A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
A side-by-side comparison of Florida’s 2018 and 2019 rosters with the recently released 2020 roster is all you need to understand why the Gators just might be the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference. Despite the lack of a supervised offseason training program due to the Covid-19 virus the Florida roster shows impressive weight gain and in some cases, weight loss, not exactly what was expected with players having to train on their own since April.
Ethan White (currently injured, but due back) was 370 last year and is now a svelte 335. Richard Gouraige (298 last year) checks in at 316. Michael Tarquin came to UF last year at 279. He’s now 312. Stone Forsythe should be much quicker at 312 (329 last year). Khris Bogle isn’t the 218-pound stringbean but is now 240. Jeremiah Moon is up 22 pounds (to 250). Malik Davis should be more durable at 205 (195 last year). Emory Jones is 210 (199 last year). Zachary Carter is 290 after playing at 263. Tedarrell Slaton is down 18 pounds to 340. Antwuan Powell is up 26 pounds to 260. Kingsley Eguakun is 28 pounds heavier (294 last year).
And those are just a few of the impressive gains (and losses).
What this tells us is the Gators had a very disciplined offseason and they stuck together as a team. They followed the plans strength and conditioning coordinator Nick Savage gave them. They stuck with the diets the nutrition staff prepared for them. The result is a team that is better prepared physically for 2020 than the one that went 11-2 in 2019.
Prior to the pandemic, the Gators had enough talent on the roster to challenge for a championship in the fall. An offseason with no serious off-the-field issues, no academic casualties and a team that made it a point to stick together while closely following the plans of Savage and the nutritionists makes the possibility of a championship challenge all the more real.
The Gators still have to win a championship on the field, but they’ve got a strong foundation.
SURPRISE: DONOVAN TAKES CHICAGO BULLS JOB
The Philadelphia 76ers seemed like a match made in heaven for former Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan. All the moving parts are there for a championship run but instead of taking the Philly job (supposedly it was his if he wanted it), Donovan is the new coach of the Chicago Bulls.
The Sixers have the best big man in the league in Joel Embiid, a triple-double looking for a place to happen in Ben Simmons and a top-to-bottom roster that needs only a good coach. So why did Donovan snub the under-achieving Sixers for the even more under-achieving Bulls?
The Bulls don’t lack for talent, they should be $50 million under the salary cap and they’ve got the fourth pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, which could land Obi Toppin, the Dayton superstar who played for Anthony Grant. Additionally, Donovan will be working for new Bulls exec VP Arturas Karnishovas, the guy who built the Denver Nuggets roster (Nuggets are in the NBA West finals). Karnishovas has the reputation of a guy you can work with. Philly GM Elton Brand has had an undistinguished three year run as the Sixers GM.
AROUND THE SEC: WHO STARTS AT QUARTERBACK
#2 ALABAMA: Nick Saban named Mac Jones as his starting quarterback but everyone in Tuscaloosa is asking how long before hotshot freshman Bryce Young takes over?
Saturday’s game: at Missouri
ARKANSAS: Not only is Florida grad transfer Feleipe Franks the starting QB, but he’s also a team captain. The backup is redshirt freshman K.J. Jefferson, who played in three games including a start against LSU last year.
Saturday’s game: vs. #4 Georgia
#8 AUBURN: Bo Nix returns for his second year as the starting quarterback. His backup is former minor league baseball player Cord Sandberg.
Saturday’s game: vs. #23 Kentucky
#4 GEORGIA: There is no official word that Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels has been cleared to play so until he’s given the okay the QB is going to be redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis, who missed 2019 after undergoing emergency surgery for a brain cyst. If Daniels isn’t in the mix, the backup will be senior Stetson Bennett.
Saturday’s game: at Arkansas
#23 KENTUCKY: Terry Wilson is the starter with Sawyer Smith once again the backup. The Wildcats still don’t have an NCAA waiver for Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood.
Saturday’s game: at #8 Auburn
#6 LSU: Not that anyone should be surprised, but Ed Orgeron will go with fourth-year junior Myles Brennan at quarterback. Brennan has a big arm but has never played a serious down of football in the SEC. Backup is likely to be true freshman Max Johnson, son of former FSU and Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson.
Saturday’s game: vs. Mississippi State
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Stanford grad transfer K.J. Costello was named the starter by Mike Leach. The backup will be Will Rogers. Last year’s part-time starter Garrett Shrader has made the move to wide receiver.
Saturday: at #6 LSU
MISSOURI: New HBC Eli Drinkwitz has yet to name a starting quarterback but most would be surprised if it’s anyone other than TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, who sat last year due to NCAA transfer rules. The backup will probably be Taylor Powell, who played in six games and got a start against Georgia last year.
Saturday: vs. #2 Alabama
OLE MISS: Lane Kiffin hasn’t named a starting quarterback, which lends speculation that he will run a two quarterback system to take advantage of the running of John Rhys Plumlee and the passing of Matt Corral.
Saturday: vs. #5 Florida
SOUTH CAROLINA: Colorado State grad transfer Collin Hill has won the starting job over incumbent Ryan Hillinski. Hill was a sometime starter for Mike Bobo at Colorado State. Bobo is now the offensive coordinator at South Carolina.
