A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
Already the naysayers in New York are thinking Lane Kiffin would be a really good fit for the Jets, who have a chance to do a reverse run of the table so they can draft either Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields next April. This is amazing since (a) Kiffin has yet to coach his first game at Ole Miss and (b) the first game is against a Florida football team that has a legitimate shot at winning its first Southeastern Conference championship since 2008.
Kiffin is actually a very good football coach and if you ever got a chance to sit down and talk with him you would find him quite engaging. If he says no to NFL overtures to remain at Ole Miss, there is a very good chance he will turn the Rebels into a contender. It can be done at Ole Miss. Hugh Freeze almost pulled it off although the boosters (Freeze was somehow exonerated if you can believe that) put the Rebels in the NCAA jailhouse.
But it won’t be done this year and Saturday’s season opener with the Gators in Oxford (12 noon, ESPN) isn’t going to be pretty. There are too many holes in the Ole Miss two-deep and not enough talent from top to bottom of the roster. Dan Mullen, meanwhile, has spent three recruiting classes building a roster that has the talent and depth to compete with anyone in the SEC. Kiffin has some talent on his Ole Miss roster. Florida has more. Much more.
Ole Miss went 4-8 in 2019, 2-6 in SEC play with wins over an Arkansas team that hasn’t won an SEC game since 2017 and a Vanderbilt team the Gators blew out 56-0. Kiffin recruited some transfers, particularly on defense for former Florida coordinator DJ Durkin, but there isn’t nearly enough to stop a Florida offense that is going to be better than last season because (a) Kyle Trask has a year of starting experience at QB; (b) there are five experienced starters on the O-line when you add in Mississippi State grad transfer Stewart Reese; (c) there is as much talent at wide receiver as last year even with the loss of four to the NFL; (d) Kyle Pitts and (e) more depth and speed at running back.
And that’s not mentioning Todd Grantham’s defense that has the depth and talent to go from the very good of 2019 to elite in 2020. Remember the names Brenton Cox Jr., Mohamoud Diabate and Khris Bogle. Between the three of them, Florida has a very good chance to register more sacks than the 49 of 2019.
By season’s end, Ole Miss might be a much-improved team. By game’s end Saturday Lane Kiffin will have a better understanding of just what a train wreck Matt Luke left him.
Florida is a 13.5-point favorite.
THE SAYER SAYS SOOTH: Ole Miss might score a couple of first half touchdowns to give the appearance that this could be white knuckles heading into the fourth quarter, but in the second half Florida’s depth, talent and speed will take a very serious toll on the Rebels. Dan Mullen starts the season 1-0 and the Gators climb the first rung of the 2020 SEC championship ladder. Florida 45, Ole Miss 17
ELSEWHERE IN THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE
#23 KENTUCKY AT #8 AUBURN: Kentucky wants this game badly. Kentucky needs this game badly. Nobody needs this game worse than Gus Malzahn, however. If Kentucky somehow figures out a way to win it, social media will explode and Auburn faithful will rename this season “The Gus Malzahn Farewell Tour.” If Gus and Auburn score a win, Auburn fans will be in love with their coach for at least a week. For Kentucky to win this game, the Wildcats have to run the football, grind out a bunch of first downs to keep the Auburn offense off the field, and Terry Wilson is going to have to complete just enough passes to keep the safeties from crowding the box. For Auburn to win the game, Bo Nix is going to have to complete downfield throws, the 1-2 running back combo of sophomore D.J. Williams and true freshman Tank Billingsley are going to punish the Wildcats between the tackles and Auburn’s defense is going to have to keep UK from dominating time of possession. Auburn is a 7.5-point favorite.
The Sayer Says: The difference will be at quarterback where Bo Nix will show how much he’s improved since an impressive freshman year. Auburn 27, Kentucky 17
MISSISSIPPI STATE AT #6 LSU: Two things jump out at you here. First and foremost, there will only be 25,000 fans in the stands at Tiger Stadium and not the usual crowd of 100,000 feeling nasty after spending four days of heavy drinking to get ready for the season opener. Second, the game is being played at 3:30 in the afternoon (EDT). LSU at night is scary. LSU in the daylight is a far more manageable animal. Now, this isn’t to say that Mike Leach is going to score an upset over the nation’s 6th-ranked team in his SEC debut, but the crowd size and playing in the daylight can’t hurt. Coach Oeaux ran the table and won a national championship last year but that was with an offense to die for and 16 players who now wear an NFL uniform. The LSU cupboard is far from bare, but it’s not nearly as experienced as last year on either side of the ball. LSU is a 16.5-point favorite.
