If ever a decision is made to turn the face of some mountain into the college football equivalent of Mount Rushmore, there is no question one of the faces chiseled into the granite will be Tim Tebow, who might be the finest combination of ability and character the game has ever seen. For all the accomplishments during his Florida playing days – a Heisman Trophy, two national championships, three 13-win seasons, 88 passing touchdowns and 57 rushing TDs – the thing that will always immortalize Tebow is “The Promise.”
Without that short speech in which Tebow promised the Gators would bounce back in a big way from a 31-30 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on September 27, 2008, I’m not certain the Gators would have won the national championship. That was a great Florida team – some would say one of the four or five best in the modern era of college football – but even with a roster headlined by Tebow and another 38 players who spent at least one year in the National Football League when their UF careers were over, the Gators really both the inspiration and focus that came from Tebow’s speech. The Gators beat Arkansas 38-7 on the road the next week and that was their lowest scoring game among eight post-speech regular season contests. In the SEC and national championship games, the Gators beat the teams ranked #1 nationally – Alabama and Oklahoma – to win their second national championship in three years.
But back on September 27, the Gators were rendered very mortal by an unranked Ole Miss team that showed no fear of the mighty Gators and wasn’t the least bit fazed by a crowd that kept raising the decibel level in The Swamp to something close to the roar of a 747 on takeoff. It could be said that Florida gave the game away – there was a potential touchdown snuffed out by a second quarter fumble and two third quarter fumbles were turned into 10 Ole Miss points – but to say that would take away from the extraordinary effort by the Rebels to spring the upset.
Ole Miss earned that win, but in beating the Gators provided the motivation for Tebow’s speech that had everything to do with Florida winning the national championship.
When Ole Miss comes to Gainesville Saturday, the roles are somewhat reversed. Ole Miss is the team that has its eye on the national championship prize while Florida is trying to regain championship footing and national prominence after a 5-year lapse. If the Gators were to beat Ole Miss Saturday, it might not measure on the upset Richter scale like that game in 2008, but it could be the inspiration to a return to Florida football prominence.
Last week: 8-1
#3 OLE MISS 31, #25 FLORIDA 21: So much has to go right for the Gators to win this game. The slightest mistake could open the floodgates for a team with as many offensive weapons as you will find anywhere in the country. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has a much wider margin for error and can survive a couple of hiccups during the game. For the Gators to win they can’t turn the ball over and they have to have a measure of momentum going for them by the time the orange and blue-clad folks swing and sway to “We Are the Boys.” The heart says Florida, but sometimes the brain and logic override the heart and this is one of those times.
#13 ALABAMA 23, #8 GEORGIA 17: Having played in two of its four previous games against above average opponents, Alabama is much better prepared for a game of this magnitude than Georgia, whose opponents would have difficulty winning a title in the powder puff league. This will come down to whose defense can stop the stud running back. Alabama will do a better job putting Nick Chubb on the ground than Georgia will do sticking it to Derrick Henry. Another reason to pick Alabama: a win keeps the Tide in both the SEC and national pictures while a loss means fans can start preparing for a lovely trip to the Outback Bowl.
#9 LSU 63, EASTERN MICHIGAN 3: Eastern Michigan might be the worst team LSU has played during the Les Miles era and that includes some of the D1AA patsies that have stopped in at Tiger Stadium to pick up a budget-balancing paycheck. The only real question about this game is can Leonard Fournette get to 200 yards before the end of the first quarter?
#14 TEXAS A&M 28, #21 MISSISSIPPI STATE 24: Watch this one closely. If Mississippi State, which has shown pass, pass and more pass through the first four games, comes out running the football successfully, the Bulldogs could spring the upset. If Mississippi State puts too much emphasis on stopping Christian Kirk, then Josh Evans is going to slice and dice through the MSU secondary. If this game were in Starkville, the Fighting Mullens would get the nod. It’s at Kyle Field where all the Aggies in the world will be singing “Hullabaloo Caneck Canceck” (I don’t make this up; those are the lyrics to the Aggie War Hymn) when it’s all over.
TENNESSEE 33, ARKANSAS 30: This isn’t just a salvage the season game, it’s also a salvage the coach game. The winning team could still have a decent season while the losing team will struggle to even get to the Weedwacker Bowl. For Butch Jones of Tennessee and Bret Bielema of Arkansas, winning this game could very well determine if they are gainfully employed next year or counting their buyout money and wondering why the hell they left places where they couldn’t get fired to coach in the SEC?
SOUTH CAROLINA 28, MISSOURI 24: This will be the battle of true freshman QBs – Drew Lock for Missouri and Lorenzo Nunez for South Carolina. Even if he has a bad case of first start nerves, it’s hard to imagine that Lock could perform any worse than suspended Maty Mauk did in the first four games of the season. Nunez has already started and won a game, so now his task is to win an SEC game on the road. This is going to be close, but South Carolina has made more improvement in its four games than Mizzou, which still has to figure out how to run the football.
AUBURN 35, SAN JOSE STATE 14: At some point you have to figure that Gus Malzahn will figure out how to get the offense clicking and if some folks get healthy, the Auburn defense will actually turn out to be pretty good. Even in their state of discontent on both sides of the ball, the Tigers are better than San Jose State. If the Tigers figure out a way to somehow lose this game or if it’s close like that game against D1AA Jacksonville State, the state of discontent is going to be borderline anarchy in Auburn Nation.
KENTUCKY 47, EASTERN KENTUCKY 17: With a win, Kentucky will move to 4-1. The great thing about 4-1 football starts in the Bluegrass is that it keeps the faithful occupied and thinking about something other than what they’re going to wear to Midnight Madness. Kentucky started out 5-1 last year and still didn’t make a bowl. The Kentucky faithful really want to believe in this team, but the slightest wobble will turn all eyes to Rupp Arena and the basketball team.
