A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
The single most important week of practice for the 2020 football season beings today for Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators. A week from today, the Gators will go into their game-week preparations mode so contact will be limited and the focus will be on prepping for the next opponent, in this case Ole Miss in Oxford (September 26). If these were normal times, Mullen and his staff would be spending this final week of preseason practice finalizing the starters, the two-deep and rotations but the Covid-19 virus has made it an all hands on deck situation. Any player who’s healthy, upright and breathing has to be ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Even before a weekend in which Oklahoma went into game one minus 17 players due to the virus and contact tracing protocols and Georgia Southern played (and won) minus 33 players, Mullen was readying his entire roster. Now, because the Gators will be on the road in game one, the travel roster will be limited, but that situation could be fluid right up to the time they board the plane for Oxford.
Another area that Mullen and staff will have to deal with specifically this week is special teams. Iowa State, which was ranked 23rd nationally prior to its game with Louisiana-Lafayette, gave up a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns, turning a close game into a blowout upset win for the Ragin Cajuns. Georgia Tech managed to nudge out Florida State, 16-13, despite having an extra point and two field goals blocked. There were plenty of other special teams mishaps and much of that has to do with the decision to limit teams to 20 hours practice in the preseason. There was no spring practice and a limited number of practices leading up to game one, so in many cases special teams haven’t gotten the attention they normally get.
“Special teams, tackling … special teams, just some of the execution, you have to cut back just because of the amount of time that was taken from us,” Mullen said a week ago. “Not just spring ball, but the amount of time in training camp that was taken away from us.”
That Iowa State game, you can bet, got his attention but by nature Mullen is a detail guy who sweats every aspect of every game. He might not have the same amount of time that he would have had under normal circumstances, but if history has proven anything about Mullen it is that he will find a way to squeeze more emphasis into special teams this week while the Gators finish up their final week of full scale practice.
GATORS MOVE UP TO 5TH IN AP; 6TH IN COACHES POLLS: Although the Gators don’t play for another 12 days, they still moved up in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls. The Gators moved up three spots to 5th in the Associated Press and two spots to 6th in the Coaches poll. These were the first polls taken since the Big Ten and Pac-12 opted out for the 2020 season.
Six of the top ten teams in both polls come from the Southeastern Conference and eight SEC teams made the top 25. The ACC put seven teams in the top 25 but only two in the top ten.
Thinking out loud about the polls: Are you as mystified as I am how Georgia remains fourth in both polls? Georgia was already overrated with Jamie Newman as the QB but now that he’s opted out, the QB is JT Daniels, who would have spent the year as Newman’s backup. I believe there is every good chance Georgia will already have two losses by the time the Poodles face the Gators in Jacksonville on November 7. The Poodles aren’t the only overrated team, just the one with the highest profile.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL: (1) Clemson; (2) Alabama; (3) Oklahoma; (4) Georgia; (5) FLORIDA; (6) LSU; (7) Notre Dame; (8) Auburn; (9) Texas; (10) Texas A&M; (11) Oklahoma State; (12) North Carolina; (13) Cincinnati; (14) UCF; (15) Tennessee; (16) Memphis; (17) Miami; (18) Louisville; (19) Louisiana-Lafayette; (20) Virginia Tech; (21) BYU; (22) Army; (23) Kentucky; (24) Appalachian State; (25) Pittsburgh
THE COACHES TOP 25 POLL: (1) Clemson; (2) Alabama; (3) Oklahoma; (4) Georgia; (5) LSU; (6) FLORIDA; (7) Notre Dame; (8) Texas; (9) Auburn; (10) Texas A&M; (11) North Carolina; (12) Oklahoma State; (13) UCF; (14) Cincinnati; (15) Memphis; (16) Louisville; (17) Tennessee; (18) Miami; (19) Virginia Tech; (20) Kentucky; (21) Louisiana-Lafayette; (22) BYU; (23) Appalachian State; (24) Baylor; (25) Army
BIG DAY FOR CJ: Consider CJ Henderson’s NFL debut a resounding success after the former Gator intercepted a pass and broke up a fourth down pass to seal Jacksonville’s 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Henderson’s pick and 22-yard run back came off of Phillip Rivers and set up the Jaguars first touchdown of the game … It was a nice debut also for Freddie Swain, who recovered a fumble on special teams and caught a 17-yard pass for the Seattle Seahawks. Former Gator Quinton Dunbar also had five tackles in that game … Van Jefferson caught a 31-yard pass in his rookie debut with the Los Angeles Rams … Jon Bostic had eight tackles and a sack for the Washington Football Team … Former Gator Janoris Jenkins had a pick six of Tom Brady and nine tackles in the Saints win over Tampa Bay … Marcus Maye had 10 tackles and two sacks and Brian Poole had nine tackles and a sack although the Jets were taken down by Buffalo.
