For those of you old enough to remember, there used to be this cartoon character named Joe Btfsplk in the comic strip Li’l Abner, which was penned by Al Capp and very popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. Wherever he walked Joe Btfsplk had a dark cloud hanging over his head. He was a jinx who brought misfortune to everyone who came in contact with him. If ever someone needed a good break or two, it was poor, hapless Joe.
The same could be said about the Florida football program. With the exception of that shocking 11-2 season in which the Gators caught nearly every break imaginable in 2012, it’s been one shot of bad luck after another since the Tuesday morning before the 2009 SEC Championship Game when Carlos Dunlap was arrested and charged with DUI. It wasn’t just Dunlap’s arrest that threw the Gators off that week, it’s the fact there was a birthday party going on the Monday night before the biggest game of the season. Alabama had a great team that year but does anyone believe that a fully focused Florida team would have lost that SEC Championship Game?
The Gators lost Charlie Strong, Vance Bedford, Kenny Carter and Billy Gonzales from that coaching staff. Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden, Major Wright, Aaron Hernandez and Dunlap to the NFL. Even with the losses to the coaching staff, does anyone think the Gators would have finished 8-5 in 2010 if those five players had returned?In 2011, the Gators were 4-0 and giving Alabama everything the Crimson Tide could handle when John Brantley went down with a high ankle sprain. With a healthy Brantley, the Gators probably go 9-3 and don’t need to eke out a win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl to finish with a winning record.
If Jordan Reed doesn’t fumble at the Georgia five with 2:05 to go in 2012, Florida probably scores a touchdown and then has a chance to tie and send the game into overtime. It was Florida’s only loss of the year. Had the Gators won they would have faced Alabama for the SEC title and with a win could have played for a national title.
Then there is 2013 when it was one injury after another starting with the broken ankle Jeff Driskel suffered against Tennessee. The Gators still won that game and the next two and were one play away in a loss to Miami from a 5-0 start. The Gators were a play away from beating Georgia, South Carolina and Georgia Southern. The difference in an 8-4 season and a 4-8 that was the first losing season for UF since 1979 was four plays.
Will Muschamp, who spent four years doing a Joe Btfsplk impersonation, had a game rained out and was within three plays of a 10-2 season in 2014. Instead, he went 6-5 and was fired. Muschamp’s record at Florida was 28-21 and while we can point to numbers that don’t lie about an offense that was anywhere from bad to worse most of the time, he was a handful of plays away from a 40-9 record. People would have still complained about the offense, but they wouldn’t have been calling for his head, not at 40-9.
Think about it. If 12 plays go Florida’s way, no one is talking about Florida’s slide backward, Will Muschamp is still Florida’s coach and not the defensive coordinator at Auburn, and Jim McElwain is probably the head coach at Nebraska instead of Mike Riley. Instead, we start a new season with a new coach and tempered expectations. It has been a long run of bad luck that has gone mostly against the Gators the last five years.
It is definitely time for things to change.
Florida 45, Alabama 30; December 7, 1996
The Gators began the day #4 nationally and needing help to get back into the national championship picture. In the hours prior to the SEC Championship matchup with Alabama at the Georgia Dome, #3 Nebraska gave the Gators a present by losing to unranked Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. With second ranked and unbeaten Arizona State already committed to a Rose Bowl date with Ohio State, an SEC championship by the Gators could earn a rematch with #1 and unbeaten FSU in the Sugar Bow by knocking off Alabama, which had only given up six touchdown passes all season. So, a week after his worst game of the season, Danny Wuerffel came back to seal Florida’s fourth straight SEC title and the Heisman Trophy by throwing for 401 yards and six touchdown passes. Wuerffel and Reidel Anthony connected 11 times for 171 yards and three touchdowns (21, 13 and 21 yards) while Ike Hilliard (46) yards, Eli Williams (45 yards) and Jacquez Green (85 yards) each caught one TDP. Alabama tried the same strategy FSU used the week before, showing eight in the box and bringing the heat on every play. It worked on Florida’s first three possessions when Wuerffel threw an interception and was sacked twice, but Steve Spurrier changed to three-step drops which allowed Wuerffel to pick apart Alabama’s secondary, which was in straight man coverage with no help over the top. The Gators led 31-28 in the third quarter when Wuerffel and Green connected with their long bomb to make it 38-28. Following a three-and-out by Bama, Wuerffel got the Gators in the end zone in three plays, finishing things off with a 21-yard fade to Anthony. The win got the Gators their rematch with FSU in the Sugar Bowl but Florida still needed help to win the national title. Help came in the form of Ohio State’s 20-17 win over Jake Plummer and Arizona State in the Rose Bowl setting up the Sugar Bowl as the national championship game.
