A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
Here are five reasons why the Florida Gators should be favored to win the SEC East Division and why they could very well win their first SEC championship since 2008:
(1) Mississippi State grad transfer Stewart Reese (6-5, 345) will be the missing link on the offensive line. Not only does he provide 34 games of starting experience, but he knows the basics of the Florida system, having started for Dan Mullen and O-line coach John Hevesy at right guard in 2017. Reese brings maturity and flexibility to the line as he has played and started at both guard and both tackle positions in his career. Hevesy could elect to play Reese at right tackle where Jean Delance (6-5, 313, RSR) struggled last year or go with three wide bodies in the middle with Reese and Brett Heggie (6-4, 330, RSR) at the guards and Ethan White (6-5, 360, SO) at center. If Reese goes inside Richard Gouraige (6-4, 300, RSO) could be the starter at right tackle.
(2) Despite losing three receivers to the NFL, Florida won’t miss a beat in the passing game thanks to an elite corps of receivers coached up by Billy Gonzales, who Van Jefferson says is “the best WR coach in the country.” Kyle Pitts (6-5, 245, JR) is the nation’s best hybrid tight end/wide receiver and Trevon Grimes (6-5, 215, SR) is due for a breakout season. If Kadarius Toney (5-11, 190, SR) can stay healthy in the slot the Gators will have the best make-you-miss guy since Percy Harvin. It’s time for Jacob Copeland (6-0, 200, RSO) to live up to his potential. If his attitude is right, he’ll waste some SEC corners. And those are just the starters. Penn State transfer Justin Shorter (6-4, 230, JR) should get his NCAA waiver as should Texas transfer Jordan Pouncey (6-3, 190, SR) and Trent Whittemore (6-3, 200, RFR) and Ja’Markis Weston (6-3, 220, RFR) are going to play a lot. True freshmen Xzavier Henderson (6-3, 180) and Ja’Quavion Fraziers (5-4, 200) didn’t come here to sit. X-factor will be tight end Keon Zipperer (6-2, 240, SO).
(3) The offense will be more balanced thanks to the improved offensive line and that will led to more explosive plays. The four-headed combo of Dameon Pierce (5-10, 207, JR), Malik Davis (5-11, 200, RJR), Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard (6-0, 200, RSO) and Nay’Quan Wright (5-9, 195) give Mullen the right combination of speed and power. Having a running game that has to be respected will also create more one-on-one matchups on the outside for Kyle Trask (6-5, 228(6-. The 14-to-17 yard staple of the Mullen passing game will come back into play.
(4) Trask and Emory Jones (6-3, 200, RSO) are the best and most experienced 1-2 quarterback combo in the SEC, bar none. Trask is shrewd and accurate. Jones is an explosive runner who continues to improve as a passer. Mullen won’t hesitate to use both of them in any situation. Having two quarterbacks that can add such different dimensions to the offense will make for a lot of late nights sleeping on the sofa in the offices of SEC defensive coordinators.
(5) The defense will go from really good (last year ranked 7th in scoring defense, 8th in rushing defense, 9th in total defense nationally) to elite. Brenton Cox Jr. (6-4, 247, RSO) has the potential to make us forget how good Jonathan Greenard was. The linebackers will be far better than expected with Mohamoud Diabate (6-2, 220, SO) creating havoc by moving all over the place to create mismatches. Forget what those preseason mags had to say. Florida’s secondary will be the best in the SEC and quite possibly the best in the country. And lest we forget many of those preseason mags that projected Florida’s secondary as the third best in the league are the same ones that predicted Jamie Newman as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Elsewhere in the Southeastern Conference:
ALABAMA: Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne is projecting a $75 million shortfall this year, a 44 percent decrease in revenue from the four-year average of $169.9 million. Alabama has instituted a number of cost-cutting measures including a freeze on non-coaching hiring and limiting purchases to essential items only.
ARKANSAS: Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has sued Arkansas for $7 million in buyout money after Arkansas stopped making payments because Bielema was working for the New England Patriots. Now the Arkansas Foundation has counter-sued, claiming the Patriots intentionally paid Bielema too little money to make Arkansas pay close to the full amount of the buyout. This is stupidity on the part of Arkansas. If they don’t want to pay big buyout bucks then they should have had their lawyers write a better contract. I’m pulling for Bielema to get every buck owed to him.
AUBURN: The highlights of Auburn’s second scrimmage were an 80-yard run by junior scatback Shaun Shivers and three takeaways by the defense. Auburn emphasized the running game at the first scrimmage but ran nearly 50-50 run/pass in the second scrimmage.
