Pause for just a bit and savor the moment. The Florida Gators are 7-1 and with a win Saturday, they are going to play for the Southeastern Conference championship in Atlanta the first weekend in December.
Let me say that once again: The Florida Gators are 7-1 and with a win Saturday, they are going to play for the Southeastern Conference championship in Atlanta the first weekend in December.
Has it really sunk in what Jim McElwain has accomplished in one year? For all practical purposes, these are the same players who seemed to come up with creative ways to lose games just a year ago – a dropped pass in the end zone to LSU; a kickoff, a punt, a fumble and an interception all returned for TDs by Missouri in a game in which the Gators outgained Mizzou 283-119; a blocked field goal that would have given the Gators a 20-10 lead with 3:41 left and a blocked punt that South Carolina turned into the TD that tied the game at 17-17 with 12 seconds to go (South Carolina won, 23-20, in overtime). If the Gators make those plays, they finish the regular season 9-2, win the SEC East and play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game … and, Will Muschamp is still Florida’s coach.
Whatever it was – born under a bad sign, some sort of voodoo curse, immaturity, inexperience … we could go on and on – Muschamp couldn’t get the Gators to make the plays when it counted the most. So what’s the difference this year? How is it the Gators have gone from the team most likely to have something disastrous happen at the most critical moment of a game to the team that expects to make plays at the moment most needed?
Some of it has to do with maturity and experience. Some of it has to do with the strength and conditioning. Some of it has to do with the way McElwain and his staff coach and approach everything from how they study film to what they expect to accomplish each day in practice.
A good portion of this turnaround has to do with what’s between the ears. What Mac has done particularly well is change the attitudes. These Gators expect to get better in practice each day. They are coached to believe they can and will make plays. They expect to win games. They expect that teammates and coaches will come up with the right plan, the right play, at just the right time. They don’t believe they will be victimized by circumstances.
Go back to the Tennessee game. The Gators were all but dead and buried, but they came back to win a game they would have most certainly lost a year ago. They didn’t panic. They never stopped playing hard. They never thought for a second they were going to lose. They believed their coach who kept telling them they were going to win.
This has been a transformation season for the Gators. Only the most eternal of optimists among us thought the Gators would be playing to clinch a trip to Atlanta the first weekend of November.
But McElwain did. He dreamed it. He believed it. He instilled it into the Florida Gators.
If you’re looking for your national coach of the year, he’s the guy.
Last night: 1-0
Last week: 6-0
#11 FLORIDA (7-1, 5-1 SEC) 24, VANDERBILT (3-5, 1-3 SEC) 3: Vanderbilt reminds me of my youth league football coach Red Dulaney, who always warned us that we had to be careful about certain teams that would try to force us to “outsorry them.” Red believed some teams have this innate ability to bring out the worst in you and when you play them you have to somehow find a way to endure. That describes Vandy to a T. Vandy hasn’t scored more than 17 points against a Division I team all year. Florida won’t need but about 14 or so to win.
#4 LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC) 20, #7 ALABAMA (7-1, 4-1 SEC) 13: Conventional wisdom says Alabama won’t lose at home but Bama has already lost at home to Ole Miss. Conventional wisdom never accounts for someone like Leonard Fournette. Florida’s run defense is just about as good as Bama’s and the Gators HELD him to 180 yards and two TDs. He will get his yards against Bama. It’s going to rain, which will limit the passing game and that hurts Bama far more than LSU. The Magical Mystery Tour continues for LSU and rumors that Nick Saban is going to be the next coach at Southern Cal will start heating up the moment the clock strikes zero and Bama is assured of a third straight season without a national championship.
#19 OLE MISS (7-2, 4-1 SEC) 41, ARKANSAS (4-4, 2-2 SEC) 21: This week the Hog media was theorizing the Razorbacks would go 4-0 in November and somehow still win the SEC West. I do not have to make this up. I looked in the mirror last night and theorized that I am 30 pounds lighter and 30 years younger. If Bruce Jenner can be a woman just because he says so, then I can be a 34- year-old man who’s in great shape just because I say so. Theories aside, Ole Miss wins this one and exacts revenge for getting shut out by the Hogs last year.
