It took less than 48 hours for the emotional high of the win over Tennessee to sink to unimaginable low depths with the suspension of Treon Harris, not just the hero of the win over the Vols but the guy whose mere presence on the field lifted the sagging spirits of the entire Florida football team. It’s the emotions that you worry about right now.
Harris gave his team such an incredible lift when he directed two consecutive scoring drives when it seemed the Gators were dead in the water and simply running out the clock to the kind of loss that could have sunk an entire season. There was no question he’s the kind of personality that teammates rally around, so you can only imagine the sinking feeling in every heart and stomach when word circulated that Harris was suspended pending an investigation for an alleged sexual assault that took place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Although no statement has been issued by Harris, attorney Huntley Johnson told the Gainesville Sun, “I would be surprised and disappointed if he [Harris] ends up being prosecuted in this case.”
Those are hopeful words, but they offer no clue how long it will take to complete an investigation. Even if Harris has an alibi for his whereabouts at the time the alleged assault took place and that evidence gathered by the Gainesville Police Department forensic team helps to verify his side of the story, this won’t go away soon barring a miracle of parting the Red Sea proportions. Because it is sexual assault we are talking about, the authorities are going to be thorough and methodical. While it might leave Harris hanging in the wind for weeks to come, it’s the right thing to do both for Harris and the University of Florida. The last thing either Harris or the university need are a rush to judgment or a stonewall of Jameis Winston proportions. If Harris is innocent, then he needs to be innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt. The University of Florida cannot afford a Title IX investigation for lack of cooperation or the appearance of a male athlete getting preferential treatment when there are allegations of sexual assault against a woman.
While Harris is going through this ordeal, there is a football team whose primary goal of winning the SEC East Division championship is very much attainable. From a physical standpoint, the Gators are in very good shape. From an emotional standpoint, you have to wonder how this stunning turn of events is going to affect the team. Can they put this behind them? Do they turn this into a “Free Treon” or “Win One for the Gipper” rallying point?
From the moment the Harris suspension was announced, the prevailing question was about the quarterback situation. Have Will Muschamp and Kurt Roper seen enough of Jeff Driskel that they tell freshman Will Grier to start warming up in the bullpen because they plan to move ahead with a two quarterback system or do they tell Driskel, it’s your ball game and we sink or swim entirely with you? Do they continue to go no huddle, up tempo or do they dumb things down and try to win with a 2012 approach, which was win with defense and kicking and tell the offense just don’t screw things up?
Those are questions that will best be answered once Muschamp figures out what he needs to do to plug the emotional holes. That has to be the priority right now because no matter what their offensive plan, the Gators aren’t going to beat LSU Saturday night if they aren’t fully focused on the task at hand.
FLORIDA (3-1, 2-1 SEC): If the Gators can get through the next three games with no worse than a 2-1 mark, they will have an exceptional shot at making it to Atlanta because the final two SEC games are at Vanderbilt, which is in the process of totally wrecking the foundation of success left behind by James Franklin, and South Carolina, which has blown 14-point leads in the fourth quarter on consecutive weekends. Of course, if the Gators go 3-0, they’ll head into those last two with a 5-1 record in league play with the trump win over Georgia, Missouri and Kentucky.
Of course, the question is how are the Gators going to do it with an offense that has looked horrendous in 10 of the past 12 quarters? With Harris out, the options are to turn the offense over completely to Driskel and take their chances that he can start making good decisions and make accurate throws or to burn Grier’s redshirt and play two quarterbacks. Roper favored a two quarterback system when he was at Duke. That would require a gamble on the part of Muschamp, who has always been most comfortable winning games with his defense.
Next three SEC games: LSU, October 11; Missouri, October 18; Georgia (Jacksonville), November 1
The rest of the SEC schedule: at Vanderbilt, November 8; South Carolina, November 15
#13 GEORGIA (4-1, 2-1 SEC): Do two wide receivers trump the loss of three defensive backs? The Bulldogs who got wide receivers Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell back from injury last week but lost four defensive backs in the last two weeks including freshman the Sunday night dismissal of Shaq Jones for shoplifting $86 of merchandise from an Athens Wal-Mart. Add in the four DBs who either were kicked off or transferred out after last season and Georgia is in a heap of trouble. It’s bad when you can’t cover. Worse when you have no depth and the only guys you can play are the guys who can’t cover. All is not fine and funky on the offensive side, either. Despite the addition of the wide receivers, Mark Richt plans to implement a two QB system by bringing in Brice Ramsey to supplement mediocre Hutson Mason. But the secondary is the real issue, particularly considering the schedule.
Georgia is the only ranked team in the SEC East but that’s not going to do them a whole lot of good the next three weeks. Conceivably, Georgia could lose all three games but if they intend to win the SEC East they better not do anything worse than 2-1. If Georgia goes 3-0, the Bulldogs can afford to lose to Auburn on November 15. If they go 2-1, they probably have to beat Auburn to win the SEC East.
