As a long time follower of the NCAA and how it hands out punishment, it is my opinion that unless Todd Gurley is declared eligible sometime today that he will miss the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville Saturday. Although NCAA president Mark Emmert has praised Georgia for its pro-active stance in suspending Gurley indefinitely the moment it learned of his involvement with an autograph broker, it has been three weeks and two games since the suspension. If, as Gurley reportedly claims, he only got $400 to sign more than 800 items, then NCAA guidelines would mandate a suspension of 10% of the schedule. Based on that, Gurley should be eligible to play but the NCAA could have announced that last week when Georgia was open.
There are problems with the story, however. Compensation of $400 for 800 autographed items means Gurley is either a lousy businessman or else someone – ether Gurley or the autograph broker – is lying. The presence of several hundred other Gurley-autographed items for sale on the website of autograph broker Jack Spence Authentication doesn’t help the situation either. If Gurley received more money, that will result in a longer suspension. If the NCAA concludes that Gurley lied at any point in its investigation of the matter, then he could be suspended the remainder of the season.
Based on the way they’ve handled things in the past, the NCAA isn’t likely to wait until Thursday or Friday to lift a suspension. If it doesn’t happen today, figure Gurley doesn’t play against the Gators.
With or without Gurley, it is almost a pick your poison for the Florida defense. When he was playing Gurley was considered the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. If he is allowed to play, it’s unlikely he will show much rust since he’s been practicing with the Bulldogs every day. Healthy and rested, he is a 230-pound load with breakaway speed and impeccable instincts with the ball in his hands.
Without Gurley, the Bulldogs are likely to go with the same format they used to batter and beat down both Missouri and Arkansas on the road – hand the ball off to freshman Nick Chubb and let him carry the offensive load. For the season, Chubb has 569 yards (5.7 per carry) and five touchdowns. In the last two games, he has carried the ball 68 times for 345 yards and three touchdowns and he has seemingly been stronger and more elusive in the fourth quarter than he ever was in the first.
You have to wonder if Chubb would be nearly as effective if he had to share the ball with Gurley since he seems to thrive on carries and contact. Splitting the carries between the two might not allow either one to get into a decent rhythm. Of course, that might be wishful thinking if both get off to a hot start.
Whether it’s Gurley, Chubb or a combination of the two, the Gators have to find a way to stop the run since it is the staple of the Georgia offense. Can Florida do it without loading up the box? Loading the box creates one-on-one situations on the outside where the Bulldogs now have a healthy contingent of talented and tall receivers like Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell on the outside and waterbug Isaiah McKenzie in the slot.
If the Gators can shut down the run, then they will have to contend with a very efficient Georgia passing game. Hutson Mason doesn’t do anything spectacular but he is completing 69% of his passes and has 10 touchdowns against only three interceptions and now that he’s got Conley healthy (19 catches, 336 yards, three touchdowns) he has a receiver who can stretch the defense.
So whether Gurley plays or not, Florida’s defensive game plan isn’t going to change. For the Gators to have a chance they’ve got to neutralize whoever carries the ball, get some pressure on Mason to upset his rhythm and they have to keep Conley in front of the safeties. Of course, the Gators will have to score some points, too, but that’s another story for another day.
The College Football Playoff Selection Committee has delivered its first poll and it is nothing to get excited about. It’s an all Deep South final four but that is likely to change in the next four weeks because there are far too many head-to-head matchups with teams ranked in the CFB poll that will seriously affect the final standings. Because it’s the first poll, the committee doesn’t have to worry about network pressure to balance the final four with more of a national appeal that would include teams from the Midwest and Far West.
If the playoffs began today the semifinal matchups would be:
Here is an assessment of this week’s top four:
(1) Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0 SEC): Ranked #1 in both AP and Coaches polls, one of three undefeated teams remaining in all of Division I and the best three-week stretch of any team in the country with wins over then #8 LSU on the road, then #6 Texas A&M at home and then #2 Auburn at home.
Remaining games: Arkansas; UT-Martin; at #6 Alabama; Vanderbilt; at #4 Ole Miss.
To make the final four: A 4-1 finish doesn’t ensure the Bulldogs will make the final four unless Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss all finish the regular season with two losses. A 5-0 finish along with a win in the SEC Championship Game and the Bulldogs’ ticket is punched as the #1 seed.