#25 TEXAS A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) 30, AUBURN (4-4, 1-4 SEC) 17: Here’s the deal. The Aggies go four wide so Auburn puts four cover guys on an island with a single safety one high. That leaves six in the box, usually two linebackers and four down linemen. So count the O-linemen: 5. And in the backfield you have a running back and a QB, so that’s 2. Now do the math – 5+2=7. Seven Aggies, six Aubrins. QB Kyler Murray is the extra Aggie. He runs wild and the Aggies win.
GEORGIA (5-3, 3-3 SEC) 24, KENTUCKY (4-4, 2-4 SEC) 21: This will be Countdown to Firing Day, Assistant Coach Version as Mark Richt somehow gets a win but starts the painful process of deciding which assistants beside Jeremy Pruitt and Brian Schottenheimer must be replaced in order to save his own skin.
TENNESSEE (4-4, 3-2 SEC) 38, SOUTH CAROLINA (3-5, 1-4 SEC) 22: Starting with Saturday’s game with South Carolina, if Butch Jones loses one of the next four games he should have his job re-evaluated by the people in charge. Nobody in the SEC has an easier November than the Vols.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY: WEEK 10 EDITION
EXTINCT SPECIES LIST
1. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2. Dan McCarney, North Texas
3. Randy Edsall, Maryland
4. Steve Sarkisian, Southern Cal
5. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (retired)
6. George O’Leary, UCF (retired)
7. Al Golden, Miami
8. Jerry Kill, Minnesota (retired)
9. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (retired)
10. Norm Chow, Hawaii
ON LIFE SUPPORT
1. Mike London, Virginia (3-5): The greatest fear at Virginia is that London will win three games, get the Cadavers bowl eligible and remain the football coach for one more season.
2. Trent Miles, Georgia State (2-5): It’s Family Weekend at Georgia State. The over-under for fans to watch the Panthers get lit up by Louisiana Lafayette is 9,999.
3. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (3-5): There are two burning questions for Saturday’s game at The Big House: (1) Can Rutgers hold Michigan to 40 or fewer points and (2) if Michigan becomes the third straight team to light up Rutgers for 40 or more, does Flood survive the weekend?
4. Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe (1-7): In classic form last week, Lousy Monroe snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with Louisiana-Lafayette. This week, the opponent is Troy (2-6), which isn’t a very good team but has scored 93 points in the last two games. That Troy can and will score isn’t a good omen for an offensively challenged team like Lousy Monroe.
5. Scott Shafer, Syracuse (3-5): Shafer’s situation is pretty simple. If he goes 3-1 the rest of the way, he’s coaching next year at Syracuse. Anything less and he’s a goner. He didn’t exactly help his cause when his defense gave up 45 points to FSU and the Seminoles were playing without Dalvin Cook and their starting QB.
6. Chuck Martin, Miami Ohio (1-8): The only way The Chuckster is still coaching Miami next year is if he goes 3-0 against Eastern Michigan, Akron and UMass. Donkeys won’t fly first for that to happen, but it would require a miracle of similar proportions.
7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State (3-5): The Cyclones three wins are over a D1AA team and two of the most offensively challenged teams (Kansas and Texas) in the country. All he has to do to save his job is win three of the next four – at Oklahoma, Okie State, at K-State and at West Virginia.
8. Paul Haynes, Kent State (3-6): Losing by 48 to Bowling Green didn’t help Haynes’ cause. The Golden Flashes lost Thursday night to Buffalo so they have to go 3-0 the rest of the way to save Haynes’ job. Of course, for the Golden Flashes to go 4-0 would take a miracle of ravens delivering food to Elijah proportions.
9. Mark Richt, Georgia (5-3): Mark Richt will look back one day and realize the single dumbest thing he ever did was hire Jeremy Pruitt as his defensive coordinator. Pruitt is the football coaching equivalent of mesothelioma, a type of cancer for which there is no cure. There is a reason they said don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out when Pruitt left FSU for Athens. The smartest thing Richt could do is fire Pruitt now, find a way to win the next four regular season games and hire someone quick to revamp the defense for a bowl win. They wouldn’t fire Richt for 9-3 and a new DC that could get them to 10 with a bowl win, would they?
ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST
1. Curtis Johnson, Tulane (2-6): Two Lane’s six losses are by a combined 204 points. He not only needs to get 2-3 wins in the next four weeks but he needs at least 1-2 of them to be in convincing fashion.
2. Doug Martin, New Mexico State (1-7): The losing streak is over and the Aggies have actually won a football game for the first time in almost two years. There are two very winnable games remaining on the schedule. They’ll probably cancel school for a day and throw a parade in Las Cruces if the Aggies get to three wins.
3. Paul Petrino, Idaho (3-5): Just when the Vandals had everyone convinced they were on the verge of turning the proverbial football corner, they blew a 19-point lead to New Mexico State in the fourth quarter and lost in overtime. You could explain away blowing a huge lead to a decent team, but New Mexico State? Still, the Vandals have three wins this year, which is 3X more than last year and there are two winnable games remaining on the schedule. That’s progress, right?
4. Ron Turner, Florida International (4-5): The Golden Panthers committed the unpardonable sin last week and lost to FAU. To get to the six wins that would save his job, Turner has to figure out a way to upset either Marshall or Western Kentucky in the final two games of the season.
5. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State (2-6): The Bulldogs had a losing season last year and they’re 2-6 this year, which has the faithful asking, “Whatever the hell were we thinking when we ran Pat Hill off?”
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas (4-4): The Hogs will be favored in only one of the remaining four games. They’ve got to find a way to steal a win from either Ole Miss, LSU or Mississippi State and hold serve against Missouri for Bielema to breathe easily. He would be a really great fit back in the Big Ten at Illinois.
7. Mike Riley, Nebraska (3-6): The folks at Oregon State are pissed because Riley left that program in really bad shape. The folks at Nebraska are pissed because Riley is turning the Huskers into Oregon State East. Nebraska should have never run off Bo Pelini.
1. Willie Taggart, USF (4-4): Four games remain and two of them appear quite winnable. Of course, if there is a loss to UCF then forget Taggart coming back.
2. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (3-5): The folks who write the checks aren’t exactly happy with another bad season, but they find it extremely distasteful to write buyout checks. If the last four games end badly, they might change their minds.
3. Kevin Wilson, Indiana (4-4): Wilson is going to get another year, largely because he’s likeable and he’s got a smart lawyer so the buyout would stretch the IU budget. If he could figure out a way to outscore Iowa this weekend, he would make the administration look like collective geniuses.
4. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (4-5): Everybody in Boulder likes him but they aren’t convinced he can get the job done and nobody has ponied up the money it will take to buy him out.
5. Darrell Hazell, Purdue (2-6): He’s getting another year and for that he can thank his lawyer. It will take $6 million to fire him and the school just announced it’s spending $60 million on facilities upgrades. It’s all about the bottom line.
6. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (3-4): Dana could save himself the indignity of getting fired if he could find another job somewhere else. He’s actually not a bad coach, just stuck in West Virginia, which sold itself down the river for Big 12 bucks and in doing so, abandoned the east coast/middle Atlantic base. Do you really think the folks in Morgantown feel connected to the folks at Iowa State or K-State?
Even if Kansas State finishes strong and wins three of its last four to become bowl eligible, you have to wonder if Bill Snyder returns for one more season. He’s 76 years old and his age is becoming a factor on the recruiting trail.
Corey Coleman must be seen to be believed. Against Kansas State Thursday night he had 11 catches for 216 yards and 2 TDs. In eight games he’s caught 58 passes for 1,175 yards and 20 touchdowns. You might as well pencil him in for the Biletnikoff Award.
A bad day for ACC zebras got worse Wednesday when the league acknowledged that beside the numerous blown calls on the multi-lateral play that was scored as the game-winning touchdown, there were numerous other blown calls. ACC zebras are the worst in all of college football and second place isn’t even close.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What are your predictions for the Florida-Vanderbilt, LSU-Alabama and Georgia-Kentucky games?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Mayer Hawthorne is a musical taste I acquired by watching him a couple of times on “Live from Daryl’s House.” In a lot of ways he reminds me of David Byrne of Talking Heads. There’s the R&B influence, the funk and some electronic thrown in for good measure. Today’s music is his latest album, “Tuxedo.”