What we learned from Florida’s 31-24 win over East Carolina is that the Gators have a razor fine margin for error. Perhaps no team in the Southeastern Conference will require nearly every phase of the game to perform at or near perfection to win now that the SEC portion of the schedule kicks in.
The good news Saturday night was the Gators won and as Jim McElwain said in his post game remarks, that might be the only good news. McElwain might have sounded like he was on a rant after the game, but he does understand more than anyone else just how close the Gators will be to disaster every time they play this season. Mac and staff can coach until they are so blue in the face the paramedics have to be called as a precaution but if the team doesn’t buy in 100% and treat each practice as a necessity for improvement, then the Gators are in trouble. If they are thoroughly prepared, they’ll be in the games. If not, win or lose is a 50-50 proposition.
It’s easy to dismiss New Mexico State as the bad team it is, but that doesn’t change the fact the Gators played with discipline and with assignment integrity on both sides of the ball in that game. Against ECU, discipline was out the window and far too many players felt the need to ignore their assignments. If the Gators do that this week with a road trip to Kentucky looming, then their 28-year winning streak against the Wildcats is going to come to an end.
Mac says he saw Saturday night coming. It started when Demarcus Robinson missed the mandatory team meal last Sunday and extended into Monday when 30 players still hadn’t gotten their ankles taped when practice began. That laissez-faire attitude must have carried on through the week because the Gators played against ECU like a team that took its football lessons by air mail and the mail was late.
The Gators have talent but they’re not nearly deep enough. They have talented young guys who (a) lack experience and (b) do not understand the commitment it takes to win big in the SEC. There is no entitlement in the SEC and after the last four years of mediocrity, there is no intimidation factor either. Nobody is afraid of the Gators anymore. If these guys want to win and want respect, then they have to earn it and that starts in their game week preparation.
We’ll know early on next Saturday night in Lexington just how important it was for this Gator team to buy into what Jim McElwain is preaching.
WEEK TWO: SEC POWER RANKINGS (With national ranking)
1. #2 ALABAMA (2-0, 0-0 SEC): They keep looking for a quarterback who’s willing to get the ball downfield but Jacob Coker and Cooper Bateman are all too happy to take the easy stuff. Would Nick Saban be willing to insert Alec Morris into the lineup against Ole Miss? If Derrick Henry (6 TDs in two games) starts seeing the ball 25 times a game, he will be scary and the Bama offense will be better.
Next week: #17 Ole Miss (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
2. #17 TEXAS A&M (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Two takeaways from the Aggies’ easy win over Ball State: (1) They are committed to run the ball effectively; and (2) Ball State only converted 2-13 on third downs. If the Aggies can run the ball, Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil and Josh Reynolds are going to be in a lot of one-on-one situations. Scary. Ball State scored 20 points against the scrubeenies and only three against the #1 defense. Ball State only converted 2-13 on third down. If the Aggies get people off the field their offense will have more chances to score. Even scarier.
Next week: Nevada (1-1)
3. #15 OLE MISS (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Everybody laughed when the Rebels scored 76 on a Division IAA team. Nobody’s laughing now that they hung 73 on a Fresno State team that’s going to win 8-9 games in the Mountain West Conference. Chad Kelly is the real deal at quarterback and the Rebels have so many good receivers that somebody is going to be open. Count on it. Oh, and the defense had two pick sixes against Fresno. Are the Rebels ready to knock off big bad Bama in Tuscaloosa?
Next week: At #2 Alabama (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
4. #7 GEORGIA (2-0, 1-0 SEC): There are reasons to be concerned if you’re Mark Richt. The passing game with Greyson Lambert at QB is dink and dunk. The defense, which is supposed to be so vastly improved, gave up 400 yards to Vanderbilt of all teams. The bright spot was, is and always will be Nick Chubb, who has now gone over 100 yards 10 straight games.
Next week: South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC)
5. #13 LSU (1-0, 1-0 SEC): Unless Les Miles is willing to use his very fast wide receivers and force teams to cover the entire field, LSU is going to lose some games. Leonard Fournette is a man (159 yards and 3 TDs vs. Mississippi State) but someone – perhaps Auburn next week? – is going to stack the box and dare the Tigers to throw. If they can’t complete passes they’re going to lose 3-4 games.
