These truths we hold to be self-evident:
1. The Treon Harris suspension turned out to be a godsend. Had Treon been available to play against Tennessee, the temptation to insert him into the game to jumpstart the offense might have been too great for Jim McElwain to overcome. By leaving Will Grier in the game to weather the storm and then make the plays that won the game, McElwain found the quarterback he needs moving forward and Grier has the confidence to know that he has the wherewithal to put bad plays behind him.
2. Antonio Callaway looks like the reincarnation of Ike Hilliard. He is a go the distance threat every time he touches the ball, whether it’s in the punt return or passing games. He is going to open up the passing game for others because he will command a double team the rest of the season.
3. When Callaway, Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell and tight end Jake McGee are on the field together, Florida has its best set of receivers since the 2009 season. These four guys are SEC caliber playmakers.
4. Play close attention to the hamstring issues plaguing placekicker Austin Hardin. If he’s out an extended period of time, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on redshirt freshman Jorge Powell. Powell was 4-4 on extra points against Tennessee and he had two touchbacks among his five kickoffs. In high school Powell kicked a 54-yarder, but he has never attempted a field goal in a collegiate game.
5. Too many defenders are looking for the big hit instead of wrapping up people and putting them on the ground. The Florida coaches probably needed a calculator to add up all the missed opportunities to bring down Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd Saturday.
6. The Two Jordans better figure out in a hurry how to pass block. Neither Cronkrite or Scarlett saw the field against Tennessee because (a) neither one is a dependable pass blocker and (b) when they’re in the game, it limits the checkdowns. Probably 60% of the plays that came into the game from the sideline against Tennessee were changed at the line of scrimmage. Right now Kelvin Taylor is the only back who (a) knows how to pass block and (b) can pick up the audibles.
7. There might not be a more dependable offensive player than tight end Jake McGee. He has a feel for the game that allows him to find open space in the defense in the passing game and he knows where the first down markers are. As a blocker, he doesn’t miss assignments.
8. Brandon Powell is Florida’s Swiss Army Knife. Wherever you put him, he’s going to make plays if you put the ball in his hands, and, as he proved with that block that sprung Antonio Callaway for the game-tying touchdown, he’s not afraid to put his body on the line.
9. The Gators gave up more yards on the ground – 254 – against Tennessee than three previous opponents combined (166). Ole Miss comes to The Swamp averaging 199 yards per game and 5.49 yards per carry.
10. The Gators are ranked 25th in the AP poll but October is going to be a far greater challenge than September starting Saturday with #3 Ole Miss followed by roadies at Missouri and #9 LSU before finishing in Jacksonville with #8 Georgia. If the Gators can somehow come out of that four-game gauntlet with two wins an 8-9 win season is entirely possible, which would not only be a remarkable accomplishment for McElwain but add some serious juice to Florida’s recruiting efforts.
WEEK FOUR: SEC POWER RANKINGS
1. Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0 SEC): The win over Vanderbilt wasn’t pretty, but a letdown was probably expected the week after beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The offensive line is beaten up but there is a chance Laremy Tunsil will return this week. Typical NCAA punishment for impermissible benefits greater than $700 is 30% of the schedule or four games.
2. LSU (3-0, 2-0 SEC): The Tigers survived 14 penalties on the road at Syracuse. Leonard Fournette gained 244 yards and scored two touchdowns even though four penalties cost him another 130 rushing yards. As Cam Cameron continues to open up the offense, Brandon Harris looks more and more like he’s going to pose a credible threat in the passing game.
3. Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC): If Greyson Lambert throws the ball against Alabama like he has the last two games – 33-35 for 476 yards and five touchdowns – Georgia is going to be very difficult to stop. Georgia has not been challenged by a defense capable of stopping the run so will the Bulldogs be able to spring Nick Chubb against Alabama?
4. Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0 SEC): The Aggies were gouged on the ground by Arkansas and dominated in time of possession, but when the defense had to make plays at the end, it came up big. Kyle Allen’s confidence has to be through the roof after leading the Aggies to the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter and then the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
5. Alabama (3-1, 0-1 SEC): The defense got warmed up for its encounter with Georgia in Athens next Saturday by holding Louisiana-Monroe to 92 total yards and zero points. The challenge this week will be to stuff Nick Chubb and see what Greyson Lambert can do without a run threat. Bama’s offense still stinks and Jake Coker is at best an average quarterback.
6. Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC): Dak Prescott is the best quarterback in the league. The rest of the team is young and getting better, especially on defense. The challenge this week at Texas A&M will be to keep Prescott upright and for the defense to find a way to slow down the Kyle Allen-to-Christian Kirk pass combo.
7. Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC): September was perfect. Now the fun begins – Ole Miss, at Missouri, at LSU and Georgia in Jacksonville. Can the Gators somehow win two of those four in October?
8.Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC): The season is on the line Saturday in Knoxville when Arkansas comes to town. The loser might go in freefall the rest of the season. Is Butch Jones’ job in jeopardy if the Vols have another 6-7 win season?
9. Auburn (2-2, 0-2 SEC): Even though the Tigers scored only nine points against Mississippi State, the offense seemed to work better with Sean White at quarterback. The defense did a better job against the run but continued to give up chunks of passing yardage.
10. Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC): Offensively, Arkansas is getting back to its Ground Hog roots. The defense was great for three-and-a-half quarters against the Aggies, then it fell apart. The game at Tennessee could determine whether this will be a winning or losing season.
11. Kentucky (3-1, 2-1 SEC): With a win against D1AA Eastern Kentucky this week, the Wildcats will move to 4-1. They were 5-1 at midseason last year, then they lost their last six games.
12. Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC): There is nothing at all wrong with Missouri’s defense. As long as Maty Mauk is the quarterback the offense will struggle, as it did against Kentucky. Missouri had won 11 straight road games prior to the loss to Kentucky.
13. South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC): Steve Spurrier has found his quarterback in Lorenzo Nunez (186 passing yards, 2 TDs; 123 rushing yards). The defense was better, largely because of a subtle shift in the personnel. Skai Moore was moved to weakside where he can affect the pass rush, and T.J. Holloman moved to middle linebacker where he had two interceptions. The Gamecocks held UCF to 238 total yards.
14. Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC): After a close call with Ole Miss, Vandy coach Derek Mason stated, “We are going to continue to get better. Teams are not going to want to see us in October and November.”
WEEK FOUR: AP TOP 25 POLL
1. Ohio State (4-0)
2. Michigan State (4-0)
3. Ole Miss (4-0)
4. TCU (4-0)
5. Baylor (4-0)
6. Notre Dame (4-0)
7. UCLA (4-0)
8. Georgia (4-0)
9. LSU (3-0)
10. Utah (4-0)
The rest of the top 25: (11) Florida State (3-0); (12) Clemson (3-0); (13) Alabama (4-0); (14) Texas A&M (4-0); (15) Oklahoma (3-0); (16) Northwestern (4-0); (17) Southern Cal (3-1); (18) Stanford (3-1); (19) Wisconsin (3-1); (20) Oklahoma State (4-0); (21) Mississippi State (3-1); (22) Michigan (3-1); (23) West Virginia (4-0); (24) California (4-0); (25) Florida (4-0)
If I had a vote:
1. Ohio State (4-0)
2. Ole Miss (4-0)
3. UCLA (4-0)
4. Baylor (4-0)
5. LSU (3-0)
6. Michigan State (4-0)
7. Georgia (4-0)
8. TCU (4-0)
9. Notre Dame (4-0)
10. Texas A&M (4-0)
The rest of my top 25 would be: (11) Alabama (4-0); (12) Utah (4-0); (13) Clemson (3-0); (14) Oklahoma (3-0); (15) Florida State; (16) Northwestern (4-0); (17) Wisconsin (3-1); (18) Oklahoma State (4-0); (19) Mississippi State (3-1); (20) Stanford (3-1); (21) Southern Cal (3-1); (22) Florida (4-0); (23) California (4-0); (24) Michigan (3-1); (25) Texas Tech (3-1)
RANKING THE CONFERENCES
1. SEC: The SEC is the toughest conference in the country, but is there a dominant team? There are a lot of good ones and from top to bottom, no league is as deep but right now no team in the league looks like a potential national champ. The SEC was 27-4 against non-conference opponents in the month of September.
