That’s what the people who vote in the preseason college baseball polls think about the Florida Gators. Just three weeks after Collegiate Baseball came out with its first poll ranking the Gators #1 in the preseason, d1baseball.com became the second serious college baseball poll to rank the Gators at the top spot.
And why not? Collegiate Baseball named four Gators preseason All-Americans (pitchers A.J. Puk and Logan Shore, catcher J.J. Schwarz and outfielder Buddy Reed). Perfect Game named those four and first baseman Peter Alonso to their preseason All-America team.
This is Kevin O’Sullivan’s ninth season at the helm (344-173 record; 3 SEC championships; 4 trips to the College World Series) and it might be his best shot to bring home that elusive national championship.
The preseason top 10:
4. Texas A&M
5. Oregon State
8. Oklahoma State
10. North Carolina State
The rest of the top 25: 12. Southern Cal; 13. Virginia; 14. Oregon; 15. Mississippi State; 16. North Carolina; 17. South Carolina; 18. Louisiana-Lafayette; 19. TCU; 20. Florida State; 21. Cal State-Fullerton; 22. Houston; 23. Texas; 24. Coastal Carolina; 25. Arkansas
ANOTHER CLOSE CALL AT COLLEGE STATION
About the only way to describe what is going on at the foul line for the Florida Gators is two words – beyond ridiculous. Tuesday night, the Gators shot 4-12 from the foul line and it cost them dearly as they fell to 15th-ranked Texas A&M, 71-68, in College Station.
This is one of the worst free throw shooting teams of the modern era of Florida basketball. The loss to Texas A&M was the third game this season the Gators could have won (Michigan State and Florida State are the other two) if they simply hit a decent percentage from the free throw line. If the Gators were 13-3 instead of 16-6, they would probably be ranked right now.
When Mike White gets the kind of effort he got against the Aggies Tuesday night, it shouldn’t come down to a few bricks at the foul line. The Gators give great effort and typically play outstanding defense but all that goes to waste when they can’t hit a free throw.
BEST OF ALL TIME?
As expected, there is no shortage of seconds for the motion that Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach of all time. In winning four national championships in the last seven years and five overall since 2003, Saban has certainly earned his place in the conversation of best of all time, but is he actually the greatest? Maybe.
Saban is certainly the greatest coach since 2000. There is no debating that. But would he have succeeded equally as well in an era when he didn’t have high tech weight rooms, multimillion dollar recruiting budgets, waterfalls in the locker rooms, nutritionists, every game on television, indoor practice facilities and game plans available on players’ smart phones and iPads? Would he have been as successful when the game was one platoon with limited substitutions?
Of course, we don’t have those answers just as we don’t know how some of the great coaches of the past would have handled today’s game with athletes who are bigger, stronger and faster or recruiting that requires a battery of computers and full time staffers to keep up with the next great freshman half a continent away. General Bob Neyland, for example, was so concerned with the modern game that he and Davey Nelson conspired to a one-platoon system that made the 1950s and early 1960s as dull an era of football as has ever existed. Bear Bryant reinvented himself several times and thrived in every era for more than 35 years. Would he succeed equally well in this era? I like to think so but there is no way to know. How about Woody Hayes? Or Bud Wilkinson?
So, best of all time? Greatest ever?
I’ll go with greatest of this era and maybe someday I’ll say he’s the greatest ever. For now I put Nick in the same conversation with coaches like Bryant, Neyland, Frank Leahy and Knute Rockne – all great coaches but who can say which one is the best of all time?
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2016 IN THE SEC
Alabama: For the third straight year, Alabama will be breaking in a brand new starting QB. Jacob Coker is going to prove very difficult to replace, but he won’t be the only newbie. Bama could be replacing as many as 10 starters off the defense depending on who decides to go pro. Because it’s Alabama and because Nick Saban recruits at such a high level, Bama should be expected to be somewhere in everybody’s to six or seven nationally when the preseason magazines come out around Memorial Day weekend.
Arkansas: They don’t seem all that worried about the skill people they’re losing to graduation or early entry NFL, but there are concerns on the O-line where they lose center Mitch Smothers and the left side of Sebastian Tretola and Denver Kirkland. It should also bear mentioning that the Hogs are replacing O-line coach Sam Pittman (to Georgia), who a lot of folks think is as good as there is anywhere in the country. Arkansas went 8-5 this year and that might be about where they’re expected to finish next season as well.
Auburn: Remember Gene Chizik? Two years after a perfect run to the 2010 national title he was canned. Two seasons after Gus Malzahn got the Tigers to the national championship game in 2013, he’s had two less than memorable seasons. In 2016 he might be looking at do or die. He’s gutted his defensive coaching staff and brought in a new coordinator (Kevin Steele) and he sent his O-line coach packing. On the field, Malzahn has to find a QB who can run the ball since his offense sputters without a dual-threat. The Tigers won their bowl game and finished 7-6 which sounds like a realistic expectation for 2016.
FLORIDA: Finding a quarterback who can make plays and turning the offensive line into an SEC-caliber unit have to be priorities 1 and 1A for Jim McElwain and the Gators in the offseason. The Gators will have five QB candidates in the spring and someone other than Treon Harris has to step up and prove he can read defenses and get the ball in the hands of playmakers. As for the offensive line, all those lumps they took last season have to convert into a cohesive unit that can protect the passer and open holes consistently for the running game. The schedule presents difficulties such as Tennessee, Arkansas and FSU on the road but the tough games are spread out enough that the Gators should be able to register at least an 8-9 win season … if they can find a QB.
