Just in case you forgot – not a difficult thing to do with all the distractions this week – the Florida Gators are indeed playing a football game Saturday. With all the speculation about the suspension of Treon Harris and then the much ado about nothing fight between Skyler Mornhinweg and Gerald Willis, nobody seems to be talking football and the importance of Saturday night’s LSU-Florida matchup at The Swamp.
Lost in the shuffle this week is the fact the Gators (3-1, 2-1 SEC) are in full control of their own destiny in the SEC East Division. Win this game and then follow it up with wins over East Division foes Missouri and Georgia and the Gators could almost waltz into Atlanta for the first time since 2009. Lose this game and the Gators still have a shot to win the East but the road to Atlanta gets infinitely more difficult. With two losses on their SEC record, the Gators would need help because Missouri (1-0 SEC) is still unbeaten in league play and both Georgia (2-1) and Kentucky (2-1) each have only one loss.
And it’s not like LSU lacks incentive. The Tigers (4-2, 0-2 SEC) might have already burned their bridge to Atlanta with consecutive SEC losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, but they are very well aware that they can have a major say in who wins both the East and West divisions. Following the Florida game, the Tigers have five games to go against SEC West foes so there will be ample opportunity to score an upset and derail somebody’s championship hopes. There is also the incentive to build momentum for next year. With 17 true freshmen on the two-deep, many already in prominent roles, LSU figures to start next season on everybody’s short list of national title contenders.
The distractions that have plagued Florida couldn’t have happened at a better time for LSU. Even though he’s coaching one of the youngest teams in all of college football, Les Miles is not accustomed to starting league play on a two-game skid. Losing two in a row can shake up a young team’s confidence. Losing three straight could send them in a tailspin that they can’t fight their way out of. Figure Les will have the Tigers ready to play Saturday night.
Florida’s confidence probably has taken a hit with the Harris suspension because in a span of 36 hours the Gators went from the euphoria of a new hero leading the team to victory in Knoxville to the canyonesque low of realizing Harris won’t be back for awhile – and maybe never if he is charged with a crime and proven guilty. So while scoring a win Saturday would certainly boost Florida’s chances of making it to Atlanta as the SEC East champ, it will also be a serious boost in confidence and right now, there might not be anything more important.
If there is one thing that could drive Nick Saban totally batty and cause him to consider packing his bags and leaving Tuscaloosa to see once again if the grass is truly greener on the other side of some hill somewhere, it is the criticism that comes with being the head football coach at the University of Alabama. If it isn’t fans thinking about jumping off the Tallahatchee Bridge it’s former players offering their version of what’s going on when Bama dares to lose a game. This week, with Alabama getting ready to travel to Fayette-Nam to face Arkansas, there is a regular soap opera going on in Tuscaloosa, caused by – of all people – former Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron. Follow along with the dialogue. It’s quite entertaining.
McCarron, who quarterbacked Alabama to the 2011-12 national titles, was a guest on Tuscaloosa’s 99.1 FM following the Crimson Tide’s unexpected 31-24 loss to Ole Miss. McCarron questioned the playcalling and speculated that Saban might be putting the clamps on offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. McCarron said:
“I don’t know if that’s Lane doing that or if Coach Saban is kind of putting the handcuffs on Lane like I’ve known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator and we’re going to be very bland and run this play and do this and we’ll throw on third down if we have to. It’s going to be interesting to see how they bounce back against Arkansas this wee and what kind of offense comes out this week.”
And the comments about the offense weren’t the only shots that McCarron took. He questioned the leadership of the team and compared it to last year’s Bama team that went unbeaten until the final regular season game with Auburn and then lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. These comments are a bit strange since McCarron made disparaging comments about his teammates following the Sugar Bowl loss. Here’s what AJ had to say about leadership after the Ole Miss loss:
“I think one of the things that this team is lacking that hurts them the most is not having the true leaders like we had last year and guys that when things go bad, ‘Hey, let’s calm everybody down, pick it back up and go back to work and get back on the right track.”
As you might gather, McCarron’s comments created somewhat of a firestorm in Tuscaloosa and parts beyond, so much so that former Georgia All-American and NFL great Fran Tarkenton felt the need to weigh in when he was questioned about the Bama-Ole Miss game on Birmingham’s WJOX. Tarkenton fired a shot across McCarron’s bow, saying:
“AJ McCarron, he needs to be quiet. He was so fortunate to play in that program. He couldn’t have played anywhere else but Alabama. And to make that kind of comment … it’s just disrespectful. He shouldn’t have made it and he should keep his mouth shut [and] praise Saban and Alabama for the rest of his life.”
Of course, you know that the reporters who cover Bama football would feel the need to ask Saban to comment about McCarron at his weekly press conference. Saban seemed to disagree – go figure – with his former quarterback.
