Nine years ago the Florida Gators were in a heap of trouble. They were in Glendale, Arizona, for the BCS National Championship Game where they were slated to take on Ohio State’s mighty Buckeyes, the greatest team to ever strap on a jock if you believed the hype. Supposedly, the Gators were the unworthy opponent that would lay down and play dead while the Buckeyes proved to the world that (a) they were the best team ever and (b) Michigan should have been given a rematch rather than this Florida football team that lost a game to unranked Auburn and struggled to beat unranked Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game.
In the four weeks leading to the game, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time berating the Gators but he wasn’t alone. With the exception of Gary Danielson of CBS, nobody gave the Gators much of a chance to win. Danielson not only thought the Gators deserved to play for the national championship but he actually thought UF could and would win.
In the three days leading up to the game, Urban Meyer played the part of the underdog almost too well. While Meyer played the David to the Buckeyes’ Goliath to the hilt and talked about all that tradition and answered questions about how when he was growing up in Ohio Archie Griffin was his hero and Woody Hayes was almost a saint, there was a certain unmistakable calm in his voice. And though players who spoke to the media were respectful of the Buckeyes, no one seemed the slightest bit intimidated.
We all know what happened when foot hit football and the game was played for real. The Gators absolutely destroyed and humiliated the mighty Buckeyes, holding them to 89 total yards in a 41-14 beatdown which was only that close because Meyer went out of his way to avoid piling it on the last 22 minutes of the game. Had Urban pushed the envelope and let Chris Leak continue to fire away to Dallas Baker and Cornelius Ingram and Percy Harvin, the Gators could have scored 60 that night. Easily, because the Buckeyes played their safeties 25 yards off the line of scrimmage and all Leak had to do was find who was running free underneath. There was no way Ohio State could have stopped Florida if Meyer had let Leak keep throwing.
I bring the Florida-Ohio State game up because I hear much of the same kind of talk three days before Clemson takes on mighty Alabama in the national championship game at that same stadium in Glendale where the Gators put the Buckeyes through the paper shredder nine years ago.
I hear the arguments that Clemson is 14-0 thanks to an ACC schedule and how the Tigers will get their comeuppance Monday night against an Alabama team that might be the greatest Bama team ever – including all those teams Bear Bryant coached. I hear how Dabo Swinney is a coaching lightweight who should be honored to be on the same field with Nick Saban. I hear how Bama’s defense is going to chew up and spit out Deshaun Watson and that Clemson offense. I hear how Derrick Henry is going to do to Clemson what he did to LSU and Florida, which certainly have better defenses than the one he will face Monday night.
I hear all that and yet I’m starting to think that maybe Clemson is the reincarnation of those 2006 Gators. Everyone seems to think there is no way Clemson wins this game. Nobody thought the Gators would win in 2006, either. On paper, Alabama wins this one hands down. My heart and mind keep reminding me how much this feels like 2006 all over again.
GATOR WOMEN KNOCK OFF #12 TENNESSEE IN KNOXVILLE
Maybe it’s time for the people who vote in the AP and USAToday Coaches polls to give a little respect to Amanda Butler’s Florida women’s basketball team. The Gators are barely a blip on the polling radar but that should change after Thursday night’s 74-66 win over #12 Tennessee in Knoxville. The Gators are now 13-2 and playing as well as any one in the SEC.
This is a total TEAM effort as no Gator averages more than 22.2 minutes per game and the scoring is divided up fairly evenly. Haley Lorenzen, Ronni Williams and Cassie Peoples lead the team in scoring, each averaging 10.4 per game while freshman Eleanna Christinaki averages 10.3 and five other Gators average at least 6.1 per game.
What makes the win over Tennessee more special – beside it being just the second time the Gators have ever won in Knoxville – is that Butler wasn’t at the game. Butler had to tend to a family emergency while assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller directed the victory.
WHERE IS WILBER?
The 15 candidates for the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class were announced Thursday and once again, I ask the question where is Wilber Marshall?
Here are the 15 nominees: Morten Anderson, PK; Steve Atwater, S; Don Coryell, Coach; Terrell Davis, RB; Tony Dungy, Coach; Alan Faneca, G; Brett Favre, QB; Kevin Greene, LB/DE; Marvin Harrison, WR; Joe Jacoby, T; Edgerrin James, RB; Orlando Pace, T; Kurt Warner, QB.
Now all 15 of those nominees had outstanding careers, but how long will Wilber be ignored? He was All-Pro three times, won two Super Bowls, was the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, sacked the QB 45 times and intercepted 23 passes in his career, returning three for touchdowns. He forced 24 fumbles, recovered 16 and ran two of them back for touchdowns. He played through injuries to the point that he’s permanently disabled although he had to sue the NFL to win his disability benefits.
It’s shameful that the selection committee hasn’t put him on the ballot.
COACH O TO MISSISSIPPI STATE?
Ed Orgeron interviewed last week with Dan Mullen and apparently, all the paperwork is done for Coach O to become the defensive coordinator in Starkville. Well, there is one tiny little detail standing in the way – Coach O has to sign the agreement and he changes jobs and doubles the $450,000 LSU is paying him to coach the D-line. The Advocate in Baton Rouge says Coach O has signed. The Clarion-Ledger in Jacksonville says he has not.
Former FSU All-American Terrell Buckley is leaving Louisville to coach the secondary at Mississippi State.