Georgia: Bulldog fans think Kirby Smart can do what Mark Richt couldn’t, which is win a national championship. It wasn’t good enough that Richt won an average of 9.6 games per year, which Smart will be fortunate to replicate. Watch what happens at QB this spring. If freshman Jacob Eason is force fed and given the reins to the offense, you could very well see one or both veteran QBs (Greyson Lambert and/or Brice Ramsey) go elsewhere since both would be immediately eligible. Whoever plays QB will have very little in the way of speed or talent at wide receiver. It will be ground and pound if Nick Chubb comes back healthy. Three O-linemen will have to be replaced and over on defense, all three down linemen and three linebackers (Georgia runs a 3-4 set) are gone. The schedule is easy so figure this will be a 7-5 or 8-4 team.
Kentucky: The good news for the Wildcats is the return of 10 starters on offense. Of course, there’s only one scholarship QB on hand and there is a new offensive coordinator and a new QB coach. The bad news is that the five most productive players on defense were seniors and all of them are gone. This is a program spinning its tires. Mike Stoops needs to win seven games to keep his job and he’s got the kind of talent that gets you 4-5 in the SEC.
LSU: LSU has enough talent to win the national championship. Of course, we could have said the same thing back in September of 2015, too. The Tigers have the best running back in college football in Leonard Fournette, which is a really good thing to have if offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can diversify the offense enough that opponents can no longer play eight in the box. New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda never had this much talent at Wisconsin, yet his units were consistent top five. What the Tigers do next year largely depends on head coach Les Miles. Miles seems intent on keeping Cameron as his OC and we really don’t know if LSU’s lack of offensive production is because Miles is micromanaging or the transmission that is Cameron’s offensive imagination is jammed in neutral. This team will win nine games on talent alone. They could also run the table but that’s largely dependent on Miles and Cameron.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen has stacked his roster so well at quarterback that he’ll be able to withstand the loss of Dak Prescott. His biggest problem on offense moving forward will be the same one he had last year and that’s finding a running back who can give him 20-25 carries a game. The Bulldogs return 16 of their two-deep on offense and 19 on the defensive side of the ball. Although Mullen’s recruiting classes will never be ranked in the top 15 or so, his staff does a great job of both identifying talent and developing it when it gets on campus. There is no reason this team should win fewer than 8 games next season.
Missouri: When Gary Pinkel was running the show, Missouri typically exceeded expectations because Pinkel had a staff geared toward developing talent once on campus. Pinkel’s gone and new coach Barry Odom has gutted the staff. His offense was one of the two worst in Division I last year and he fired the heart and soul of the defensive staff from the entire Pinkel era, D-line coach Craig Kiligowski, who will be churning out All-Americans at his new gig in Miami. Mizzou will be extremely hard pressed to match last year’s 5 wins.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has turned the Rebels into legitimate contenders with exceptional recruiting and continuity with his coaching staff. While the Rebels lose plenty of talent to graduation and early entry to the NFL, it’s not like there is a shortage, particularly at quarterback where Chad Kelly returns for his senior season. Kelly is the best QB in the SEC and he’ll be backed up by Shea Patterson, the #1 high school QB recruit in the country. This is a team that will probably win 9-10 games next year.
South Carolina: There is a new head ball coach in Will Muschamp and a brand new coaching staff of strong recruiters. That’s a necessity since the Gamecocks are short on talent at nearly every position. There should be immediate improvement on defense but the offense will be a work in progress … at best. Anything more than four wins should be considered a bonus in year one of the Muschamp era in Columbia.
Tennessee: The way the Vols thrashed Northwestern in the Outback Bowl has the folks in Knoxville thinking the good old days have returned. The Vols return 17 of the 22 on their two-deep on offense, 18 of their top 22 on defense so they won’t be able to use the experience excuse again. The key returnees on offense are QB Joshua Dobbs (15 passing TDs, 11 rushing) and the 1-2 running back punch of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, who combined for 1,986 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. The Vols will start the season ranked in the top 10 but they’ll have to get through a 4-game gauntlet of Florida, (at) Georgia, (at) Texas A&M and Alabama to live up to the expectations.
Texas A&M: Nobody’s seat will be hotter or leash shorter in 2016 than Kevin Sumlin, whose had the Aggies trending downward since his first season in 2012. It doesn’t help that he’s lost three stud QBs in the last two seasons and is having to rely on Oklahoma retread Trevor Knight for next season. Talent isn’t the issue in College Station but leadership is and you won’t find many folks who trust that Sumlin is capable of getting the job done anywhere in the Lone Star State.
Vanderbilt: The inexperience excuse will take you only so far and no one is going to believe Derek Mason if he talks youth this year. The Commodores improved defensively in 2015 but the offense only got worse even though Mason replaced his offensive coordinator. He’s made some other changes on his staff but at some point he’s got to start winning games. Vandy is 7-17 in Mason’s two years. The Commodores were 18-8 in the two years prior. The schedule for 2016 says the Dores will be lucky to go 4-8 again in 2016.
The St. Louis Rams have been approved to move to Inglewood, California by NFL owners. The Rams will start play in Los Angeles next season but they won’t move into their new stadium until 2019. The San Diego Chargers have been approved to move also but have a year to agree to lease terms with the Rams for the new stadium.
Peter Sirmon, linebackers coach at Southern Cal since 2014, has accepted the defensive coordinator job at Mississippi State.
Former Butler center Andrew Smith died Tuesday after a hard fight with leukemia. Smith was a vital part of Butler’s back-to-back national championship appearance in 2010-11.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long will continue as a member of the College Football Playoff Committee but will not continue as chairman.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Would you consider Nick Saban the best coach of all time or simply the best of this era?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I never grow tired of the music of Crosby, Stills and Nash. I’m a singalong guy whether it’s the radio or a CD when I’m in my car and like CS&N I can’t hit the high notes anymore, but I sure try. Today’s music is “The Acoustic Concert” from their 2013 tour.