THESE TRUTHS WE HOLD TO BE SELF-EVIDENT
1. If Jim McElwain isn’t the national coach of the year then you might as well start believing in conspiracy theories. What he’s done in year one at Florida is nothing short of remarkable. With a win over Florida Atlantic Saturday Mac will become the winningest first year coach in Florida history.
2. We can argue better coaching, better offensive scheme and a thousand other things as the difference between the 2014 Gators and this year’s edition, but from where I sit the biggest change is between the ears. It’s called confidence. These guys take a page from Mac and believe they’re going to win no matter who they’re playing.
3. On his 53-yard run, Kelvin Taylor showed great vision to cut back to the inside on a play designed to go off tackle, and once in the secondary, showed good feet to make a Gamecock safety miss, enabling him to burst up the middle for the play that sealed the win. He isn’t going to win any awards for his speed, but give him the blocks and his quick feet and good vision will take over.
4. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I don’t remember the 2014 Florida defense hitting nearly as hard as this year’s unit. These guys arrive at the ball in very nasty moods and consistently knock opponents into next week.
5. In the preseason magazines, Vernon Hargreaves III was on everybody’s first team All-SEC defense while Antonio Morrison and Jon Bullard were typically listed second or third team. Those three belong on the first team and you can make a case for Jarrad Davis and Keanu Neale as well. From what I’ve seen, Jalen Tabor, Alex McCalister and Caleb Brantley should be no worse than second team.
6. Punter Johnny Townsend is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award for good reason. He’s averaging 43.9 yards per punt with a net punt average of 41.5 yards. Take away those two punts Tennessee returned for 37 yards and opponents have returned 18 of his 53 punts for 31 yards, a whopping 1.7 yards per return. Townsend has forced 17 fair catches, landed 19 inside the 20 and has boomed 15 punts more than 50 yards.
7. The offensive staff has to figure a way to get the ball in the hands of DeAndre Goolsby more often. When you have Antonio Callaway and Demarcus Robinson on the outside, there is no way to double up on Goolsby and there aren’t many linebackers or safeties who can run with him. He has caught 15 passes for 261 yards, an average of 17.4 per reception.
8. It’s time for Gators everywhere to become big Will Muschamp fans. He’s finally got his Auburn defense playing at a very high level (held Georgia to 233 total yards and only one offensive TD). The Gators need Auburn to offer up a blueprint for how to stop Alabama the week before the SEC Championship Game.
WEEK 11: SEC POWER RANKINGS
1. ALABAMA (9-1, 6-1 SEC): “I think the defensive front is the strength of our team,” Nick Saban said with a straight face Saturday. Nick probably thinks no one in the media has picked up on that even though sacking Dak Prescott nine times was probably a pretty good clue.
2. FLORIDA (9-1, 7-1 SEC): On paper you see a team with all these flaws. You look at the box score and you ask how can the Gators win with Treon Harris at QB and an offensive line whose performances resemble a roller coaster ride? There isn’t a team in the country that doesn’t have flaws but not every team is capable of winning in spite of them. The Gators are that team that wins in spite of the flaws.
3. OLE MISS (7-3, 4-2 SEC): There is the good Ole Miss that can beat anybody in the country when both offense and defense have their hearts and minds on planet earth. Then there is the bad Ole Miss, which can lose to anybody when some or all hearts and minds are taking a trip to Pluto, as was the case a couple of weeks ago against Arkansas. The Rebels can still land in a really good bowl game if they will take care of business against LSU and Mississippi State.
4. LSU (7-2, 4-2 SEC): The pre-game eye test makes you think these guys should never lose a game. The during the game eye test tells you that even with all those great athletes, the defense doesn’t play hard every play and the offense is handicapped by a rotten scheme that has no clue how it’s supposed to take the heat off Leonard Fournette.
5. MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-3, 3-3 SEC): The first nine games told a story about how far Mississippi State has come. Game 10 against Alabama showed the Bulldogs just how far they have to go if they want to become one of the elite teams in the nation. You can’t let your QB with Heisman ability take nine sacks and consider yourself elite.
6. ARKANSAS (6-4, 4-2 SEC): Other than Alabama, the Hoggies are probably the last team anyone in the SEC wants to play right now. Bret Bielema and his coaching staff should take turns kicking each other in the butt because this is the way Arkansas should have been playing in September. Hog fans will say “Wait ‘til next year” but next year there will be no Brandon Allen, Alex Collins and three, possibly four, offensive linemen.
