Nothing highlights the downhill slide of Florida football quite like the play at quarterback since the 2010 season. To put it kindly, when it’s been at its best it has been merely adequate, and when it’s been at its worst it’s whatever is a step or two above horrendous. With an undersized sophomore with average arm strength, a redshirt freshman who spent his high school career going against lower rung competition in North Carolina and a fourth-year junior who accumulated no stats in 2014, there is reason for concern that the Gators will endure a sixth consecutive year with an underperforming quarterback but a look at the track record of first year head coach Jim McElwain does offer a ray of hope.
In 2008 when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, McElwain got to the SEC Championship Game with John Parker Wilson at quarterback. Wilson was in his third year as a starter so some improvement was to be expected. The real test of McElwain’s ability to develop the position came the following year when inexperienced, little-used Greg McElroy took over as the starter and led the Crimson Tide to a 14-0 national championship season. In 2010, McElroy had another outstanding year, backed up by freshman A.J. McCarron. McCarron went from a backup to a national championship caliber QB in 2011 under McElwain. With McElwain departed for the head coaching job at Colorado State in 2012, Doug Nussmeier took over as the QB coach/offensive coordinator at Bama and got another national title.
McElwain had a good thing going in 2012 at CSU with Garrett Grayson, but he went down with an injury in the seventh game and didn’t play again. Grayson threw 55 touchdown passes in 2013-14 and led CSU to consecutive bowl games.
The key word is development. If you follow the quarterbacks and their stats at Alabama under McElwain (and two years of Nussmeier) and then at Colorado State, there is a pattern of solid improvement. While there isn’t much in the way of experience at Florida, McElwain’s track record is one of success so this could turn into a surprising strength.
McElroy, 2008: 8-11; 123 yards; 1 TD, 1 INT
McElroy, 2009: 198-325; 2,508 yards; 17 TD, 4 INT
McElroy, 2010: 222-313; 2,987 yards; 20 TD, 5 INT
McCarron, 2010: 30-48; 389 yards; 3 TD, 0 INT
McCarron, 2011: 219-328; 2,634 yards; 16 TD, 5 INT
McCarron, 2012: 211-314; 2,933 yards; 30 TD, 3 INT
McCarron, 2013: 226-336; 3,230 yards; 28 TD, 7 INT
Grayson, 2011: 43-77; 542 yards; 2 TD, 6 INT
Grayson, 2012: 78-138; 946 yards; 7 TD, 3 INT
Grayson, 2013: 297-478; 3,696 yards, 23 TD, 11 INT
Grayson, 2014: 270-420; 4,006 yards; 32 TD, 7 INT
All eyes, it seems, are on Wisconsin, Arizona and Duke. Nobody seems to think any of the other teams in the Sweet 16 have a chance to stand in the way of Kentucky’s march to 40-0 history. Certainly, no one is giving Thursday night opponent West Virginia much chance. Las Vegas has established Kentucky as a solid, 13.5-point favorite. The Wildcats are 36-0 and they’ve had only seven games all season that were decided by fewer than 10 points. West Virginia, meanwhile, has nine losses on its schedule although eight of them were against Big 12 Conference opponents.
Kentucky has the size advantage, but the Wildcats have the size advantage over all the teams in the NBA, too, so there is nothing unusual about that. The Wildcats are also thought to be the best defensive team to come down the pike in years.
They play a pretty good brand of defense at West Virginia, too, and the Mountaineers have something nobody else has in the NCAA Tournament – a coach who has completely dominated John Calipari throughout the years. Bob Huggins is 8-2 in his career against Calipari and one of those wins was in the NCAA semifinals in 2010 when his less-talented Mountaineers stuck it to Kentucky and its lineup that included NBA first rounders John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton.
While Kentucky is taller and more talented up front than the 2010 edition, there is no way the current Wildcat guards match up to the combo of Wall and Bledsoe along with current NBA players Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. Huggy Bear was able to exploit the Kentucky guards in 2010, which has been his strategy against Calipari teams dating all the way back to UMass in 1993.
Remember this name: Juwan Staten. If he has a huge game then WVU will be in the hunt. Pundits are already chalking this up as a Kentucky win. History, meanwhile, screams “Not so fast my friends.”
1993 – Cincinnati 64, Massachusetts 53 (Huggins 1-0)
1994 – Cincinnati 76, Massachusetts 74 (Huggins 2-0)
2001 – Cincinnati 66, Memphis 65 (Huggins 3-0)
2001 – Cincinnati 89, Memphis 79 (Huggins 4-0)
2002 – Cincinnati 80, Memphis 75 (Huggins 5-0)
2003 – Memphis 67, Cincinnati 48 (Huggins 5-1)
2004 – Cincinnati 83, Memphis 79 (Huggins 6-1)
2005 – Cincinnati 62, Memphis 60 (Huggins 7-1)
2010 – West Virginia 73, Kentucky 66 (Huggins 8-1)
2011 – Kentucky 71, West Virginia 63 (Huggins 8-2)
While the NCAA definitely has to do something to reshape its First Four concept, it might be time to alter what happens after the 64 teams are trimmed down to the Sweet 16. There is a growing number of experts and coaches alike who would like to see the NCAA re-seed the tournament after the first weekend. The thought is that by re-seeding the teams, it would make for more competitive games and lessen the chance that any team gets to the Final Four through a less competitive region.
