At his Tuesday press conference, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was asked about the excitement building for Saturday’s season opener in The Swamp against Idaho. In a moment of self-reflection, Muschamp said, “Any time you go through a tough time in your life you reflect, you get humble, you work hard and you pull together and you understand the people around you are close to you. Certainly the people in the building, number one, but within that locker room, number two.”
This was not the almost defiant Muschamp of the past three years, but instead a coach who, for the first time in his career seems fairly comfortable in his own skin. No one has to remind Muschamp that the whole world will be watching. He’s got websites like coacheshotseat.com listing him as the #1 candidate to get the axe and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com rating him a 4.0 out of 5.0 on the hot seat scale, which means win or else. If Muschamp is actually feeling the heat, though, you can’t tell by his current demeanor. Of course, that could change if the Gators are slow out of the gate and take a couple of unexpected hits before the middle of October but for this moment, at least, Muschamp has the appearance and sound of a coach who has taken his lumps, learned his lessons and is ready to cut a swath back to respectability. That he re-evaluated what he was doing and axed three coaches in the offseason said a lot. That he brought in an offensive coordinator with a system diametrically opposed to what went on the last two years says even more.
For now, at least, Muschamp is saying all the right things and his demeanor tends to reflect a measure of confidence that’s different than what we’ve seen the past three years. We’ll know soon enough if this humbled Will Muschamp is a better Will Muschamp, but right now the signs all point in the right direction.
Muschamp indicated that he hasn’t made a decision about who will handle field goals and extra points and while he said, “We’ve got confidence in both guys” when speaking about Austin Hardin and Frankie Velez, that statement is hardly a vote of confidence. Fortunately, neither of the first two games should come down to a field goal so the decision moving forward might come down to which one of the two can split the uprights with 90,000 people in the stadium and a few million watching on ESPNU. But, at some point either Hardin or Velez needs to prove he can get the job done. A reliable field goal kicker certainly would have altered last season’s record and you can almost bet the farm that at some point this year the outcome of at least one game is going to come down to who can kick a football between the uprights.
There is the possibility that Muschamp will split the duties with Velez getting the call for the shorter field goal attempts and Hardin taking the long ones.
“Frankie has been very accurate from 30 in, Austin has a little stronger leg,” Muschamp said Tuesday. Muschamp did point out that Velez was 1-1 from outside the 50 during competition during camp.
No decision has been made about Kyle Christy or Johnny Townsend as the punter, either, but that’s less of a concern. Christy certainly has the leg as he showed in 2012 and Townsend was more than adequate after taking over for Christy last season when it became obvious that Christy was all over the place. If Christy can show any consistency, it would make more sense for him to punt since he’s a senior. That would allow a redshirt for Townsend who would have three more years of eligibility.
Who is the MIP for each team? The MIP is the Most Important Player. If this guy goes down, there is going to be hell to pay replacing him.
#2 Alabama: Safety Landon Collins is Bama’s indispensible man. He’s the steady guy in the secondary who will be making all the back line adjustments.
Arkansas: Senior defensive end Trey Flowers (6.5 sacks last year) is the pass rush. He gets to the QB even though he is doubled up on every play. If he goes down, the secondary is going to get carved up even worse.
#6 Auburn: It’s not Nick Marshall, even though he’s got the talent to turn in a Heisman contention season. If Marshall went down, Gus Malzahn would simply plug in Jeremy Johnson, a power runner though not as fast as Marshall, with a cannon of an arm, something Marshall doesn’t have. It’s a different story if center Reese Dismukes goes down. He’s probably the best in college football at reading the defense and getting the rest of the O-line adjusted properly.
#12 Georgia: If Georgia is going to win the SEC East then Todd Gurley has to stay healthy this year. He might be the most capable running back in the country for putting a team on his back and carrying them.
Kentucky: How good was Bud Dupree last year? For a team that gave up 31 points a game and lost all eight SEC games, Dupree made second team All-SEC and recorded seven sacks. For Kentucky to begin the road back to relevance, he has to come up big this year. Behind him, it’s a void so he can’t go down.
#13 LSU: Maybe the only team in the country that can match Alabama’s talent at running back is LSU. Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and freshman stud Leonard Fournette are all big, strong and fast, very capable of pounding opponents into submission. The Tigers will be breaking in a new QB and new wide receivers, so it’s going to be a run-first offense which means left tackle La’El Collings needs to be even more of a dominator than he was last year.