GEORGIA: Scott Cochran, who was the strength and conditioning coordinator at Alabama for 12 years is now the special teams coordinator at Georgia even though he’s never held an on-the-field coaching job in his entire career. Cochran says, “I always wanted to coach and I found the best opportunity.” Now, if you think Cochran was hired to actually coach, then you’ve been smoking something. He was hired to recruit. Period. If Georgia’s special teams aren’t extraordinary and Alabama kneecaps the Poodles on the recruiting trail this will look like one of the dumber moves in quite awhile.
KENTUCKY: HBC Mark Stoops keeps hoping the NCAA will rule on the eligibility of Auburn quarterback transfer Joey Gatewood. Gatewood applied for a waiver back in January. One reason Stoops needs the NCAA to rule is because that’s just the step that has to be taken before applying for a waiver from the SEC. Even if the NCAA says Gatewood can play, Greg Sankey will have to give a waiver since Gatewood is transferring from one SEC school to another. Under normal circumstances I would bet on Sankey saying no, but since Gatewood won’t lose a season of eligibility due to the NCAA ruling on August 21, my bet is that Sankey approves. Of course, the NCAA has to approve first.
LSU: When ESPN’s Gameday crew made their Heisman Trophy predictions for 2020, Kirk Herbstreit went with LSU sophomore cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Stingley picked off six passes and broke up 15 more as a true freshman last year.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Although Mike Leach is happy with Stanford grad transfer QB KJ Costello has picked up the nuances of the Air Raid offense, Leach thinks Costello is too often trying to make the big throw instead of taking something off the ball to make it more catchable. Leach called it “big arm disease” and noted “there’s a difference you had an extra 10 miles an hour on that sucker and then the guy is hanging on for his life to catch it.”
MISSOURI: Since the NCAA has ruled that 2020 will not count against anyone’s eligibility, HBC Eli Drinkwitz plans to play all 17 of his freshmen … In the first scrimmage of the fall, Mizzou’s defense dominated against an offense that had too many negative plays on first and second downs.
OLE MISS: HBC Lane Kiffin is struggling to figure out who’s going to be ready to play and who isn’t due to the Covid-19 virus. “It’s hard to even figure out who our first and second units are because it is changing so much,” Kiffin said … Georgia transfer linebacker Otis Reese is taking to social media to make his case for an NCAA waiver to play immediately. Reese was the #5 outside linebacker in the country out of high school back in 2018.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Colorado State grad transfer Collin Hill was the best quarterback at the Gamecocks’ Saturday scrimmage but HBC Will Muschamp says he isn’t ready to declare a #1 between Hill and incumbent starter Ryan Hilinski … The Saturday scrimmage featured 140 live snaps plus 10 special teams snaps and 10 punts.
TENNESSEE: Although the scrimmage was called off Saturday with 44 players missing, some for testing positive for Covid-19 and others due to contact tracing, the Vols were able to return to practice Monday.
TEXAS A&M: The Aggies don’t open their season until a September 26 matchup with Vanderbilt but HBC Jimbo Fisher says “we’re ready to play.” Texas A&M’s second game of the season is at Alabama.
VANDERBILT: Everybody’s favorite SEC homecoming opponent has had four offensive linemen opt out, the latest of which is Michigan grad transfer Stephen Spanellis. Returning starters Jonathan Stewart, Cole Clemens and Bryce Bailey have already opted out. Additionally, running back JR Tran-Reno has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Vandy has a legitimate chance to do a reverse run of the table. Maybe the virus is the only thing that will save Derek Mason’s job.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY, ABBREVIATED VERSION: Jay Hopson became the first member of the Extinct Species List when Southern Miss fired him just four days after the Golden Eagles lost their season opener to South Alabama, 32-21. Assistant coach Scotty Walden will take over as the interim head coach.
TUESDAY PITHINESS: For finishing dead last among the 30 participants in the final leg of the Fed Ex Tour Championship, former Gator Bill Horschel got a check for $395,000. It pales compared to the $15 million Dustin Johnson got for winning, but $395,000 for four days is still nice work if you can get it … I can’t tell you how fans relate to Patrick Reed, who finished tied for 8th at the Tour Championship and carted home $960,000, but he is the single-most despised player on the entire PGA Tour. He makes Brooks Koepka seem like the kind of guy you’d love to have over for Sunday dinner … Despite all the rumors the Big Ten will not do a Friday revote on playing football prior to the spring. They would much rather see how much money they can lose rather than salvage something out of a bad situation … Here is a prediction for you: Numerous players committed to Big Ten and Pac-12 schools will flip to the SEC, All-Clemson Conference or Big 12 this fall and they’ll seal the deal in December, setting back football in the Big Ten and Pac-12 by at least a couple of years.