Thoughts of the Day: September 3, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:

The talking points out of Athens in the next few days will say the Florida Gators are now only favored to win the Southeastern Conference East Division because Wake Forest grad transfer quarterback Jamie Newman has joined a growing list of players to opt out rather than play an abbreviated schedule. While it’s true that Georgia ranked fourth in both the Coaches and Associated Press preseason polls, a lot of very highly regarded football people had pegged the Florida Gators as a team more likely to win the SEC East and play for the league championship in Atlanta even before Newman elected to shut it down.

With or without Newman, here are five reasons why the Gators should have been favored to end Georgia’s three-year reign at the top of the East:

1. A brand new offense, a new offensive coordinator and no spring practice to teach it. Todd Monken is the new offensive coordinator and while Poodle fans have been drooling, it’s not exactly like Monken has been a staple on guru lists. During his three years as the OC of the Tampa Bay Bucs, his teams ranked near the bottom of the NFL in rushing and near the top in turnovers. Baker Mayfield digressed last year in Cleveland when the Browns finished 26th in turnovers, 22nd in yardage and 20th in points.

2. Newman, who has never exactly wowed anyone with his football intellect, didn’t get a spring practice in which to learn the new system. When he was at Wake Forest, Newman redshirted as a true freshman, got in 22 snaps as a redshirt freshman, then got four starts as a third-year sophomore. He started 12 games last year as a fourth-year junior but became the starter only because Sam Hartman got hurt before game one. There is every good chance Hartman would have won back the starting job if Newman had remained at Wake Forest this year.

3. Georgia lost O-line coach Sam Pittman to Arkansas (new HBC there) and new O-line coach Matt Luke has to find four new starters. Without a spring practice or without those summer workouts, chemistry and continuity will be tough to find for a bunch of newbies.

4. Weeks two through seven of the schedule are brutal – 10/3 11th-ranked Auburn; 10/10 Tennessee; 10/17 at 3rd-ranked Alabama; 10/24 at Kentucky; 10/31 Open; 11/7 8th-ranked Florida. Those games with Auburn, Alabama and Florida are all very losable games. Tennessee as a sandwich game between Auburn and Alabama is no walk in the park and Kentucky on the road the week after Alabama could be brutal. I like the Gators to win big in Jacksonville.

5. Dan Mullen has had 2020 targeted since he first arrived on the UF campus as the head coach in December of 2017. He’s carefully built a roster that has the talent and SEC depth at every position. He’s got the best QB in the SEC returning in Kyle Trask, speed to burn at the skill positions, a potentially excellent offensive line with the addition of Stewart Reese and what promises to be one of the nastier defenses in college football. At the very worst, the Gators are the second best offense in the SEC and the second best defense. Georgia may have a great defense, but even with Newman, the offense wouldn’t have been in Florida’s league.

A THEORY STRAIGHT FROM THE GRASSY KNOLL: Perhaps you bought the hype about Jamie Newman like the fine folks at Athlon, who named him their preseason All-SEC quarterback. If you’re smart, you didn’t even have him ranked first, second or third team. That’s all irrelevant now that Newman has opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.

That raises the question: Why would Newman, projected at best as a mid-round selection, opt out when he could play his way into a higher selection? If your answer was Covid-19, which Newman cites as his reason, then please march to the corner, put on the dunce cap and assume the position with your nose against the wall. If your answer was he was afraid to get hurt, then join your pals in the corner. Those are the excuses that are being made at the moment, but there is a better explanation that, while highly speculative, has a very good chance of being true.

Here it is.

Against Atlantic Coast Conference defenses that were ranked in the top 50 nationally last year -- #6 Clemson, #42 Virginia Tech and #48 North Carolina – Newman was 36-75 passing (48%) for 493 yards (a below average 6.57 yards per pass attempt) and 3 touchdowns with 5 interceptions. In those games he ran for 93 yards on 43 attempts (2.16 per carry) for 2 touchdowns. In the other five ACC games against defenses ranked outside the top 50 Newman was 90-150 (60%) for 1,136 yards (7.57 per attempt), good for 9 touchdowns and 4 picks. In those other 5 ACC games he ran 84 times for 312 yards (3.74 per carry) and 3 touchdowns. So in eight games in a conference filled with bad defenses, Newman still didn’t light it up. In the four non-conference games Newman played, only one of which was against a top 50 defense (Michigan State #19 in the bowl game), Newman was 94-136 (69.1%) for 1,239 yards (9.1 per attempt), good for 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He ran 52 times for 169 yards (3.25 per carry) for a touchdown.

To put it quite mildly, Newman was very good against average to bad defenses, somewhere between below average and terrible against good ones. The ACC produced four defensive backs (two from Clemson) that were drafted last year, only one in the first round, the rest in the fourth or later. Good defenses played zone against Wake Forest last year. Newman couldn’t read a zone spelled CAT if you spotted him the C, the A and the T.