1. Florida 102-22-1
2. Tennessee 99-22-2
3. Alabama 83-40 (92-30-1 without NCAA vacated wins/ties)
4. Auburn 72-40-3
5. Georgia 72-43-1
6. Ole Miss 67-48
7. Mississippi State 63-50-2
8. Arkansas 55-58-2 *
9. LSU 54-58-1
10. South Carolina 42-66-3 **
11. Kentucky 44-69
12. Vanderbilt 34-76
* Arkansas was 9-14-0 in 1990-91 in the Southwest Conference ** South Carolina was 9-11-2 in 1990-91 as an independent
Not in the SEC in the 1990s
Best 5 coaches
1. Steve Spurrier, Florida 100-22-1
2. Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee 76-18
3. Gene Stallings, Alabama 71-15-1
4. Terry Bowden, Auburn 47-17-1
5. Jim Donnan, Georgia 32-15-1
Best 10 players
1. Danny Wuerffel, Florida
2. Peyton Manning, Tennessee
3. Jay Barker, Alabama
4. Chris Samuels, Alabama
5. Shane Matthews, Florida
6. Champ Bailey, Georgia
7. Kevin Carter, Florida
8. Alan Faneca, LSU
9. Errict Rhett, Florida
10. Dale Carter, Tennessee
In a league as tough top to bottom and as balanced as the Southeastern Conference, the margin of error is razor fine. While some teams are more complete than others, all 14 SEC teams have one position that is a potential Achilles Heel for the 2015 season.
Alabama: Conventional thought is that quarterback will be the problem position for the Crimson Tide, but folks in the know in Tuscaloosa say Jacob Coker is going to be just fine. The Achilles Heel position is wide receiver where Alabama lost 183 catches, 2,495 yards and 21 touchdowns to graduation and the NFL. Alabama has good looking young prospects in Chris Black and Ardarius Stewart but there isn’t a receiver on the team that can scare the bejabbers out of a secondary. Unless someone emerges, Bama will see a lot of 8-man fronts.
Arkansas: When Arkansas made its defensive turnaround in the month of November last year, the Hogs had an eraser at safety in Alan Turner. Turner was the last line of defense, whose ability to put people on the ground or provide over the top coverage eliminated big plays. Turner and his 65 tackles as well as his steady presence are gone. With the Hogs having to fill holes on the D-line and at linebacker, Turner’s old safety spot is the Achilles Heel. Josh Liddell has huge shoes to fill. Auburn: All Austin Golson has to do is replace Reese Dismukes, who made 50 consecutive starts at center and won the 2015 Rimington Trophy. With the Auburn offense transitioning to more of a passing game, Golson has very little room for error. If he’s not good, Auburn’s offense is in trouble.
Florida: Back in the early days of the Tampa Bay Bucs, head coach John McKay was asked about his team’s offensive execution. McKay responded, “I’m all for it.” It is no secret that Florida’s Achilles Heels is the offensive line, perhaps the youngest in the country. If they can’t execute and block somebody this year, Jim McElwain might be tempted to respond in a similar manner to McKay if asked about the offense’s execution.
Georgia: When Florida and Georgia Tech were pushing the Georgia D-line around last year, they consistently blew up the nose tackle and ran for big yards (Florida 418, Georgia Tech 399). Georgia plans to plug that gap with true freshman Trent Thompson. He’s backed up by senior Chris Mayes, who had seven tackles in eight games last year. If Thompson can’t get the job done, good running teams are going to have a field day pounding the ball against Georgia.
Kentucky: The Wildcats got gashed for big yards way too often last year and that was with NFL first rounder Bud Dupree and fourth rounder Za’Darius Smith bringing the heat (12 combined sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss) off the edge. Dupree and Smith are gone and the Wildcats don’t have anyone with serious ability to get to the quarterback off the edge.
