makes 12 players and six coaches, one of whom is HBC Paul Chryst. The players include both starting QB Graham Mertz and his backup. Under Big Ten Covid-19 protocols, Mertz, the backup QB and the other 10 players who have tested positive will not be able to play for 21 days.
The Big Ten’s issues with the virus are currently restricted to Wisconsin but what happens if there are outbreaks at other schools? How will the Big Ten (Plus Four) deal with that since there is no wiggle room? Probably not very well when you think about what the league has done since August. First, the Big Ten (Plus Four) rushed to be the first to cancel the fall football season, fully expecting everyone to follow its lead. The Pac-12 did, but the Pac-12 is led by Larry Scott, who took his commissioner lessons by air mail and the mail was late. The Mountain West canceled and so did the MAC, but the SEC, ACC, Big 12 (Minus Two) American, Conference USA, Fun Belt and some independents elected to play on. When it became obvious the play on leagues were having plenty of fun, the Big Ten (Plus Four) elected to uncancel its season. While patting itself on the back, commish Kevin Warren and the league presidents forgot to add at least one week for makeup games.
THE FRIDAY PITHY COMMENTS: The Jacksonville Jaguars might win the rights to the top NFL Draft pick – probably Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields – without going in the tank. QB Gardner Minshew has multiple fractures in the thumb of his throwing hand as well as a strained ligament. His replacement will be Mike Glennon whose career has never gotten out of the tank … With a rather nice contribution from Mookie Betts, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the World Series champs. The Boston Red Sox, who traded Betts to the Dodgers, finished dead last in the AL East. Only three teams in all of baseball were worse than the Red Sox … If you plan on watching golf on TV this weekend, don’t expect to see many pros you recognize at the Bermuda Championship. The first round leader (-8) is someone called Peter Malnati who won a PGA tournament back in 2015. Who would have thought it?