Had Newman elected to play for Georgia this year, he would have faced six defenses that were last year ranked among the top THIRTY (#9 Florida; #14 Missouri; #20 Kentucky; #21 Alabama; #23 Tennessee; #28 Auburn) in his first seven games. All six of those teams should rank among the best 25 defenses in the country in 2020 and the SEC is absolutely LOADED with exceptional defensive backs.

So here is what Poodle fans will call a grassy knoll conspiracy theory: It would have taken a brilliant season for Jamie Newman to rise higher than a third round draft pick in 2021 and he probably wouldn’t have come anywhere close to brilliant against that schedule, meaning his draft stock would drop like your basic rock. Being that he will be a combine warrior with all the measurables (6-4, 230 and likely a 4.6 40) and a strong arm, Newman can probably go in the third or fourth round based on size and athleticism.

If you buy into the grassy knoll conspiracy theory, then Newman made a business decision. Quite frankly, from a standpoint of dollars and cents, it’s the right choice if that, indeed, was the reason for the opt out. There is every good chance he would have been embarrassed by SEC defenses. This way, he doesn’t have to get embarrassed until he faces NFL defenses next summer in training camp.

THEORIES FROM THE GRASSY KNOLL, PART DEUX: Justin Fields, who spent his freshman year at Georgia before transferring to Ohio State, where he led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff last year, has been spotted at Georgia practices. That’s because the Buckeyes aren’t playing football this fall, but leave it to Poodle fans to believe that Fields wants to play football so badly this fall that he will transfer back to Georgia. Donkeys will fly first.

Let’s start with the obvious. Fields would have to get a waiver from the NCAA to transfer and the NCAA is going on a furlough starting in the next few days. At a time when players from 54 Division I schools can’t play football, many of whom are thinking to transfer somewhere, Mark Emmert decides the NCAA has to save money and so they furlough THE ENTIRE STAFF. Brilliant thinking. Intelligent thoughts die quickly in Mark Emmert’s brain. They can’t stand the solitary confinement.

And for obvious, part II, Fields isn’t going to play football for anyone, not even Ohio State, which is planning to play in the spring. Even without playing this fall, he will be one of the first three players taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. Justin Fields has a functioning brain and only someone whose brain had gone dead (Mark Emmert perhaps?) would decide to transfer to a school with a new offense, new coordinator and four new offensive linemen.

RIP JOHN THOMPSON: Here is how I want to remember the late John Thompson, the former Georgetown basketball coach who died earlier in the week. On his desk at Georgetown was a deflated basketball which JT used to tell his players “this is what your life will be like if all you’re here for is basketball.” In his 27-year Georgetown coaching career, only two Hoyas failed to graduate.

I met JT back in the 1970s when he was first beginning to turn Georgetown basketball into the beast of the Big East. He was a huge man – 6-10 and probably a biscuit or two shy of 300 pounds – but he had this I’m in charge demeanor about him. He didn’t have to say he was in charge. You only had to watch him or hear him say a few words. In our first conversation, I noticed that JT kept priming me with questions. He genuinely wanted to know me. That’s why he was a great recruiter because he could make you feel comfortable talking about yourself.

In 2006 and again in 2007 when the Gators won back-to-back NCAA basketball championships, I got to spend a few minutes talking with JT on the Sunday prior to the Monday championship game. Both times I asked what it would take for the Gators to win – in 2006 vs. UCLA and in 2007 vs. Ohio State – and both times he gave me a 5-minute scouting report that blew me away. He expected the Gators to win and they did. He loved the teamwork and cohesion of the Gators and he loved Billy Donovan, who he remembered all too well as Rick Pitino’s deadeye 3-point shooter who led Providence to the Final Four in 1987. JT and Billy were Providence guys so quite naturally, they liked each other.

I didn’t ever talk to him again after that 2007 Final Four, but I will never forget him standing like an oak tree on the sideline with that white towel draped over his shoulder, almost daring opponents to beat the Hoyas. I will also never forget how he valued education and how his guys graduated.

The sports world needs more John Thompsons.

RIP TOM SEAVER: Back in 1966 Tom Seaver was the lone bright spot for the AAA Jacksonville Suns of the International League. The Suns weren’t very good (68-79 that year) but Seaver went 12-12 with a 2.85 ERA. It was his only season in the minor leagues. A year later he went 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA for the New York Mets, who finished last in the National League with a wretched 57-94 record under the direction of the forgettable Sally Parker. In 1969 Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA as the Amazin’ Mets managed by Gil Hodges won the National League championship then shocked the baseball world by knocking off the Baltimore Orioles in five games to win the World Series. In a 20-year Major League career, Seaver went 311-205 with a 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts. He threw 61 complete game shutouts and 231complete games overall.

In his prime Seaver was as tough a competitor on the mound as you could find. Off the mound, he was a gentleman who answered even the dumb questions – and there were plenty of them – without showing his annoyance. He should have been annoyed at the Hall of Fame voting. A first ballot selection, Seaver was named on 425 of 430 ballots. The five guys who didn’t vote for him could be classified as certifiable idiots.

Seaver died Monday at the age of 75 due to complications of dementia.

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