7. TENNESSEE (6-4, 3-3 SEC): Just when Butch Jones is starting to convince everybody that he’s finally got the corner turned for the UT football program, the Vols struggle to beat a really bad North Texas team, 24-0. The Vols travel to Mizzou and then face Vandy at home. Win and everybody loves Butch. Lose one and folks will doubt. Lose both and Butch might be looking for a new job.
8. GEORGIA (7-3, 5-3 SEC): Immediately following Georgia’s 20-13 win over Auburn, Mark Richt flew cross country to Washington to visit stud QB recruit Jacob Eason. After the last two weeks of watching Greyson Lambert, Richt not only needs Eason (plans to early enroll) in the worst way to run his offense but also to shut up Bulldog fans who think winning ugly is beneath their dignity.
9. TEXAS A&M (7-3, 3-3 SEC): The Aggies have been established as -8.5 favorites over Vanderbilt but 3 turnovers against D1AA Western Carolina should cause concerns going against a Vandy defense that has forced 7 turnovers in the last two games. Will Kevin Sumlin start Kyler Murray, who threw 2 picks, or go with Kyle Allen, who came off the bench to go 6-6 for 88 yards with no turnovers?
10. AUBURN (5-5, 2-5 SEC): Will Muschamp’s defense gave a game-winning performance against Georgia (only 243 total yards allowed), but the offense and special teams sunk the Tigers. Auburn will get bowl eligible this week with a win over sacrificial lamb Idaho from the Sun Belt.
11. VANDERBILT (4-6, 2-4 SEC): Vandy decided to sink or swim with freshman Kyle Shurmur at QB and the result was 2 TDPs and no turnovers in the win over Kentucky. Could the Commodores beat the Aggies and Tennessee and go bowling?
12. MISSOURI (5-5, 1-5 SEC): Missouri put up more than 400 yards of offense against BYU while the defense did its normally efficient job. With Gary Pinkel retiring, the Tigers are motivated to send the coach out with a bowl game. They only have to win one of their last two.
13. KENTUCKY (4-6, 2-6 SEC): Now that the Mildcats have lost five straight games, Mark Stoops is coaching for his life. If he beats Charlotte and Louisville, he’s still in Lexington next year. Lose one or both and he might join a long line of Kentucky football coaches who discovered that Lexington is a graveyard for careers.
14. SOUTH CAROLINA (3-7, 1-7 SEC): The players would be very happy if Shawn Elliott had the interim removed from his coaching title, but the loss to Florida all but assured that won’t happen. The Gamecocks will get a win this week against D1AA The Citadel and then close out their first losing season since 2004 against Clemson.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATE
Louisiana-Monroe dismissed head coach Todd Berry after the Warhawks lost to Arkansas State, 59-21 Saturday. ULM is 1-9 this year and 28-43 in Berry’s six seasons.
While there is a lot of chatter that Houston coach Tom Herman might be the next big thing at Missouri since the guy that hired him at UH is now the AD at Mizzou (Mack Rhoads), last week’s events on the Missouri campus will make it a place of last resort for top coaching candidates. If Mizzou stays in-house, the new coach will probably be DC Barry Odom.
Most of the chatter out of Miami has Mario Cristobal (Bama OL) as the top choice to replace Al Golden with former coach Butch Davis the fall back choice.
UCF expects to name a new athletic director by the end of the week. One of the candidates is Buffalo AD Danny White. Would White be bold enough to bring UB head coach Lance Leipold with him? Leipold is 5-5 in his first year at UB, but he was 109-6 at DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater where he won six national championships in eight years.
WEEK 11: AP TOP 25
1. Clemson (10-0)
2. Ohio State (10-0)
3. Alabama (9-1)
4. Oklahoma State (10-0)
5. Notre Dame (9-1)
6. Iowa (10-0)
7. Oklahoma (9-1)
8. Florida (9-1)
9. Michigan State (9-1)
10. Baylor (9-1)
The rest of the top 25: (11) TCU (9-1); (12) North Carolina (9-1); (13) Houston (10-0); (14) Michigan (8-2); (15) Stanford (8-2); (16) Florida State (8-2); (17) LSU (7-2); (18) Utah (8-2); (19) Navy (8-1); (20) Northwestern (8-2); (21) Wisconsin (8-2); (22) Southern Cal (7-3); (23) Oregon (7-3); (24) Washington State (7-3); (25) Ole Miss (7-3)
If I had a vote:
1. Ohio State (10-0)
2. Alabama (9-1)
3. Clemson (10-0)
4. Oklahoma State (10-0)
5. Oklahoma (9-1)
6. FLORIDA (9-1)
7. Notre Dame (9-1)
8. Iowa (10-0)
9. Baylor (8-1)
10. Houston (10-0)
The rest of my Top 25 would be: (11) North Carolina (9-1); (12) TCU (9-1); (13) Michigan State (9-1); (14) Michigan (8-2); (15) LSU (7-2); (16) Navy (8-1); (17) Florida State (8-2); (18) Northwestern (8-2); (19) Washington State (7-3); (20) Ole Miss (7-3); (21) Mississippi State (7-3); (22) Stanford (8-2); (23) Utah; (24) Oregon (7-3); (25) Wisconsin (8-2)
RATING THE CONFERENCES
1. SEC: Alabama is clearly the best team in the league and probably the best team in the nation thanks to that defense. Florida is probably kicking itself in the butt these days and asking how did we lose to LSU? Arkansas in November is playing like Arkansas should have been playing in September.
