FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM FLORIDA’S CITRUS BOWL LOSS
1. You only had to look at Jim McElwain’s face Friday afternoon to tell that he was highly displeased with the way the Gators performed against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl but nothing good could have been accomplished by calling his team out for laying an egg. There will be plenty of time to address what happened against Michigan with the players who are returning in the days and weeks to come so instead of prolonging a bad day at the office, McElwain made certain any signals he sent would be good for recruiting, which takes center stage for the next five weeks.
2. I am still shocked at Florida’s inability to put pressure on Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock. The Gators got to quarterbacks 40 times in their 13 previous games but they didn’t come close to sacking Rudock. Was this because Michigan’s offensive line was just that much better than Florida’s D-line or was it a case of an entirely unmotivated team? McElwain says Michigan was stronger and more physical but the Michigan line wasn’t as big or as strong as the O-lines UF faced against Florida State or Alabama yet the Gators got plenty of pressure on the QBs from both FSU and Bama. I’m not going to pick on the D-line and say they were the only ones whose bodies were there but whose minds were no shows Friday, but their lack of production is indeed the obvious place to start.
3. The name Davis Webb is being mentioned as a potential graduate transfer from Texas Tech. Webb lost his starting job to Patrick Mahomes in 2015, but in his two previous seasons he threw for 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns. Webb was the MVP of the 2013 Holiday Bowl, a 37-23 win over Arizona State. If there is a negative to Webb it is that he won’t graduate until May so he wouldn’t be able to participate in spring practice.
4. Quarterbacks tend to get too much praise when things are going well and too much abuse when things go badly. While Treon Harris certainly wasn’t the answer to Florida’s quarterback problems in both 2014 and 2015, he did the best he could when called upon. It’s not his fault that previous offensive coordinators turned Jeff Driskel into a basket case nor is it Treon’s fault that he was the only option in 2015 when Will Grier was suspended for a year by the NCAA. Everyone wishes Treon had played lights out, but instead of knocking him for the mistakes he made, consider the alternative if he hadn’t been here.
5. When I think about the trials and tribulations of Florida’s offensive line this past season and in particular the last six games of the season, I am reminded of the 2007 season. Graduation and the NFL left the Gators with only one experienced D-lineman in Derrick Harvey, forcing Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison to play young, inexperienced guys who spent the entire season doing marvelous imitations of a dead roach. Those same guys who were brutalized nearly every game in 2007, came back in 2008 to hold opponents to 105.4 rushing yards per game. If not for the experience young guys like Lawrence Marsh, Justin Trattou, Terron Sanders and Carlos Dunlap got while taking their beatings in 2007, the Gators wouldn’t have won the national title in 2008. For young guys like Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson, paybacks will be hell in 2016.
LOOKING AHEAD IN THE SEC
Alabama: You have to wonder how Ole Miss ever scored 43 points on Alabama’s vaunted defense. Take that game out of the mix and the Crimson Tide only gave up 144 points in 13 games, an average of just more than 11 points per game. The next challenge for the Crimson Tide will be trying to stop a Clemson offense that averages 38.4 points and 512 yards per game.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are losing stud tailback Alex Collins (1,577 yards, 20 TDs) to the NFL but with Kody Walker (394 yards, 6 TDs) and Rawleigh Williams III (254 yards before he was hurt) that position is in good shape. The Razorbacks also return their top five receivers from a passing game that averaged 268 yards per game and was good for 31 touchdowns.
Auburn: Auburn is starting from scratch defensively and you have to wonder if Kevin Steele is the right guy to take over as defensive coordinator. He’s a fine linebackers coach and an excellent recruiter, but his defensive units at LSU and previously at Clemson left plenty to be desired.
FLORIDA: Although the hot name for graduate transfer QBs right now seems to be Davis Webb, continue to keep a close eye on former Louisville QB Will Gardner, who has already graduated. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he enrolls at Florida this week. Gardner didn’t play in 2015 due to injuries but in 2014 he got eight starts, completing 127-221 passes for 1,669 yards (7.6 per attempt), 12 TDs and only 3 picks. Gardner is from Douglas, Georgia, just 153 miles from the UF campus.
Georgia: Former Miami offensive coordinator James Coley will coach the wide receivers at Georgia. Also added to Kirby Smart’s new staff is former Georgia Southern running backs coach Dell McGee.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have a new offensive coordinator (Eddie Gran) and a new quarterbacks coach (Darin Hinshaw). They’re also minus another quarterback as backup Reese Phillips has elected to transfer out, leaving the Wildcats with one scholarship QB, Drew Barker, who threw for 364 yards and 1 TD while playing in five games.
LSU: Les Miles scored big over the weekend when he former Wisconsin DC Dave Aranda announced he’s heading to Baton Rouge. In 2015, Aranda’s defense gave up only 13.7 points and just 268.5 yards per game. Aranda will be paid $1.3 million per year, triple what he was making at Wisconsin.
Mississippi State: For the second straight year, Dan Mullen will be replacing his defensive coordinator after Manny Diaz took the job as DC for Mark Richt at Miami. Mullen is also looking for a secondary coach to replace Tony Hughes, who is the new HBC at D1AA Jackson State.
