For Gator Nation, what happened at SEC Media Days should be the equivalent of the ice bucket challenge. If you hadn’t already come to grips with the fact that the Florida Gators go into the 2015 season armed with the kind of experience and talent you normally expect for the dwellers of the lower tiers of the Southeastern Conference, then the complete and total disrespect offered up by a vote of a media in Hoover, Alabama was your cold bucket of ice.
Fifth place SEC East. One first team, one second team and one third team preseason All-SEC selection ... not much different than what you’ll find in Sporting News, Phil Steele, Athlon or Lindy’s.
This is the lowest point for Florida football since the Amedeeville Horror of 1988 when offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee confided in the late, great Jack Hairston that Emmitt Smith would never, ever, in his wildest dreams be the back that Willie McClendon would be and that Emmitt’s best value to the team was as a decoy. This is not made up.
Two years later, Steve Spurrier was the coach, the talent pool was on the rise and both coaching and player development were back in vogue. That led to a 20-year run (1990-2009) in which Florida won three national championships, eight SEC championships and more football games than any team in the nation. Based on what the Gators have going for them in 2015, they are closer to a championship than say the New Horizons spacecraft is to the dwarf planet Pluto (3.6 million miles), but not by much. It’s going to take a whole lot of coaching and player development just for the Gators to be a 6-6 or 7-5 team this year. If the Gators win eight or more, Jim McElwain should be the SEC Coach of the Year.
Can the Gators win eight or nine games this year? If Berkeley Breathed can resurrect Bloom County (he has; go to his Facebook page), then it goes to show that anything is possible. Probable? Now that’s another story altogether.
Top 10 teams nationally in wins from 1990-2009
1. Florida: 202-52-1
2. Ohio State: 193-54-3
3. Nebraska: 192-60-1
4. Florida State: 182-57-1
5. Miami: 184-60
6. Texas: 184-63-2
7. Tennessee: 182-66-2
8. Michigan: 174-69-3
9. Virginia Tech: 176-71-1
10. Penn State: 172-72
Other SEC teams:
11. Georgia: 170-74-1
14. Auburn: 160-79-3
19. Texas A&M: 157-87-2
22. LSU: 153-89-1
26. Alabama: 141-88
42. Ole Miss: 130-106
49. Arkansas: 126-112-2
60. Missouri: 113-121-3
62. South Carolina 110-120-3
70. Mississippi State: 105-126-3
84. Kentucky: 94-139
98. Vanderbilt: 68-159
The feel good story of the week is former Gator Scottie Wilbekin proving once again that if you hold onto your dreams and continue to work your butt off even when all the odds seem stacked against you that good things happen. Scottie played so well with the Orlando Magic in the NBA Orlando Summer League that he was picked up by the Philadelphia 76ers for the Las Vegas Summer League. In Vegas, Scottie averaged 14.4 points and hit 15-34 from the 3-point line. That was enough for the 76ers to sign him to a 4-year deal. Last year, Wilbekin was All-NBL in Australia, where he averaged 15.2 points and 4.3 assists while leading Carins to the championship finals.
People tend to forget that Wilbekin is only 22 years old (won’t be 23 until next April). He was a 17-year-old freshman for the Gators back in 2010 who proved from day one that he could play lock down defense. That will be the calling card that earns him minutes off the bench in the NBA.
1. Robb Smith, Arkansas: Surprised? You shouldn’t be. In his first year with the Hogs he sliced 11 points and 90 yards off the per game averages against an SEC West schedule. In their five games after November 1, 2014, the Hogs gave up only 45 points and registered back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Ole Miss. He’s on a lot of head coaching radars right now. If he’s smart he’ll get some experience at a Sun Belt or MAC school before trying a big job.
2. Will Muschamp, Auburn: He is The Peter Principle. As a head coach he rose beyond his level of competence. He’s back to being a coordinator now, which is where he needs to stay. But, if Auburn wins the SEC this year, someone will hire him as a head ball coach once again.
3. John Chavis, Texas A&M: He will look like a true genius this year. Last year the Aggies gave up 189 points in their five losses.
4. Kirby Smart, Alabama: This might be too high. Alabama’s points and yards per game allowed have increased every year since the 2011 national championship. Still, he’s at Alabama which has more talent than anyone else.
5. Jason Jones/Dave Wommack, Ole Miss: The talent these guys inherited was abysmal. Now Ole Miss has the athletes and the sophisticated scheme. The Rebels were the toughest team to score upon in the nation last year.
6. Kevin Steele, LSU: He was pretty bad as the Clemson DC from 2009-12, but he’s got great talent, great assistants and Coach O at LSU. He might seem like a better DC than he really is this year.
7. Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia: Florida ran for 418 yards and Georgia Tech ran for 399. South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas all had more than 400 yards of offense and Louisville threw for 314. This was against maybe the best roster of defensive athletes to work with in the SEC. He’s got something to prove.
8. Geoff Collins, Florida: His Mississippi State defenses were ferocious in the red zone (only 19 touchdowns in 44 trips). He has better athletes to work with at Florida so his blitz everybody schemes might produce surprisingly good results. He has the advantage of Randy Shannon coaching his linebackers and Chris Rumph handling his D-line.
9. Manny Diaz, Mississippi State: He was the scapegoat for what went wrong at Texas in Mack Brown’s final days. He did marvelous things with Mississippi State’s defense his first go round (2010). The Bulldogs will start blitzing when they get off the bus.
10. Lorenzo Ward/Jon Hoke, South Carolina: When the talent Ellis Johnson recruited dried up in 2014, Lorenzo Ward’s defense was really bad. Jon Hoke has been brought in from the NFL and Steve Spurrier has made defensive recruiting a priority. The Chickens will be improved this year but will it be enough?
12. John Jancek, Tennessee: This is his third year and lack of talent is no longer an excuse. If the Vols can’t dominate with the talent on hand this year then they need a new DC.
13. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: He fired last year’s DC and put himself in charge. His Stanford defenses were very good, but they were with talent Jim Harbaugh recruited. Harbaugh doesn’t recruit for Vandy.
14. D.J. Eliot, Kentucky: This is his third year on the job. In each of the previous two seasons the Wildcats gave up more than 30 points per game.
Michigan’s deal with Nike is worth about $11 million per season of which you can figure something like $4 million per year is for the psychological impact of stealing away the biggest name in the shrinking adidas stable. In the last year adidas has lost Notre Dame to Under Armour and Tennessee and Michigan to Nike. Considering Miami’s continued slide toward a permanent place among the mediocre in football, the addition of the Himmicanes to the adidas stable will have about as much impact as William “The Refrigerator” Perry drinking a Diet Coke to wash down those four Quarter Pounders.
The Michigan deal dwarfs the one Florida signed with Nike back in February. Nike added another million in cash and apparel to Florida’s existing deal, raising the annual total to $3.3 million. You can argue till the cows come home that Michigan is a bigger and better known national brand than the University of Florida but is it worth more than $7 million per year? It’s true that the Florida brand isn’t what it was back in the Tebow days, but Michigan’s deal with adidas was a good $6 million more even then and Florida was riding the wave of two national titles in both basketball and football.
My grandmother once told me that if you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all. Okay, Bill Arnsparger was a great defensive coordinator for the Dolphins back in the 1970s when they were the best team in the NFL. There, I’ve said something good. That’s all.
When I look at the folks at the top of the British Open Leaderboard and see Jordan Speith is just one shot off the pace at -11, I have to think he’s the favorite to take home the Claret Jug. After what I’ve seen of how he handled the pressure in winning the Masters and US Open, it’s unlikely the pressure will get to him. If I bet on anything that could talk, I’d put money on him winning.
Tiger Woods didn’t make the cut at the British Open, prompting Shane Ryan of Golf Digest to essentially say we can stick a fork in his career as a true championship level golfer. We used to hold our collective breaths when Tiger hit the ball because we knew something impressive was about to happen. We hold our collective breaths now because Tiger hits the ball far too often to the kind of places on the golf course with which so many of us are all too familiar. Did you ever think you would see Tiger playing Grandmother’s House Golf? You know … over the river and through the woods? Tiger’s 2-day total at the British Open was a 151. Only 11 golfers carded higher scores.Back in 2012 when injuries limited Alex Rodriguez to 122 games, he hit .272 with 18 homers and 57 RBI. Through 84 games this season and coming off a 1-year suspension, A-Rod is hitting .279 with 19 homers and 52 RBI. He’s one week from his 40th birthday.
In this era of coaches backing up a Brinks truck on contract day, former Gator assistant Larry Shyatt is refreshing. Shyatt extended his contract with Wyoming until 2020, taking less money for himself than was offered and making sure that money was distributed to staff and assistants. In his five seasons at Wyoming the Cowboys are 103-60. If you’ve ever spent a day butt-deep or higher in snow in Laramie in December or January then you recognize what an outstanding job Shy has done.
How many years do you think it will take Jim McElwain to get the Gators back to a championship level?
The late J.J. Cale preferred to write the songs and play guitar for musicians recording one of his songs on their albums. Eric Clapton, who made a ton of money off Cale songs “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” called him one of the most influential musicians of the second half of the 20th century. At Clapton’s insistence, Cale and Clapton combined for an album in 2006 they entitled “The Road to Escondido.” This was the last recorded musical work of the late Billy Preston, who played keyboards on the album, which won the 2008 Grammy for best contemporary blues.