Mississippi State: Everybody knows what kind of season quarterback Dak Prescott is capable of having but his backup, Damian Williams, is almost as good. If the Bulldogs are going to make a surprise run at the SEC West title it will have to be on defense where Chris Jones has to stay healthy. He commands a double team on every play but still controls two gaps.
#24 Missouri: Markus Golden was almost as good coming off the edge last year as Michael Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, and Kony Ealy, a second round NFL Draft pick. Only four starters return from last year’s defensive unit. Golden is going to have to help out a secondary with three newbies starting by getting to the QB. If he goes down for any significant period of time, Missouri’s defense is in trouble.
#18 Ole Miss: Quarterback Bo Wallace is 100% healthy for the first time in his career and he’s expected to have a terrific senior season. He won’t stay healthy and won’t have the brilliant senior year if left tackle Laremy Tunsil goes down. There isn’t another O-lineman on the roster capable of doing what Tunsil does and he’s the guy who will protect Wallace’s blindside.
#9 South Carolina: Even though the Gamecocks lost All-Americans Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles on the front four, there is talent and depth on the D-line even if it will have to be by committee to replace their contributions. The guy on the defense that has to stay healthy is outside linebacker Skai Moore, who was the Gamecocks’ leading tackler and led the team with four picks. He’s as good against the run as he is in coverage.
Tennessee: Tackling machine A.J. Johnson is good for 100-plus tackles every year, but he will have to be at his best this season because the Vols are replacing the entire defensive line. They weren’t very good on the D-line last year. They’ll probably be worse this year which means Johnson can’t afford to miss any tackles. If he goes down this defense is in deepest and darkest.
#21 Texas A&M: If any of the quarterbacks go down, that’s not really a problem. Kevin Sumlin always has someone capable waiting in the wings. On a bad defense that has to improve, there is no one capable of replacing corner Deshazor Everett, a sure tackler and the one guy in the secondary who can handle good receivers one-on-one.
Vanderbilt: The defense figures to be better under Derek Mason, who fashioned some nasty units when he was the coordinator at Stanford. Over on the offensive side, the Commodores don’t have much in the way of receivers and if running back Jerron Seymour (14 touchdowns last year) goes down, there is no one capable of replacing his yardage.
What does the injury of Braxton Miller do to Ohio State’s odds to win the national championship? Vegas dropped the Buckeyes from 12-1 to 50-1 favorites ... As if they don’t have enough problems at North Carolina with the academic scandal piled on top of the NCAA probation endured because of Butch Davis, the Tar Heels are being investigated because of an alleged hazing incident involving several football players. Larry Fedora needs to fire his agent if he doesn’t have a resume on the desk of every athletic director contemplating a change during or after this season ... Max Starks’ NFL career is likely over after getting cut by the Arizona Cardinals. He lasted 10 years in the league, a long time for an O-lineman ... Former Gator Matt Patchan was cut by the Tampa Bay Bucs ... Just so you know the NFL has its priorities in the right place, the Tampa Bay Bucs just might sign Richie Incognito. Having an O-lineman who can pass block tends to cause NFL GM’s to overlook a few – shall we say – minor indiscrepancies ... The NFL fined Pete Carroll $300,000 and took away two mini-camp days next spring from the Seattle Seahawks for excessive contact in practice ... At the current pace, there won’t be a 100-game winning team in Major League Baseball. If some team fails to get hot and make it to 100, it will mark three years without a 100-win team ... Kevin Love was introduced by the Cleveland Cadavers. With Love, LeBron and Kyrie Irving, the Cadavers have three-fifths of a great starting lineup. Finding those other two pieces isn’t going to be easy ... Shocker: An American woman tennis player not named Williams sprung a big upset. CiCi Bellis, a 15-year-old, knocked off 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova in three sets at the US Open. Now if a couple of US men could actually do something that might get people interested in the game again.
Other than Jeff Driskel, who is the one Gator who will be indispensible this season?
When you rate the best songwriters, you have to consider Billy Joel on your short list. He’s done everything from ballads like “She’s Always a Woman to Me” to doo wop like “The Longest Time” to this incredible time piece called “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” While a lot of songwriters write about the elusive you – whoever you is – Joel’s songs seem more self-reflective. He’s a real story teller with tunes. This is “Leave a Tender Moment Alone,” which rates as one of my favorites because of the great harmonica by Toots Thielmanns.