Missouri: Three weeks into the hiring of Barry Odom as the new head coach there isn’t a lot of positive buzz around the Missouri program. Most Missouri fans are still aghast that Odom didn’t retain longtime defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who produced several All-Americans and consecutive SEC Defensive Players of the Year.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze took over a 2-10 program in 2012 but in each year since he’s delivered a better record – 7-6 in 2012; 8-5 in 2013; 9-4 in 2014 and 10-3 in 2015.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp is loading up his staff with strong recruiters, which he will need to compete with Clemson. The Gamecocks are going to have an outstanding defensive staff with Travaris Robinson, Lance Thompson and Ellis Johnson already on board.
Tennessee: The Vols finished the season with six straight wins and with 18 of the 22 on their offensive two-deep returning for 2016 figure to be ranked in the top 15 in the preseason. The Vols, who averaged 223.7 rushing yards per game, return tailbacks Jalen Hurd (1,288 yards, 12 TDs) and Alvin Kamara (698 yards, 7 TDs) along with QB Joshua Dobbs (2,291 passing yards, 15 TDs; 671 rushing hards, 11 TDs).
Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin fired offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital. There is talk that Sumlin is considering retread Noel Mazzone. Whoever Sumlin hires better be really good because patience is wearing quite thin in Aggie-land.
Vanderbilt: For the second straight year, Derek Mason is shuffling his staff. He’s got a new O-line coach in Cameron Norcross, who spent the last four years coaching the same position at Fresno State, and he’s looking for a new linebackers coach after Kenwick Thompson accepted the DC job at East Carolina.
POWER 5 CONFERENCE RANKINGS
1. SEC: In what really was a down year for the SEC, the league still went 8-2 in the bowls and conference champ Alabama is playing for the national championship next week. The SEC West went 6-1 in bowl games and here’s a novel thought for you – next year the SEC East will be improved.
2. Pac-12: Somebody has to finish second so the Pac-12 gets the nod because it did better in the bowl games (6-4) than the other conferences.
3. Big 12: TCU and Baylor saved the Big 12’s (3-4 in bowl games) honor. TCU rallied back from a 31-0 deficit to beat Oregon in three OTs while Baylor ran for more than 600 yards on a very good North Carolina defense.
4. Big Ten: Not even Ohio State’s win over Notre Dame could salvage the Big Ten’s (5-5 in bowl games) honor after the way Michigan State was pillaged and plundered by Alabama. Northwestern, which won 10 regular season games, didn’t exactly help things by getting blown out by Tennessee.
5. ACC: Clemson is in the national championship game and that’s about the only thing positive for the ACC (4-5 in bowl games). Florida State was wasted by Houston and North Carolina is still trying to figure out how to tackle Baylor’s running backs.
Rating the rest of the conferences:
6. American Athletic: Even though the league laid an egg with a 2-6 bowl performance but Houston and Navy were impressive in their wins.
7. Mountain West: Top to bottom the league (4-4 in bowls) wasn’t as strong this year, but San Diego State is poised to be good for a long time and Boise will be back to normal next year after a 4-loss season.
8. Conference USA: Western Kentucky and Marshall made ConUSA (3-2) look good.
9. MAC: The Mighty Mac (3-4) looked good when Toledo beat Temple but league champ Bowling Green got its doors blown off by Georgia Southern.
10. Sun Belt: Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, both bowl eligible for the first time got the Sun Belt (2-2) it’s only two wins.
The NFL regular season is over and there are a rash of firings, which means the Nick Saban to the NFL rumors are set to begin as they do every year about this time. It’s highly unlikely that Saban is going anywhere but the same can’t be said about Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. There are reports that he’s got his name out there in case some NFL team is willing to hire him.
Tennessee freshman defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie Jr. tweeted after the Vols destroyed Northwestern, “That GPA ain’t save Northwestern on the field.” While it is true that Northwestern’s smart guys couldn’t hang with the Vols in the Outback Bowl, that Northwestern diploma will help their guys earn probably as much or more than McKenzie will make in his lifetime.
To those who think the SEC – and particular the SEC West – is down, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema says, “What people have to realize is we play each other. If somebody wants to find out, come and play all seven of us [in the SEC West] and see what you think.”
Johnny Manziel seems to be trying to be run out of NFL for good. Inactive for the Cleveland Browns’ Sunday’s final game of the season because of a concussion, Manziel was reported gambling in Las Vegas Saturday night. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King tweeted “the Browns are so done with this guy.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Having had a weekend to mull over Florida’s 41-7 loss to Michigan, do you agree with McElwain that it was a case of Michigan simply overpowering the Gators or do you think Florida went into the game lacking motivation and inspiration to play well?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Natalie Cole died of congestive heart failure New Year’s Eve. She was 65. The winner of 9 Grammy Awards, she might be best remembered for a duet she did with her father, the late, great Nat King Cole. Nat King Cole had been dead for years but through modern technology his hit song “Unforgettable” was turned into a duet that truly was unforgettable. Today’s music is Natalie Cole’s 2001 album “Love Songs.”