Next three SEC games: at Missouri, October 11; at Arkansas, October 18; Florida (Jacksonville), November 1
The rest of the SEC schedule: at Kentucky, November 8; Auburn, November 15
MISSOURI (4-1, 1-0 SEC): Missouri’s path to Atlanta is the most difficult of the fourcontenders because the Tigers still have seven SEC games to play and the other three only have five. If the Tigers win the next three games, it will take three losses after November 1 to knock them out of their second SEC East title in two years. As the only SEC East team without a loss, the Tigers can hold the trump win over both Georgia and Florida with wins in the next two games. November will be extremely tough as the Tigers have a tougher than expected Kentucky and Texas A&M back to back and they end the regular season with an Arkansas team that (a) might need another win to become bowl eligible and (b) can run the ball on anyone, particularly a Missouri team that has trouble stopping teams running the ball between the tackles.
Given the difficulty of their November schedule, it is almost imperative that the Tigers go 3-0 in their next three games. Losing to Vanderbilt probably isn’t going to happen so a loss to either Florida or Georgia would lose
The next three SEC games: Georgia, October 11; at Florida, October 18; Vanderbilt, October 25
The rest of the SEC schedule: Kentucky, November 1; at Texas A&M, November 15; at Tennessee, November 22; Arkansas, November 28
KENTUCKY (4-1, 2-1 SEC): Who would have dreamed that we’d be in the month of October and Kentucky would be in the mix to win the SEC East? The Wildcats are very much in the thick of things, but they have the toughest path to Atlanta starting with the next three games – at LSU, Mississippi State and at Missouri. Throw in the November 8 date with Georgia and the season ender at Tennessee and you have a path to Atlanta that would seem unlikely. But, let’s face it. Who expected the Wildcats to be 4-1 at this point?
For Kentucky to win the East, the Wildcats will have to either run the table or go 4-1 the rest of the way. Two of those four wins will need to be over Missouri and Georgia.
The next three SEC games: at LSU, October 18; Mississippi State, October 25; at Missouri, November 1
The rest of the SEC schedule: Georgia, November 8; at Tennessee, November 29
ESPN Gameday will move from Oxford to Starkville this weekend for the Auburn-Mississippi State game. This marks the second straight week they’ve set up shop in the state of Mississippi and that has never happened before. What were the odds that something like this could have happened when the season began? Are you in any way shocked that here we are six weeks into the college football season and both Ole Miss and Mississippi State are 5-0 and ranked in the top three nationally?
Larry Blakeney earned the right to go out on his own terms, announcing Monday that he will retire at the end of a season that would likely get him fired. Blakeney (175-109-1) has taken Troy from Division II to Division IAA to Division I and has delivered five straight Sun Belt Conference championships (2006-10). The Trojans are 0-5 and about the only thing standing in their way of a reverse run of the table is a Kibbie Dome matchup with Idaho on November 15.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke is on life support after losing to Rutgers. The big question in Ann Arbor is does the administration force AD Dave Brandon to fire the guy he hired or do they fire Brandon first? The safest bet in all of college football is that neither one will be at Michigan next year.
According to the latest projections by CBSSports.com, 12 SEC teams will make a bowl game with only Tennessee and Vanderbilt staying home for the holidays. The projection is that Auburn will be the lone SEC team to make the final four with Mississippi State and Georgia making the second tier bowls below the playoffs. Florida is projected to face Duke in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
SEC Bowl ProjectionsIndependence Bowl: Pitt vs. Arkansas
Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. South Carolina
Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. LSU
Music City Bowl: Penn State vs. Texas A&M Belk Bowl: Duke vs. Florida
Outback Bowl: Nebraska vs. Ole Miss
Citrus Bowl: Ohio State vs. Alabama
Gator Bowl: Louisville vs. Missouri
Birmingham Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Kentucky
Peach Bowl: Marshall vs. Georgia
Cotton Bowl: Oregon vs. Mississippi State
The Final FourRose Bowl: Baylor vs. Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Auburn
Does Will Muschamp go ahead with a two quarterback system even if it means burning the redshirt off Will Grier or does he simply give the ball to Jeff Driskel and say that’s the Gators’ best bet?
During my family’s three-year exile to Mississippi, I spent a good bit of time in New Orleans and listened every day to WNOE where I discovered the sound of the city – bands and singers like Ernie K-Doe, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Dr. John, Fats Domino, The Meters and Lloyd Price – but my favorite was The Neville Brothers from the very first time I heard Aaron Neville sing. In 1967, the top rhythm and blues song of the year was “Tell It Like It Is,” which remains one of my favorite songs of all time. One of the things I love about the Nevilles is even though they are all a bit long in the tooth, their sound is pretty close to what it was in the 1960s.