Under the current format, here is what the weekend looks like as the tournament will pare down to a Final Four:
#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina
#2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier
Following the final game of the first weekend Sunday, ESPN.com re-seeded the final 16 teams this way:
6. Michigan State
7. North Carolina State
8. Wichita State
9. West Virginia
13. Notre Dame
14. North Carolina
Using the ESPN re-seeding as the format, this weekend’s Sweet 16 games would look like this:
#1 Kentucky vs. #16 UCLA
#2 Duke vs. #15 Oklahoma
#3 Arizona vs. #14 North Carolina
#4 Gonzaga vs. #13 Notre Dame
#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Utah
#6 Michigan State vs. #11 Xavier
#7 North Carolina State vs. #10 Louisville
#8 Wichita State vs. #9 West Virginia
The Elite Eight Bracket would look like this:
Game #1 winner vs. Game #8
Game #2 winner vs. Game #7
Game #3 winner vs. Game #6
Game #4 winner vs. Game #5
Last year, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall turned down opportunities to coach in the Pac-12 (California) and SEC (Tennessee). Both jobs offered more money than the $1.75 million he makes coaching Wichita State, but he turned them down without so much as a serious look. The year before, when he took Wichita State to the Final Four, Marshall could have written his own ticket practically wherever he wanted to go, but he chose to stay put.
Marshall is about to get another offer to coach in the Southeastern Conference just as soon as Wichita State’s season ends, which could be as early as Thursday night when the Shockers play Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional. This time the call will come from Alabama and the folks in Tuscaloosa mean business. There are reports that the bidding will start at $3 million per season and that Alabama is prepared to go as high as $4.5 million to get its man. Both Tennessee and California offered something in the $2.5 million range last year, which pales by comparison.
There are reasons why Marshall might turn Bama down: (1) He is so popular in Wichita that he could run for mayor; (2) as long as he wins and runs a clean program he could stay for life at Wichita State; (3) the Shockers play in a highly competitive conference and sell out all their games so there is no lack of support; and (4) he’s never really been motivated by money.
However, there are reasons why Marshall might take the Bama bait: (1) He could make as much as $4.5 million; (2) his mother lives in Greenwood, South Carolina and wants her baby boy to come back to the south so she can be closer to the grandkids; (3) $4.5 million; (4) they are making so much money at Bama because of football that they’ve got to spend it somewhere so why not invest a bunch of millions into the basketball program?; and (5) $4.5 million.
The guess here is that he takes the money.
1. Murry Bartow, East Tennessee State
2. Howard Moore, Illinois-Chicago
3. Jerome Allen, Penn
4. Dale Layer, Liberty
5. Steve Aggers, Loyola Marymount
6. David Carter, Nevada
7. Chuck Driesell, The Citadel
8. Lenox Forrester, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
9. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
10. Milan Brown, Holy Cross
11. Anthony Grant, Alabama
12. Paul Hewitt, George Mason
13. Bill Grier, San Diego
14. Alan Major, Charlotte
15. Tom Pecora, Fordham
16. Rick Ray, Mississippi State
17. Steve Shields, Arkansas-Little Rock
18. Dave Bezold, Northern Kentucky
19. Geno Ford, Bradley
20. Jimmy Lallathin, Kennesaw State
Rumblings: Now that Ben Howland has taken the Mississippi State job, there are reports DePaul has set its sights on Bruce Drew (Valparaiso) and Bobby Hurley (Buffalo). Alumni apparently would like to see former DePaul star Tyrone Corbin, a former head coach in the NBA, get the job … Howland is expected to name former UCLA assistant and former head coach of the Atlanta Celtics AAU program to his staff at Mississippi State … Chattanooga head coach Will Wade, thought to be the front runner for the job at Charlotte, pulled his name from consideration. It is thought that Charlotte has turned its attention now to Wofford coach Mike Young.
Do you think it is time the NCAA should consider the re-seeding of teams after the first weekend or stick with the current format?
If you’re into pure rock and roll, there’s nothing like a ZZ Top concert. While other bands fill the stage with musicians, ZZ Top has done it with a guitar, bass and drums for the better part of 46 years, the only variance an 8-year period from 1983-91 when they added a synthesizer to add to their commercial appeal. In 1992, they went back to the basics and have stayed there ever since. Their 2015 tour has already begun and it will include three shows in Florida in May: Tampa, May 7; West Palm Beach, May 8; and St. Augustine, May 9. If you’ve never caught them in person, this is a show you shouldn’t miss. Today’s music is a live performance of “LaGrange” from their 1980 album “Double Down Live.”