OTHER COACHING MOVES
Speculation runs wild in Tuscaloosa since Brett McMurphy of ESPN reported that former Oregon and Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly spent time with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa last week. With UCLA looking for an offensive coordinator and Lane Kiffin best of buds with Jim Mora Jr., a lot of folks believe that Kelly’s visit wasn’t just coincidence or just a coach dropping by to exchange ideas with another coach. Would Kiffin leave Bama for UCLA? And would Kelly be happy as an offensive coordinator in the college game?
Alabama secondary coach Mel Tucker will join Kirby Smart’s Georgia staff as the defensive coordinator. Tucker has been a coordinator at the collegiate level at Ohio State and an NFL DC at Cleveland, Jacksonville and Chicago.
Noel Mazzone is leaving UCLA to take the offensive coordinator job at Texas A&M. Mazzone is getting a 3-year deal but terms have not been disclosed just yet. Also at Auburn, defensive analyst Travis Williams has been promoted to linebackers coach.
New Orleans Saints secondary coach Wes McGriff is heading to Auburn where he will be the co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach.
It’s a bit of a surprise but Urban Meyer says there will be no more staff changes. There was plenty of speculation that Meyer would replace quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
Texas State hired James Madison coach Everett Withers to succeed Dennis Franchionne, who retired. Withers was thought to be a finalist for the Florida defensive coordinator job in 2010 when Urban Meyer hired Teryl Austin, now the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. Austin has interviewed for the HBC job of the Cleveland Browns.
HOW DUMB ARE THE TAMPA BAY BUCS?
Leave it to the Glazers to prove that Jerry Smith isn’t the worst owner in the NFL. Jerry is a notch above the Glazers because he’s as good as there is in marketing the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry’s problem is that he thinks he is also an expert about all phases of football. As for the Glazers, they’re rotten in the marketing department and there is no doubt they have permanent brain farts when it comes to knowing the game of football. Funny, but the folks in the UK say the same thing about their version of football and the Glazers’ running of Manchester United.
The Glazers latest display of utter stupidity is their firing of Lovie Smith after two seasons. How they handled the firing can only be described as classless, but that’s what we’ve gotten used to in the years the Glazers have owned the Bucs.
Lovie deserved better. He took over the train wreck left behind by Greg Schiano and improved the team from two wins in 2014 to 2016 this past season. Lovie completed upgraded the Bucs’ roster, particularly on the offensive side and fielded a very competitive team that was in the playoff hunt through the 12th game of the season. Best of all, he unified what was a divided locker room when he took over the team and had the team feeling its best days were in the future.
More than one source is reporting that the Bucs fired Lovie because they were afraid they would lose offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who is a mortal lock to be named the next head coach, to another team. At least four teams with a head coach vacancy had made inquiries about hiring Koetter. But, don’t blame Koetter, who did nothing to undermine Lovie. This one is strictly on the Glazers, who have gone through four coaches in seven seasons.
GREATEST OF ALL TIME
Harris conducted a national poll of 2,368 adults to determine who fans think is the greatest player of all time in the NFL. The fans’ top five:
1. Joe Montana
2. Tom Brady
3. Peyton Manning
4. Walter Payton
5. Jim Brown
I wasn’t polled but my top five would be substantially different:
1. Jim Brown
2. Johnny Unitas
3. Walter Payton
4. Jerry Rice
5. Roger Staubach
The Pavilion at Ole Miss opened up Thursday night replacing the antiquated Tad Smith Coliseum (Tad Pad). What an incredible new building that will certainly become a recruiting advantage for Andy Kennedy. Ole Miss paid $95 million for a 9,500-seat palace that fits its needs perfectly. The building was built by the same people who did the Auburn arena. I am still miffed by the University of Florida’s decision to renovate the O-Dome rather than build a new building on the west side of campus. The O-Dome could have been turned into an indoor practice facility for football and reconfigured so that indoor track would have a place to train and host meets. I’m still not convinced that the O-Dome renovation will come in anywhere close to the announced budget. While a renovated O-Dome is better than the dump the Gators play in now, I do not believe that a renovated building will be anything close to the buildings at Auburn or Ole Miss.
Beer and alcohol sales were responsible for nearly half of the food and drink concessions at Darrell Royal Stadium at the University of Texas this fall. Miller Light accounted for $494,000 in sales while Coors Light was good for $433,000. How long will it take for beer and alcohol to be sold in the SEC?
Read this story by Mark Schlabach of ESPN and tell me you aren’t a fan of Dabo Swinney:
Magic Johnson, who knows a thing or two about talented basketball players tweeted Tuesday, “LSU’s Ben Simmons is the best all around player I’ve seen since LeBron James came out of high school straight to the NBA!” Not content with just that one comment, Johnson tweeted again, “Whatever team selects Ben Simmons will be getting a player that will have an immediate impact on their squad.” Simmons is projected to be the first selection in the June NBA Draft.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
In three days we will crown a new champion for college football. Which team do you think will win and which team do you want to win?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
If he were still alive, Elvis Presley would be 81 years old today. Elvis was truly The King and nobody before or since has been close. I saw The Beatles in concert, Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Dylan and on and on and on, but nobody ever connected with audiences like Elvis Presley. The man was a natural born entertainer. I remember his television appearances on Ed Sullivan in the 1950s when the cameras were forbidden to show him below the waist. I also remember that night in 1969 when Elvis made his comeback after a few years of making movies. Wow! What a night that was and the whole country was buzzing about it for weeks afterward. I couldn’t find the video of that concert on NBC but I found this one of opening night in Las Vegas in 1970.