It only takes observing a couple of practices to see the overall improvement at wide receiver. There is more speed and athleticism than there has been at any time in the Will Muschamp era and all the receivers are running crisper routes while doing a better job of bringing the ball in. About the only thing missing is the emergence of one or two receivers who can be the go to guys in this offense.
The most dangerous guys are Andre Debose, Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson. Speed does that for you. Probably the most consistent of the wide receivers have been Ahmad Fullwood and freshman C.J. Worton. Those guys, along with Quinton Dunbar, who has earned a relative amount of praise from Muschamp, are all going to see the field in this Kurt Roper scheme that runs a lot of receivers in and out, but can one or two of them emerge as go to guys?
When we look back at Florida football history, every successful quarterback has had at least one go to guy and sometimes two. Shane Matthews had the Jacksons, Willie and Jack. Danny Wuerffel had Doering and Ike. Rex Grossman had Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. Chris Leak had Dallas Baker and Tim Tebow had Louis Murphy. When any of those quarterbacks needed a completion, you knew they could count on their go to guy to make the catch.
So who emerges for the Gators? Who will be the guy that gives Jeff Driskel the confidence he needs to get the critical first down to keep a drive going? Who is the guy he looks for when he knows the Gators need a big play?
It seems that tight end Jake McGee has emerged as a dependable receiver in the middle of the field and there is a real connection for him with Driskel. But on the outside? Someone has to emerge from the pack and there is only a week for that to happen because next week the Gators go into game week preparation.
Eight Southeastern Conference teams will begin the season in the Associated Press top 25, which is headed by #1 Florida State and #2 Alabama. UCF and Florida barely missed cracking the top 25, which will play no role in determining which four teams get into the first college football playoff at the end of the year.
FSU, because it is the national champion and has the nation’s longest win streak, deserves to start the year at #1 while Alabama is just about everybody’s pick for #2. The rest of the top ten is: (3) Oregon, (4) Oklahoma, (5) Ohio State, (6) Auburn, (7) UCLA, (8) Michigan State, (9) South Carolina and (10) Baylor. Joining Bama, Auburn and South Carolina in the top 25 from the SEC are (12) Georgia, (13) LSU, (18) Ole Miss, (21) Texas A&M and (24) Missouri.
#2 ALABAMA: Nick Saban is non-commital about naming a starting quarterback between Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Following Saturday’s scrimmage, Saban said, “Until someone clearly wins the job we’re not going to make a decision” ... Saban wasn’t happy with the performance of his offensive line, Saturday. “I don’t think we were physical enough on the line of scrimmage today. I think that’s something we’ve got to work on” ... D-lineman A’Shawn Robinson is expected to return to practice on Tuesday.
Arkansas: Quarterback Brandon Allen was 19-28 for 218 yards and three touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ 107-play scrimmage Saturday. Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle caught three passes for 91 yards and a touchdown and tailback Alex Collins ran for 63 yards and one touchdown ... Brandon Allen’s younger brother Austin has won the backup quarterback job.
#6 AUBURN: True freshman tailback Roc Thomas got the bulk of the carries Saturday. He’s not the starter yet, but offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says Thomas “be an every down back when he gets there” ... Freshman offensive tackle Braden Smith isn’t going to be a starter, but he will definitely be in the offensive line rotation” ... Quarterback Nick Marshall, cited for marijuana possession early in the summer, won’t start game one but is expected to play. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he will “have a little more clarity for you guys on exactly what our strategy will be.”
#12 GEORGIA: Quarterback Hutson Mason was 22-31 for 204 yards with two touchdowns and a pick at Friday night’s scrimmage ... Linebacker Jordan Jenkins led the defense with nine tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss ... Head coach Mark Richt said that after the first touchdown drive of the scrimmage the “execution deteriorated ... Way too many fumbled snaps or poor shotgun snaps. Too many guys jumping offsides. Just too many guys having to be babysat out there as far as getting lined up right.”
Kentucky: With two weeks before the season opener, Kentucky still has four quarterbacks in the battle for the starting job. Drew Barker, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith are still trying to earn that first start ... Although he doesn’t know who will start at QB, head coach Mark Stoops says there was improvement at the position Saturday. “I thought we improved in predictable pass situations,” Stoops said. “That’s the best they’ve looked as far as drop back passing so I thought we made some improvement there.”