“I don’t know how AJ would really know but I don’t necessarily see that as the case … I’m sorta responsible for all that as coaches and players to make sure we’re ready to play our best against good teams in tough environments on the road.”
As you might expect, McCarron tried to walk back his comments, even going so far as to blame the media, claiming his comments were “taken out of contest and blown up more [than] what it was actually intended for.” McCarron tried to take a teensy bit of responsibility before launching once again into the media:
“I misworded it last night and I’ll admit that … But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Media has to sell and that’s just the ugly side of the media. I feel bad for the guys that report the right way and do the right things and don’t try to spin everything into a negative and make it all about sales. The negative side of the media ruins it for the guys that truly care about good reporting.”
Saturday night’s showdown game in the SEC Cannibal Division – what the SEC West should be called since they eat their own over there – between #2 Auburn and #3 Mississippi State could very well produce two winners. Obviously, the team that wins the game will have a leg up not just to win the division but to earn the #1 national ranking, but the quarterback that comes out ahead might have the leg up on the rest of the Heisman Trophy field.
Their performances last week elevated Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Auburn’s Nick Marshall from middle of the pack guys to serious Heisman contenders so with a national audience looking on Saturday night, the QB who shows the ability to make the big plays when the game is on the line stands a great chance to move to the top of the leaderboard. Right now you would have to call it a dead heat. Prescott has impressive wins over LSU and Texas A&M, which were both top ten teams when he sliced and diced their defenses. Marshall also has two impressive wins, one over Kansas State from the Big 12 and LSU last Saturday night. Even though there is half a season to play after Saturday’s game, the winner of this game will have three big wins over ranked opponents and at this stage of the season, there isn’t another quarterback who can say that.
The numbers for Prescott and Marshall:
Prescott: 78-122 passing for 1,232 yards (10.0 per attempt), 13 touchdowns and only two picks; 85-455 rushing (5.4 per carry) for six touchdowns and two pass receptions for 35 yards and one touchdown.
Marshall: 55-95 passing for 755 yards (7.95 per attempt), eight touchdowns and only one interception; 58-392 rushing (6.8 per carry) for four touchdowns.
Parity, better coaching, better athletes, tougher home field advantages. You can point to any one of those factors as why it’s getting tougher and tougher to run the table in college football. When last weekend began, there were 18 undefeated teams. By the time the dust settled only ten teams remained, setting up another showdown weekend where the TCU-Baylor and Auburn-Mississippi State games are guaranteed to knock two more teams off the unbeaten perch.
ACC (2): It’s hard to imagine #1 Florida State (5-0) losing at Syracuse this weekend. FSU is a shell of what it was last year on both sides of the ball, but that shouldn’t matter against a badly outmanned Syracuse team. #22 Georgia Tech (5-0), however, could be vulnerable against Duke (4-1) and its balanced attack (221 passing yards, 225 rushing yards per game).
BIG 12 (2): There will be only one unbeaten standing when the weekend is over because #9 TCU (4-0) travels to #5 Baylor. Not only does this pit the nation’s #2 offense (Baylor, 590.6 yards per) against the #7 defense (TCU, allowing 279.3 yards per) but two coaches who absolutely despise each other in TCU’s Gary Patterson and Baylor’s Art Briles.
CONFERENCE USA (1): Marshall (5-0) and its high powered offense (47.6 points per game and #1 nationally in total offense (595.6 yards per) should have a fun day at the offense against Middle Tennessee, which is giving up 30.7 per game and has issues stopping the pass.
PAC-12 (1): #10 Arizona (5-0) might have to win a shootout against a Southern Cal team that can score a lot of points but has issues stopping teams that run it well. Zona runs it VERY well.
SEC (3): The SEC will have no more than two unbeatens when the weekend is over. #2 Auburn might be the nation’s most complete team but the Tigers will have to figure a way to stop #3 Mississippi State (5-0), which might have the nation’s balanced offense (274 rushing yards and 267 passing yards). Meanwhile #3 Ole Miss (5-0) and the nation’s #5 defense (277.6 yards per game) will be tested by once-beaten Texas A&M, which can throw on anyone, in College Station.
Do you think the distractions will have any affect on the Gators Saturday night against LSU?
I started listening to Spirit in 1968 when I heard “Fresh Garbage” on WAPE while riding to school at GHS. I bought the album and discovered that lead singer/guitarist Randy California’s stepfather was the drummer, which only made the band more interesting. Late in 1968 they came out with their second album, “The Family That Plays Together,” which led off with the very cool “I Got a Line on You.” Between 1968-81, the band did ten albums that all sold fairly well but while they weren’t a great commercial success they were a terrific concert band that not only played their own music but some pretty cool versions of the stuff others were doing. Randy California’s guitar on “All Along the Watchtower” remains one of my better concert memories.