Next week: #6 Auburn (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
6. #18 AUBURN (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Who would have thought that Auburn’s defense AND offense would both stink two games into the season? The defense gave up 20 points and 434 yards to D1AA Jacksonville State. Over on offense Jeremy Johnson has shown a penchant for throwing the ball to the other team. If Johnson can’t establish himself as a running threat, Auburn’s offense is going to slow to a crawl. Can the Tigers finally put it all together in Death Valley on a Saturday night?
Next week: At LSU (1-0, 1-0 SEC)
7. MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-1; 0-1 SEC): Dak Prescott has evolved from great athlete to great quarterback. Meanwhile, those young kids on defense are figuring things out. If the O-line and the D-line improve each week, this will be a team nobody wants to play sooner and not later. Mississippi State is only going to get better.
Next week: Northwestern State (0-2)
8. TENNESSEE (1-1, 0-0 SEC): For three quarters against Oklahoma, the Vols were the real deal on both sides of the ball. Then came a disastrous fourth quarter and an even worse overtime. The talent is there, but these guys don’t know how to close out a big win. Until they figure that out, they’re going to ride the roller coaster.
Next week: Western Carolina (1-1)
9. ARKANSAS (1-1, 0-0 SEC): It’s too early in the season to panic, but Bret Bielema has only a little while to get Ground Hog on track or else the Razorbacks are going to prove to be one of 2015’s most overrated teams. When you can’t run the ball against Toledo you’re in trouble. Because the Hogs had problems stopping former Plant High QB Phillip Ely on third down, it makes you think they’re going to have their hands full this week with Texas Tech.
Next week: Texas Tech (2-0)
10. #22 MISSOURI (2-0, 0-0 SEC): So far the Tigers are 2-0 despite Maty Mauk. Typically, they are bad in September but start getting better in October, but the idea of heading into October with Mauk at QB might be scary enough that Gary Pinkell does now what he’s going to have to do eventually – turn QB over to freshman Drew Lock. The defense is starting to look nasty.
Next week: UConn (2-0)
11. KENTUCKY (2-0, 1-0 SEC): The Wildcats have survived two losable games and come away with wins. They will be as confident as they’ve been in years when the Gators come to town this week. Kentucky hasn’t beaten the Gators in 28 years. What makes the Wildcats think they can do it this year is their ability to run the ball. They should be concerned with a run defense that’s giving up 221 yards a game.
Next week: Florida (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
12. FLORIDA (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Which Gators are going to show up in Lexington? The ones who played with such focus in game one or the ones who played like the Gators of the last four years against ECU? This is a team with a very small margin for error and if everybody isn’t on Jim McElwain’s page, they’re capable of losing a lot of games.
Next week: At Kentucky (2-0, 1-0 SEC):
13. SOUTH CAROLINA (1-1, 0-1 SEC): The Gamecocks finally started playing decently on offense when Connor Mitch separated a shoulder and former walkon Perry Orth took over at QB. A bigger concern for Steve Spurrier is his rushing defense – giving up 207.5 yards per game – heading into Athens. If the Gamecocks can’t stop Kentucky’s Stanley Williams and JoJo Kemp, how do they think they’ll fare against Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?
Next week: At #10 Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC)
14. VANDERBILT (0-2, 0-1 SEC): The good news is the Commodores put up 400 offensive yards on Georgia. The bad news is Johnny McCrary threw three picks and has thrown five in two games. Austin Peay makes sure the Commodores won’t go through the season winless but that’s just a one-week reprieve because Ole Miss looms on September 26. It’s going to be a very long year.
Next week: Austin Peay (0-2)
WEEK TWO: CONFERENCE RANKINGS
1. SEC: Even though it was a rough week (6-2 outside the league), the SEC is still the best conference top to bottom in the country.
2. Big 12: The Big 12 was 8-2 outside the league. There are four legit teams in Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State.
3. Pac-12: It was a good week (10-2 outside the league) but outside of UCLA there isn’t a potentially great team in the bunch.
4. Big Ten: It’s the big two (Ohio State and Michigan State) and the little 12 and it’s probably going to be that way for years into the future.
5. ACC: Clemson and Georgia Tech are probably the best two teams in the league (10-2 outside the conference). FSU is good but not great and North Carolina State could win 10-11 games and still not be that good.