The Sayer Says: K.J. Costello might throw for 400 yards on that inexperienced LSU secondary and Kylin Hill might run for 100 but Mississippi State is going to have all sorts of trouble stopping the Tigers. LSU will win the game but won’t cover. LSU 44, Mississippi State 35
#4 GEORGIA AT ARKANSAS: By the time this one is deep into the second quarter Feleipe Franks might be asking himself why the heck he transferred to Arkansas. There were plenty of places he could have transferred to, places that have a two-deep capable of competing at higher levels than the one the Razorbacks will compete at this year. But nooooo. Double F transferred to Arkansas and the first game opponent is Georgia, which means he will be in his feets don’t fail me now mode all afternoon. Now this will probably shock Georgia fans who are still looking for that first national championship since 1980 when Herschel was a freshman, but the Poodles aren’t going to win a national title this year. That won’t stop them from annihilating Arkansas Saturday afternoon no matter who plays quarterback. The likely starter is D’Wan Mathis, who has never taken a Division I snap but against this Arkansas defense he might look like the second coming of Russell Wilson. Georgia is favored by 27.5 points. The Sayer Says: Georgia is going to lose 2-3 games this year. One of those losses won’t be to Arkansas. Georgia 49, Arkansas 10
#2 ALABAMA AT MISSOURI: Even if Mizzou was at full strength this would be a mismatch. The Tigers will be short-handed due to opt outs and Covid-19 positive tests so it is going to be a very long afternoon. This will be the first of several long afternoons for Mizzou, which plays six ranked teams in its first seven games. Don’t expect Alabama to show any mercy. Nick Saban has to get the troops ready for the Aggies next week so he’s got to put the hammer down early and keep it there. Whether it’s Mac Jones or Bryce Young at QB, Bama will score plenty of points. It’s the defense that bears watching. It was the defense that cost Bama the 2018 national title and it kept the Tide out of the College Football Playoff last year. Alabama is a 27.5-point favorite. The Sayer Says: This game will go ugly early. Alabama 56, Missouri 7
VANDERBILT AT #10 TEXAS A&M: There is good news and bad news for Vanderbilt. The good news first. Instead of 102,000 screaming Aggies at Kyle Field there will only be 25,000 or so and the Commodore QBs will be able to hear themselves think. The bad news is it doesn’t matter how many fans are in the stands, the Aggies are going to win this in a blowout. Even though the Aggies don’t have a particularly scary defense, they will be matched up against a QB who has never taken a Division I snap protected by four newbies on the offensive line. There isn’t a wide receiver capable of stretching a defense nor is there a running back who can pound it between the tackles. The entire Vandy secondary is brand new, too. Kellen Mond is drooling. Texas A&M is favored by 31. The Sayer Says: It’s a dilemma for Jimbo Fisher. Does he rest his starters after a quarter or two or does he let them play well into the second half knowing they need all the reps they can get because they travel to Tuscaloosa next week? Texas A&M 51, Vanderbilt 3
#16 TENNESSEE AT SOUTH CAROLINA: Marshawn Lloyd was supposed to be the centerpiece of the offense bu he tore his ACL. Now new coordinator Mike Bobo now has to debut a new offense with quarterback Collin Hill, a grad transfer who followed Bobo from Colorado State. He’s had three ACL tears in four years but he’s upright, breathing and he will be the quarterback. If he can make a few throws against a Tennessee defense that has a lot of holes to fill on the back seven. If the Gamecocks get the running game going they’ll be able to score some points. The key for the Gamecocks will be to daze and confuse Vol QB Jarrett Guarantano, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. If Guarantano can’t figure things out in a hurry, Tennessee’s stay in the top 25 will be short lived. Tennessee is a 3.5-point favorite.
The Sayer Says: Will Muschamp needs to start the season with a big win in the worst way to quiet the critics. He will shut them up for at least one week. South Carolina 27, Tennessee 20
FEELING PITHY ON FRIDAY: No matter who wins the FSU-Miami game, Monday will be unbearable. If FSU loses – and they should – their fans will be whining and wondering what the hell they were thinking when they ousted Willie Taggart. If Miami wins, Himmicane fans will claim national title number six and the first one since 2001 is just around the corner. Now imagine how obnoxious these folks will be if FSU somehow wins and Miami loses … UCF plays American Athletic Conference bottom feeder East Carolina Saturday in Greenville, NC. The Knights will win this one by a blowout which will prompt QB Dillon Gabriel to declare UCF is the favorite to win the 2020 national championship … The Pac-12 will play a 7-game schedule starting in November. There will be no open dates and no room for makeup games should one be postponed. Personally, I don’t think either the Pac-12 or Big Ten champs should be considered for the College Football Playoff considering their late starts to the season … Meanwhile, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) will vote today on whether to have a season or play in the spring. Maybe. They could have voted twice in the last ten days but they postponed the vote both times. Since there are no paycheck games to be played and no television contract, I wouldn’t be surprised if they remain opted out for the season … Circle #22 Army at #14 Cincinnati. If Army can control the ball with that funky Georgia Southern inspired option, the Black Knights could score a big upset. I think either Army pulls off the upset or Cincinnati wins by blowout … It’s being rumored that Southern Miss will target Liberty coach (and USM alum) Hugh Freeze to be its next head coach. Imagine the state of Mississippi with Freeze, Mike Leach, Lane Kiffin and Deion Sanders as head coaches. The most dangerous place to be in the state will be between one of them and a microphone.