2. Big 12: Baylor scored 70 points and gained 793 yards against Rice. TCU scored 55 but gave up 52 to Texas Tech. Oklahoma might turn out to be the best team in the league. Those are the best three teams in the Big 12 and only Oklahoma has anything close to a championship level defense. The Big 12 was 25-8 against non-conference opponents in the month of September.
3. Big Ten: Ohio State and Michigan State are ranked #1-2 nationally, but Ohio State doesn’t look dominant and Michigan State’s best win – 31-28 over Oregon in East Lansing – doesn’t look very impressive after we saw what Utah did to Oregon (63-20) Saturday night. The Big Ten was 37-13 against non-conference opponents in the month of September.
4. Pac-12: At the start of September, Pac-12 proponents were claiming the league is every bit as good if not superior to the SEC. Well, that myth has been exposed. Northwestern stifled Stanford, Oregon lost to Michigan State and got hammered by Utah. Arizona and Arizona State are pretenders. That leaves UCLA and Utah. Both of them are very good. The other 10 teams in the league would be SEC bottom feeders. The Pac-12 was 28-7 against non-conference opponents in the month of September.
5. ACC: Because the rest of the country lacks some truly dominant teams, the ACC doesn’t look nearly as bad as it really is. Florida State and Clemson are good but they look like 4-5 loss teams if they played SEC schedules. Georgia Tech has lost twice and North Carolina State is 4-0 against bad competition. Duke might actually be as good as any team in the league. The ACC went 32-14 against non-conference opponents in the month of September.
ALL TOO EARLY HEISMAN RADAR
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: He gained 244 yards and scored 2 TDs against Syracuse and had more than 100 yards and another TD called back because of penalties. For the season Fournette has 631 yards (9.4 per carry) and 8 TDs.
2. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: In limited work, he had 131 yards and 2 TDs against Louisiana-Monroe. For the season he has 599 yards and 6 TDs, plus he’s caught 3 passes for 37 yards and another TD.
3. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU: Threw for 485 yards and 4 TDs plus ran for 42 more against Texas Tech. For the season he’s thrown for 1,470 yards and 14 TDs, plus he’s run for 190 and 2 more.
4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: No game this past week. For the season he’s thrown for 1,062 yards and 10 TDs, rushed for 263 and 2 TDs.
5. Jared Goff, QB, California: Threw for 342 yards and 2 TDs against Washington. For the season, he’s thrown for 1,240 yards and 11 TDs
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, “We were one play away” after the Vols lost to Florida 28-27. Not only is Butch starting to sound a lot like the guy who preceded him (Derek Dooley) but he’s coaching like him, too. Dooley was 14-16 through two seasons and the September of year three. Jones is 14-15 through his first two seasons and the September of year three.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who said, “We didn’t play very well” after the Ducks were trounced 63-20 by Utah, was 24-4 in his first two seasons. Now that Marcus Mariota and a lot of NFL-type talent has graduated, Helfrich is pretty much coaching with his own players. The Ducks are 2-2, have zero in the way of defense, and have a schedule conducive to 3-4 more losses. How long before his seat becomes very, very hot?
Auburn’s offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the Tigers lost to Nebraska in Lincoln on September 25, 2012. Things are so bad that Gus Malzahn has ditched the no huddle, hurry up approach for a slower tempo and more situation substitution of personnel.
The official reason Derrick Henry carried the ball only 13 times (52 yard, 1 TD) against Louisiana-Monroe was a bout with tonsillitis earlier in the week. The unofficial reason is Nick Saban wanted Henry fresh for Saturday’s trip to Georgia.
After giving up 284 passing yards and 213 on the ground to UCLA, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, “We did not tackle well.” Really?
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Now that the Gators have made it through their September schedule, what is your biggest surprise so far and your greatest concern moving forward?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
David Sanborn might be the most influential sax player of the past 30 years. Born in Tampa, he learned to play the saxophone as a way to strengthen his lungs after a bout with polio as a child. He played with Albert King when he was 14 and then was a vital part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s. He’s toured with Eric Clapton, James Brown, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, the Eagles and the Grateful Dead among others. Lately, I’ve been listening to his 1995 CD “Pearls” which features one of the great arrangements you’ll ever hear of “Try a Little Tenderness.”