THIS WEEK’S AP TOP 25
The top 10:
1. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
6. Southern Cal
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
The rest of the top 25: (11) Clemson; (12) Oregon; (13) LSU; (14) Georgia Tech; (15) Ole Miss; (16) Oklahoma; (17) Texas A&M; (18) Auburn; (19) BYU; (20) Arizona; (21) Utah; (22) Missouri; (23) Northwestern; (24) Wisconsin; (25) Oklahoma State
If I had a vote:
1. Ohio State
3. Southern Cal
4. Texas A&M
8. Notre Dame
9. Ole Miss
10. Michigan State
The rest of my top 25: (11) Georgia; (12) Florida State; (13) LSU; (14) Georgia Tech; (15) Florida State; (16) Oklahoma; (17) Clemson; (18) Oregon; (19) Auburn; (20) Arizona; (21) Missouri; (22) Utah; (23) Northwestern; (24) BYU; (25) Tennessee
FIVE OVERRATED TEAMS
1. Stanford (1-1): Yeah, they beat UCF, 31-7. Big deal. It was at home and UCF isn’t nearly the offensive team it was a year ago. This is a team that is going to lose at least four games this year.
2. Auburn (2-0): We can buy into the theory that the defense is a work in progress, but how does that explain Jeremy Johnson’s passing and the lack of a running game?
3. Arkansas (1-1): The Hogs are having troubles running the football. Now who would have thought that? Toledo consistently stuffed them at the line of scrimmage and that’s a sign of trouble on the horizon.
4. Oregon (1-1): Vernon Adams is talented but he isn’t Marcus Mariota. Can you imagine Mariots overthrowing or underthrowing receivers at clutch time? Physical teams were, are and will be a problem for the Ducks.
5. Penn State (1-1): The Lions have been manhandled by Temple and struggled with Buffalo. Their only saving grace is they play in the Big Ten. They could win nine games this season. They’d be lucky to win three in the SEC.
Honorable Mention: Miami (2-0); Florida State (2-0); Arizona State (1-1); Boise State (1-1); Baylor (2-0); TCU (2-0)
RIP MOSES MALONE
When I was the sports editor of the newspaper in Rocky Mount back in 1974, North Carolina, I used to take the short drive up I-95 to Petersburg, Virginia to watch Moses Malone toy with high school kids. Typically, he would score 30, grab 20 rebounds and block about 10 shots … and that was in about two and a half quarters. One of the things I remember most is how he took such delight in cheering on the Petersburg bench warmers, who got to play a lot of basketball because Petersburg was typically so far ahead by the midway point of the third quarter. He was a man among the boys, which is why he made the transition straight from high school to professional basketball so easily. He spent one year in the ABA then signed with the Houston Rockets when the ABA dissolved. Moses is best remembered for his time with the Philadelphia 76ers where he teamed up with Julius Erving to win an NBA title. Moses was the consummate rebounder and a terrific team guy. If he had been selfish he could have led the league in scoring on several occasions. Moses Malone died in his sleep Sunday at age 60. I’m going to miss him. He was always humble and gracious and felt more comfortable talking about teammates than about himself.
Given the choice of watching a college football game or an NFL game, I’ll watch the college game nearly every time. I find the NFL boring and all too predictable. Do 30 teams share the same offensive playbook?
If I’m an athletic director looking for a new football coach, then these five names are on my short list: (1) Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky; (2) Matt Rhule, Temple; (3) Tom Herman, Houston; (4) Matt Campbell, Toledo; (5) Justin Fuente, Memphis.
Notre Dame’s chances of making the college football playoff took a hit when Malik Zaire broke his ankle against Virginia.
After watching Serena Williams lose in the US Open semifinals, I’m more convinced than ever before that Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert were better in their prime.
Alex Rodriguez got his 3,000th hit three months ago. The New York Yankees finally held a ceremony to commemorate the event Sunday. That should tell you what the Yankees think about having to pay A-Rod $21 million this season and $40 million over the course of 2016-17.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you believe the Gators have it in them to bounce back with a solid performance against Kentucky in Lexington next Saturday?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Few concerts will entertain you more than Van Morrison, whose live shows generally incorporate the music that has inspired him throughout the years. You’ll get a full dose of rock and roll, jazz, gospel, blues and Irish folk tunes and he doesn’t seem to operate with either a time limit or a set list of songs to sing. Today’s music is Van’s 1989 concert at The Beacon that included guest appearances by blues legends Mose Allison and John Lee Hooker.