(2) Florida State (7-0, 4-0 ACC): The Seminoles are ranked #2 in both the AP and Coaches polls and possess the nation’s longest winning streak (23 games). There are quality wins over Oklahoma State, then #22 Clemson and then #5 Notre Dame.
To make the final four: It’s a weak schedule but the Seminoles are the 2013 national champs and they likely finish the season with a 29-game winning streak. Unbeaten FSU is a no brainer for the final four. A one-loss FSU team won’t get in because the ACC is so weak.
(3) Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC): The Tigers are ranked #4 in both the AP and Coaches polls. The only loss is on the road to #1 Mississippi State. There are quality wins over then #20 Kansas State on the road and then #15 LSU.
Remaining games: at #4 Ole Miss; Texas A&M; at #11 Georgia; Samford; at #6 Alabama.
To make the final four: Auburn has the toughest November of any of the top teams. A two-loss SEC team has no chance to make the playoff so Auburn has to go 5-0 the rest of the way plus win the SEC Championship Game.
(4) Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC): The Rebels are ranked #7 in the AP poll, #9 in the Coaches poll. The only loss is to #24 LSU but there is an impressive win over then #3 Alabama.
Remaining games: #3 Auburn; D1AA Presbyterian; at Arkansas; #1 Mississippi State.
To make the final four: A 4-0 end to the regular season record will get the Rebels to the SEC Championship Game where they could punch their final four ticket with a win. A loss in the last four games will eliminate Ole Miss.
The rest of the top 25:
(5) Oregon; (6) Alabama; (7) TCU; (8) Michigan State; (9) Kansas State; (10) Notre Dame; (11) Georgia; (12) Arizona; (13) Baylor; (14) Arizona State; (15) Nebraska; (16) Ohio State; (17) Utah; (18) Oklahoma; (19) LSU; (20) West Virginia; (21) Clemson; (22) UCLA; (23) East Carolina; (24) Duke; (25) Louisville.
Best chances to crack the final four:
Oregon: A 4-0 finish and a win in the Pac-12 championship game would make the Ducks an appealing 12-1 with a win over Michigan State on the resume.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide can certainly make a strength of schedule statement with wins over #19 LSU, #1 Mississippi State and #3 Auburn in the last four games.
TCU: Wins over #20 West Virginia and #9 Kansas State in the next two weeks could enhance the Horned Frogs’ chances, but they are going to be hurt by the lack of a conference championship game.
Michigan State: The Spartans have to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten Championship Game and they’ll need some help because the conference schedule is very weak. The Oregon loss could doom the Spartans.
Kansas State: The Wildcats hang their chances on wins over #7 TCU, #20 West Virginia and #13 Baylor in the last four games. The Wildcats will actually be helped by their ever so close loss to #3 Auburn but is it enough to overcome the lack of a conference championship game?
Notre Dame: Most experts think there is no way an 11-1 Notre Dame won’t make the final four. To get to that mark, the Irish have to go 5-0 with wins over #14 Arizona State and #25 Louisville as well as the season ending rivalry game with Southern Cal.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes will have to beat Michigan State, run the table and get some help to get in. The Virginia Tech loss will be almost impossible to overcome.
PredictionMachine.com ran 50,000 computer simulations of Florida State’s season using the Mississippi State schedule as its benchmark and came up with an average of 8.3 wins and 3.7 losses. The Seminoles would be favored to lose at LSU, at Alabama and at Ole Miss. The computers gave FSU only a 24% chance to go unbeaten against Mississippi State’s schedule but with five regular season games remaining, the Seminoles will be favored to win all five although the computers say FSU’s chances to run the table are only 12.9%.
Those same computers give Mississippi State only a 9.3% chance to finish unbeaten, predicting the Bulldogs have only a 35% chance to win in Tuscaloosa and a 48% chance in Oxford.
Based on what you have seen of FSU this season, how do you think the Seminoles would fare against an SEC West schedule?
I was listening to The Beatles today and because I can’t decide on one single song of theirs for today’s music, I’ll just give you the entire Abbey Road album. This was their 11th and next to last album that went #1 worldwide almost immediately. I loved the silliness of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and the sweetness of “Golden Slumbers” but “Here Comes the Sun” ranks among my top five Beatles songs of all time.