Saturday: vs. #16 Tennessee
TENNESSEE: Jarrett Guarantano is the undisputed #1 quarterback but the backup is anybody’s guess. J.T. Shrout has gotten the most work lately but only because Brian Maurer and true freshman Harrison Bailey have had to miss practices.
Saturday: at South Carolina
#10 TEXAS A&M: Kellen Mond is back to start for the fourth straight year and the third for HBC Jimbo Fisher. The backup is redshirt freshman Zach Calzada.
Saturday: at Vanderbilt
VANDERBILT: Vandy doesn’t have a quarterback who has taken a single Division I snap and apparently none of the four battling for the job – Jeremy Moussa, Danny Clark, Ken Seals or Mike Wright – have distinguished themselves in practice because HBC Derek Mason hasn’t even hinted which one will be the starter Saturday.
Saturday: vs. #10 Texas A&M
PITHY WEDNESDAY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE OTHER 13 SEC TEAMS
ALABAMA: Alabama’s offense is going to be just fine whether it’s Mac Jones or Bryce Young at QB. If the defense isn’t vastly improved over the team that gave up 31 to Ole Miss, 46 to LSU and 48 to Auburn last year, Nick Saban will go three years without a national championship for the first time in his Bama coaching career.
ARKANSAS: The Hogs could be the most improved team in the SEC and still go 0-10. Circle Mizzou in game nine. That might be the weekend the Hogs avoid an oh-fer.
AUBURN: If Auburn loses to either Kentucky or Georgia (or both) the first two weeks of the season, those fickle fans will be sending money to a Go Fund Me page to raise the $20-plus million it will take to buy out Gus Malzahn. If Gus wins both those games, they will fall in love with him and remain in love for at least another week.
GEORGIA: Remember how Georgia’s offense was going to be so much better without Jake Fromm (State Farm) with Jamie Newman at the helm? Bet a whole lot of folks in Athens would give body parts to have Jake back.
KENTUCKY: Kentucky was, is and will always be a basketball school which is why a lot of folks wonder why Mark Stoops hasn’t bolted for a job at a school where football is a bigger deal. There is a simple answer for that. He can go 7-5 every year and they’ll love him in the Big Blue Nation. At a place like Alabama the sky is falling when the Crimson Tide goes 10-2.
LSU: There is no Joe Burrow to the rescue this year and no Joe Brady designing the best offense ever seen in college football. Too many players are earning NFL paychecks. Not enough fans (due to Covid-19) unleashing the lung power that comes from four days of heavy drinking. Coach O will still be the best interview in the SEC and the Tigers will still be good, just not as good as last year.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Now wouldn’t it be something if Mike Leach were to win his debut game as an SEC coach by kneecapping LSU in Baton Rouge? There is a better chance of this happening when Tiger Stadium is minus 75,000 drunk Cajuns than there would be a post-pandemic Saturday night and the crowd would number 100,000. MSU is a 16-1/2 point road dog. Good chance LSU wins but won’t cover.
MISSOURI: Welcome to the SEC Eli Drinkwitz. About now you must be wondering just who was it you pissed off so badly because starting with 2nd-ranked Alabama on Saturday, you get to play six ranked teams in your first seven games.
OLE MISS: Lane Kiffin might not break even this year, but he will go 8-2 in the post game interviews, losing only to Coach O and Mike Leach.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Everybody has wondered what a Will Muschamp-coached team could do with something other than a brain dead offensive coordinator. He’s got his guy in Mike Bobo. The Gamecocks might not rip and shred through a 10-game SEC only schedule, but there’s a pretty good chance they’ll light up Tennessee Saturday.
TENNESSEE: The Vols won their last six games of 2019 which is why their fans think they’ll just keep on winning this year. Two teensy little problems with Vol-Think 2020 – (1) In winning six straight last year the Vols didn’t beat a decent team and (2) Jarrett Guarantano is still the quarterback. Vol fans will be thinking Jeremy Pruitt is Butch Jones Part Deux if they lose to South Carolina Saturday.
TEXAS A&M: Kellen Mond is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC and one of the most experienced in the country with three years of starting experience under his belt. It doesn’t take three years to become an overnight sensation, which is to say the Aggies are going to do something like 7-3 or 6-4 and the boosters who write those ginormous checks are going to ask what the hell were we thinking when we gave Jimbo Fisher a 10-year, $75-million contract with all the money guaranteed?
VANDERBILT: Let’s see, the worst facilities in the SEC, a coach who would have been fired long ago if this were anywhere else in the league, not nearly enough talent to compete and four quarterbacks who have never taken a Division I snap. Derek Mason probably won’t get fired if he goes 0-10. If he wins a game, whoever he beats needs to see if he can build an Amway business.
ATTORNEY TOM MARS SAID IT: Mars, who has had unprecedented success getting the NCAA to approve waivers for his clients, fired this shot across the bow of Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who has slow played the waiver request of Ole Miss DB Otis Reese.
“What people are missing here is that Kirby Smart’s unequivocal support would have caused the NCAA to rubber stamp Otis’ waiver request. But whether it’s Cade Mays (transferred to Tennessee), Ohio State’s star QB (Justin Fields), or Otis Reese, Coach Smart always seems to focus on pleasing the angry, retaliatory UGA fans.”