2. BIG 12: Okie State is the only unbeaten but it closes its season with Baylor and Oklahoma. Oklahoma closes its season with TCU and Okie State. Baylor still has to play Okie State, TCU and Texas while TCU has to play Oklahoma and Baylor. Any team that can make it through this schedule with only one loss probably deserves to make the final four.
3. Big Ten: It’s painful to put the Big Ten at #3 but there are more quality teams (5) in the Big Ten than there are in the ACC (3). When Ohio State hits on all cylinders the Buckeyes might be the best team in the country. They better get their collective acts together because the next three games are once-beaten (9-1) Michigan State, 8-2 Michigan and unbeaten (10-0) Iowa.
4. ACC: Clemson remains the favorite to run the table into the final four, but things could get very interesting at the ACC Championship Game if North Carolina continues ripping and shredding everything in its path. Amazing what a Gene Chizik defense and a Larry Fedora offense can do when paired up. Florida State has two losses, a full blown QB controversy and the look of a why me victim.
5. Pac-12: Oregon beat Stanford and Arizona beat Utah, eliminating the Pac-12 from playoff consideration since every team in the league will finish the season with at least two losses. The best team in the Pac-12 would have a difficult time finishing above .500 in the SEC. Stanford, however, is good enough to beat Notre Dame on November 28 and eliminate the Irish from national championship contention.
ALL TOO EARLY HEISMAN RADAR
1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Last week: 204 yards, 2 TDs vs. Mississippi State; Season: 1,458 yards, 19 TDs
2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Last week: 34-47, 360 yards, 2 TDs passing; 105 yards, 1 TD rushing vs. Syracuse; Season: 2,593 yards, 23 TDs passing; 598 yards, 5 TDs rushing
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Last week: 27-181, 2 TDs rushing vs. Illinois; Season: 1,425 yards, 16 TDs rushing
4. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Last week: 19-91, 1 TD vs. Arkansas; Season: 1,464 yards, 17 TDs rushing
5. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Last week: 33-147, 1 TD rushing vs. Oregon; 5-42 receiving; 2-60 KO returns; 1-(-5) punt returns; Season: 1,354 yards, 7 TDs rushing; 33-367, 2 TDs receiving; 665 KO return yards; 32 punt return yards, 1-1, 28 yards, 1 TD passing
FSU running back Dalvin Cook thinks he should win the Heisman Trophy. Seriously folks, I am not making this up. In support of himself, the Dalvinator had this to say about himself: “I just feel like I just run the ball how I run the ball and if I keep doing me, I’m Dalvin.” I reiterate: I’m not making this up.
For the life of me I can’t figure out why people are still punting the ball to Ryan Switzer of North Carolina. Did Miami pay attention to the fact he’s returned six for touchdowns in his career? Nope, and they paid. Switzer got #7 with a dazzling 78-yard return against the Himmicanes.
Because it’s the Mountain West Conference and nobody east of El Paso cares, the job Bob Davie has done to resurrect New Mexico from the scorched earth ashes left behind by Mike Locksley has gone unnoticed. Since you probably missed it, Davie’s Lobos knocked off Boise State Saturday night to become bowl eligible even though Boise had a 40-11 advantage in first downs.
Notre Dame’s strength of schedule took a serious hit Saturday when Stanford lost to unranked Oregon and Temple lost to unranked South Florida. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Oklahoma or Oklahoma State move past the Irish when the College Football Playoff Rankings come out Tuesday.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
The College Football Playoff Rankings won’t be released until Tuesday, but if you had a vote, which teams would make up your top four?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I first began listening to Craig Chaquico when he was the lead guitar for Jefferson Starship during the 1970s. He started dabbling in jazz during the 1980s while he was still playing with Starship and took the full jazz plunge in the early 1990s. Today’s music is his 1994 album “Acoustic Planet” which is on my regular weekly playlist.