LSU: The good news is that LSU returns both its first and second team quarterbacks in Anthony Jennings and Brandon Allen. That is also the bad news. Bad quarterback play had everything to do with four of LSU’s five losses last year. If Jennings and Allen aren’t light years better, LSU could lose five again.
Mississippi State: In five of their 13 games last season, Mississippi State gave up at least 9.0 yards per pass attempt. The Bulldogs gave up 19 touchdown passes last year. If those numbers don’t come down significantly, Mississippi State will be in big trouble this fall.
Missouri: Nate Brown caught five passes for 45 yards last year which makes him Missouri’s most experienced returning wide receiver. Gone to graduation are 175 catches for 2,285 yards and 24 touchdowns. Someone better step up and prove he can catch the football.
Ole Miss: Jaylen Watkins is 5-8, 166, hardly the guy you want running the ball between the tackles. The size issue also comes into play in pass protection where Watkins is overpowered. If Jordan Wilkins (6-1, 215) and juco redshirt Akeem Judd (6-0, 220) can’t get the job done both running between the tackles and in pass protection the Rebels will suffer.
South Carolina: Connor Mitch was 2-6 throwing the ball for 19 yards last year. He is the most experienced QB on the South Carolina roster. Steve Spurrier may have no choice but to start true freshman Lorenzo Nunez.
Tennessee: Billy Donovan used to ask the question does a year older make you necessarily a year better? Tennessee will be asking this question until the O-line proves it can actually impede a pass rusher. The Vols gave up 40 sacks last year.
Texas A&M: John Chavis was brought in to exorcise the demons that haunt the Aggie defense. A good place to start the exorcism ritual would be linebacker where all three linebackers from a horrible defense graduated. What does that say about the three replacements?
Vanderbilt: As bad as the Commodores were at quarterback last year (only 6.0 per pass attempt, 19 picks) the secondary was worse. Opponents averaged 7.6 per pass attempt and threw 19 touchdowns while the Dores picked off only six. Three of the four starters return which is good news and bad news.
Defensive tackle Maquedius Bain is transferring out from LSU. Bain was one of three Tigers to see charges dropped at the alleged victim’s request for unauthorized entry into an occupied dwelling. Even though he was immediately reinstated to the team, Bain elected to transfer to Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. With Bain’s transfer, LSU will go into the 2015 season with only five scholarship defensive tackles.
Baylor’s 6-8, 405-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan has body fat of 35%, which is consistent with most offensive linemen. Explains Baylor strength and conditioning coach Kaz Kazadi, “What it means is he’s got 100 pounds more muscle than everybody else.”
Not that he would ever be in a situation to make a catch like this in a real game, Braxton Miller of Ohio State has a video circulating showing him making a one-handed catch of a football while holding five footballs in his other hand.
Paul Finebaum says Florida State has no business being ranked in the preseason top ten because “[Everett] Golson has been unimpressive since the 2012 season.” Golson the Notre Dame graduate transfer to FSU responded on Twitter with this shot back: “The fire has been lit but thanks @paulfinebaum for adding fuel to it.”
Now that his Nike shoe contract is about to expire, James Harden is being wooed by adidas for 13 years, $200 million. Are there really that many people out there who want to be like James Harden? Is this a desperation move by adidas, which has fallen to third place in the shoe and apparel wars behind Nike and Under Armour?
Craig James, who was fired from Fox Sports because of statements he made regarding gay marriage during a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in Texas, is suing Fox Sports for religious discrimination. James is seeking back wages and punitive damages.
Do you think Mike Summers can work a small miracle this year and turn Florida’s offensive line into a respectable unit?
It was at the Monterrey Pop Festival of 1967 that Otis Redding truly crossed over from rhythm and blues to a mainstream performer. Redding had been a big star on the soul music circuit since he was 17, but at age 26 he was on the verge of true superstardom. Backed up by Booker T and the MGs at Monterrey, Otis wowed the crowd and word spread like wildfire. Record sales were going through the roof when Otis died in a private plane crash in Wisconsin, just a few days after he had recorded “Dock of the Bay” which became his first #1 hit on the mainstream Billboard pop charts.