VANDERBILT 24, MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 21: Playing Ole Miss close last week has the folks in Nashville thinking maybe Derek Mason can coach after all. A loss to Middle Tennessee State will have those same folks wondering if you can fire a coach after two years on the job. The thought here is that Vanderbilt is improved enough to beat MTSU but not improved enough to come anywhere close to break even this season.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY: WEEK FIVE EDITION
EXTINCT SPECIES LIST
1. Tim Beckman, Illinois
ON LIFE SUPPORT
1. Mike London, Virginia (1-3): They won’t have Mike London to kick around this Saturday. That’s largely because the Cadavers have an open date, but given UVa’s luck under London, someone will probably suffer a season-ending injury.
2. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (2-2): When you are a coach waiting to walk college football’s version of The Green Mile, an open date is like getting a stay of execution from the state courts. Then you look at the schedule and you see Michigan State is next week. Think of Michigan State like the US Supreme Court. There will not be another stay.
3. Trent Miles, Georgia State (1-2): On paper, Saturday’s close encounter with Liberty should be the second win of the season. It’s when games are played on the field that things get tricky for Miles and the Panthers. A loss to this D1AA team and he will have one foot in the Extinct Species List door.
4. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State (1-2): When you are coaching for your life, you wake up every day looking for a sign from heaven that will keep you gainfully employed. Paul Rhoads woke up every morning this week and saw Kansas on the schedule. Sometimes you just have to face it: the Lord provides.
5. Darrell Hazell, Purdue (1-3): When you can’t beat Bowling Green, the last thing you want to see on your next week’s schedule is Michigan State. Well, next week has arrived, which means Hazell could be joining Tim Beckman on the Extinct Species List. Soon.
6. Kevin Wilson, Indiana (4-0): The good news for Indiana is Saturday opponent Ohio State is playing bored and turning potential blow the roof off games into respectable outcomes. The bad news is that any day now the mighty Buckeyes will decide they can’t get any more bored and decide to play hard and kick someone into next year. That could happen as soon as Saturday. Wilson has to win three more games or he’s a goner. It would help his cause immensely if Urban and the Buckeyes are slightly benevolent this week.
7. Paul Haynes, Kent State (1-3): The Golden Flashes actually have a chance to win this week, but beating Miami of Ohio will only be the equivalent of taking a couple of hot coals off the fire that is burning beneath Paul Haynes’ seat.
8. Mike Leach, Washington State (2-1): At Washington State University they do research on why grizzly bears are attracted to things like picnic baskets and folks grilling steaks outside. Perhaps this helps explain the lack of tailgaters at a Wazzoo game and why it’s so difficult for Mike Leach to get quality football players to come to Pullman. Would you want to play football at a place where a 9-foot tall, 750-pound bear might mistake you for a snack as you walk back to your dorm room after practice?
ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST
1. Norm Chow, Hawaii (2-2): If Boise does what Boise’s capable of doing, then Norm will be back On Life Support next week.
2. Willie Taggart, USF (1-2): One of the worst things that could happen to a team that struggles to play pass defense is to play Memphis, which has been zinging the ball all over the field and lighting up scoreboards this season. They want to see progress in Tampa but all they’ll see Saturday is another loss and another reason to start searching for the next coach.
3. Al Golden, Miami (3-1): Prior to Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati, a plane flew overhead with a sign that read, “I flew 1,124 miles just to say Fire Al Golden.” Four hours later the fire Al Golden movement had picked up a brand new head of steam. When Miami loses by 11 on the road to Cincinnati, it’s a sign the mighty have fallen and they might not get back up … unless they get a new coach.
4. Doug Martin, New Mexico State (0-3): One way to get off the endangered species list would be to knock off cross-state rival New Mexico this weekend. Of course, in doing so, that would put Bob Davie on the Endangered Species List and Bob’s been there, done that and doesn’t want to do it again.
5 Paul Petrino, Idaho (1-3): This week the Vandals are the get well game for Ar-Kansas State, which will be very happy to play a bad Sun Belt team like Idaho after getting beaten up by three good D1 teams.
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (3-1): There are two potential scenarios here: (1) Oregon is as bad as last week’s 63-20 loss to Utah and Colorado actually has a chance, or (2) Oregon is really pissed about losing by 43 and comes to Boulder ready to take it out on someone. If it’s #2, Mac is in deepest and darkest.
VERY WEAK PULSE
1. (Tie) Curtis Johnson, Tulane (1-2)/George O’Leary (0-3): They play each other Saturday. The winner’s pulse remains very weak, while the loser gets a ticket to the Endangered Species List.
3. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (1-3): That close encounter with victory against Ole Miss last week has the Vandy faithful thinking good times might be returning, but what happens if the Commodores lose at Middle Tennessee this week?
4. Randy Edsall, Maryland (2-2): Edsall can take bad talent and go 5-7 and great talent and go 7-5. The question in College Park is how much longer will the faithful tolerate mediocrity.
SAVED BY THE BUYOUT
1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (4-0): They would really love for Kirk to up and quit, but would you walk out on $4 million a year and a buyout that pays you $3 million NOT to coach?
2. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (3-0): The buyout is getting close to a manageable level but an 8-9 win season would end that talk for another year.
3. Charlie Strong, Texas (1-3): There is a pulse in the Texas program and that helps. A $15 million buyout helps even more.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Does Alabama go into Athens and knock off Georgia?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I’ve heard everything Carole King and James Taylor have recorded dozens of times, but I never get tired of their melodies and lyrics that speak to my emotions. Their collaboration CD, “Carole King and James Taylor Live at the Troubadour” is one of my favorite road trip CDs, lots of great sing-along songs that cause me to remember times and places of years gone by.