#13 LSU: Head coach Les Miles is doing the best he can to keep a lid on reports of what super freshman tailback Leonard Fournette is doing. Fournette had a long run at Saturday’s scrimmage. All Miles would say is “Leonard went a long way and certainly looked good” ... Asked how many yards Fournette ran for in the 120-play scrimmage, Miles said, “Several” ... Defensive end Danielle Hunter had what Miles would call “a dominant” performance with nine tackles including four for loss ... Wide receiver Malachi Dupre and defensive tackle Quentin Thomas did not participate in the scrimmage.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs got a surprise visit from future NFL Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, the sixth leading rusher in NFL history ... The Bulldogs feel very comfortable with a three-man rotation at safety that includes former corner Justin Cox, who has moved to free safety, and Jaye Hughes and Kendrick Market, who are battling it out at strong safety. Hughes ruptured his Achilles on the sixth play of the first game of the 2013 season.
#24 MISSOURI: The offense got the best of the defense in Saturday’s scrimmage. Quarterback Maty Mauck was 8-20 for 103 yards and tailback Russell Hansbrough had nine carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns ... Said head coach Gary Pinkel about the scrimmage, “ We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re doing a lot of good things but to get as efficient and consistent as we can, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Two weeks from today we’re kicking it off. Overall we came through healthy, which is good, but the clock is ticking down.”
#18 OLE MISS: Ole Miss has six players in contention for the starting tailback job. Since all of them run the ball well, the deciding factor for getting the start is probably going to come down to pass blocking ... No decision has been made whether Ryan Buchanan or Devante Kincade will backup starting quarterback Bo Wallace and that’s a decision that might not be made until the season opener with Boise State. Says head coach Hugh Freeze, “Each have different strengths. We’ll do everything with both of them but it would depend on the scenario as to which one would go in.”
#9 SOUTH CAROLINA: Starting right guard Mike Matulis had to be helped off the field at Saturday’s scrimmage with what has been diagnosed as a sprained left knee. That was the only injury at the scrimmage. “Mike Matulis sprained his knee fairly severely,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “They’ll wait and check it out and let us know how severe that was. We’re hoping it’s not as severe as it appeared” ... In the event Matulis is out for awhile, Cody Waldrop would probably slide over to guard with Clayton Stadnik taking over at center ... Spurrier was pleased with the play of starting QB Dylan Thompson. “Dylan hit about everything and made some nice checks,” Spurrier said. “He’s ready to play. We’ve got to keep him healthy but he’s ready to have a big year I believe.”
Tennessee: More than 40,000 fans reportedly showed up for Saturday’s open practice ... Senior quarterback Justin Worley, named the starter by head coach Butch Jones on Thursday, continues to draw praise from Jones. “I see great confidence right now and he should have great confidence. But more command, more taking ownership of being the quarterback at the University of Tennessee, so I see him making progress each and every day along with the other quarterbacks, with Nate (Peterman) and Josh (Dobbs) as well.”
#21 Texas A&M: Head coach Kevin Sumlin picked sophomore Kenny Hill as his starting quarterback over highly touted freshman Brandon Allen. As to why Hill won the job, Sumlin said, “There’s not really one deciding factor. I think it’s a body of work and a feel through practice and with the team.”
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt is putting all its quarterbacks in knee braces ... The play of quarterbacks Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary has been described as “solid” by head coach Derek Mason ... McCray was the standout at Thursday’s scrimmage. Said running back Ralph Webb, “When Johnny McCrary was in the game we got a spark going.”
Who has the toughest first month in the Southeastern Conference? It would be hard to argue against South Carolina, which opens the season with #21 Texas A&M, then is home against tough East Carolina from the American Athletic Conference and #12 Georgia. That’s followed by a roadie to Vanderbilt, which has played everyone tough at home the last two seasons, and then a September 27 homer with #24 Missouri. South Carolina starts the season at #9 and if the Gamecocks emerge from that gauntlet at 5-0, the Gamecocks are going to be poised for a huge season. Steve Spurrier hasn’t been this confident since 2001.
Second place for toughest schedule goes to Tennessee. The Vols have to play Utah State and Arkansas State in the first two games and both those teams are capable of waltzing into Neyland Stadium and leaving 102,000 fans stunned. That’s the easy part of the schedule. Next up are Oklahoma and Georgia on the road. When you throw in Florida as the first game for October, it’s not difficult to imagine the Vols start the season at best 2-3, but quite possibly 0-5.
Florida probably has the easiest first three weeks of any SEC school with Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky all at home. Those three were a combined 5-33 last year and they come into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a combined losing streak of 13 games.
We’ll call this “New Music Week” because all the bands and musicians weren’t even ideas back when I started spending enough money on concerts and music to fund revolutions in third world countries. We’ll start the week with an old song by a relatively new band, The California Honeydrops, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. This is “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.” Lead guitarist and singer Lech Wierzynski really has the voice and style to bring to life the old soul classics from the 1960s and 1970s.