THE TALLAHASSEE RENAISSANCE: The Seminoles played like they had gotten their football lessons via mail order and the mail was late, which is to say there will be no football renaissance at Florida State until (a) five offensive linemen are found that can block, (b) a quarterback is found with a functioning brain and (c) Mike Norvell can replace 75 percent of the roster he inherited with players that he has recruited. In their preseason magazine, Lindy’s picked the Seminoles third in the ACC Atlantic Division behind Clemson and Louisville while Athlon also had them third and Street and Smith had them fourth. Should FSU finish third in the division it will only be because once you get past Clemson, Notre Dame and perhaps Louisville and North Carolina, most of the ACC (Should we call it the All Clemson Conference?) teams will struggle. FSU’s offensive line, which gave up 48 sacks last year, is proof that a year older doesn’t make you a year better. The same can be said about James Blackman. When are they going to figure out in Tallahassee that you need a quarterback who is capable of making quick decisions? What Saturday should have pounded into Norvell’s brain is that he needs to clean house and the sooner the better. Norvell is a good coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. Not with the roster he inherited.
NOT SOLD ON MIAMI: For all the talk about Houston grad transfer QB D’Eriq (15-23 for 144 passing yards, 12-83 rushing) in the Himmicanes’ 31-14 win over UAB, two things to remember: (1) He missed too many easy completions with bad throws and too often takes off running when there are throws to be made downfield; and (2) Rhett Lashlee is still the offensive coordinator. There is a reason Gus Malzahn sent Lashlee packing and the best job he could land after leaving was UConn. Let’s see how Miami does the next three weeks at Louisville, home against FSU and then at Clemson. If the Canes are 3-1 after the Clemson game, then they’re for real. If they’re 2-2 or 1-3, then Manny Diaz will be feeling the heat and Lashlee might want to start seeing if he and his wife can get an Amway distributorship going.
THE SUN (BELT) IS RISING: The Sun Belt was the Fun Belt Saturday as Louisiana-Lafayette bushwhacked 23rd-ranked Iowa State, Arkansas State rallied past Kansas State and Coastal Carolina put a whomping on Les Miles and Kansas. A 3-0 day against the Big 12 is worth celebrating when you’re considered Division I’s bottom feeder conference. Meanwhile, Appalachian State, which is likely to spend the entire 2020 season ranked in the top 25, racked up 512 yards of offense (308 on the ground) as the Mounties yawned their way to a 35-20 win over Conference USA’s Charlotte. Oh, there will be all sorts of excuses about how none of this would have happened in a non-pandemic season or at midyear once the kinks are worked out, but Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State were better coached and better prepared. In no way should their Saturday in the sunshine be downplayed.
THE NOT SO BIG BIG 12: This is a Power 5 league which means there is absolutely no excuse that works for the Big 12 going 0-3 against the Fun Belt. None whatsoever. A 2-1 record against the Fun Belt would have been tough to explain away, but 0-3? The Big 12 certainly did its part to put a team from the Fun Belt, American Athletic Conference or Conference USA firmly in the thought process when it’s time to start considering who gets that fourth spot in the College Football Playoff. Then there is that matter of 40-point favorite Texas Tech escaping with a 35-33 win over D1AA bottom feeder Houston Baptist only because the Huskies missed a two-point conversion with 3:23 left in the game that might have sent the game into overtime. Big 12 apologists can point to Oklahoma and Texas opening their seasons by hanging a bunch of points on bad teams (Okie 48 on D1AA Mizzou State and Texas 59 on a UTEP team that should have opted out of 2020) but that can’t erase the league shame of doing an oh-fer against the Fun Belt. Baylor, Okie State and TCU all had their games postponed because of covid-19 but even if they had played and won it wouldn’t eliminate the stench of a bad opening weekend for the Not So Big Big 12.
THE MONDAY MORNING FEELING PITHY CORNER: We think of Michigan as one of those schools whose athletic department will survive even without football this fall, but the expected budget shortfall for delaying until spring is expected to exceed $100 million. And you wonder why there is widespread panic throughout the Big Ten (Plus Four), enough that there are rumors that a re-vote will be taken with the intent of starting up the season in October. The Big 12 presidents did hold a meeting to talk about football Sunday but they didn’t hold a vote. Probably someone didn’t order enough Chardonnay, brie and green grapes and they were too busy arguing who was to blame ... Peyton Manning’s foundation has endowed six scholarships (four in Louisiana and two in Tennessee) to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Among the scholarships were one in the name of Doug Williams to Grambling, another in the name of former Jacksonville Raines and Southern University star Harold Carmichael (member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame), and yet another in the name of Wilma Rudolph (Olympic gold medalist sprinter) at Tennessee State. Peyton’s generosity is well known but it makes me wonder why more former NFL, NBA and MLB stars who earned many, many millions don’t invest in their communities? … Sure, it’s only one game and one game does not a season make, but the fact the New England Patriots did just fine with Cam Newton at quarterback and the Tampa Bay Bucs got whacked by the New Orleans Saints with Tom Brady at QB is going to cause a lot of second guessing. Cam was 15-19 passing for 155 yards while running for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins. Brady was 23-36 passing for 239 yards and two TDPs, but he threw two interceptions including a pick six to former Gator Janoris Jenkins as the Bucs went down for the count, 34-23. Whether deserved or not, people will start asking if Brady can get it done without Bill Belichick, especially if he doesn’t rebound and win the next game in impressive fashion.