USA Today Sports-Butch Dill

Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; July 12

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning...

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Without actually going into specifics Monday, Jim McElwain said plenty about the status of quarterback/wide receiver Treon Harris and wide receiver/kick returner Antonio Callaway. When asked where Harris and Callaway stand Monday in Hoover, McElwain responded, “They are back on campus, using the academic center and working out, and yet nothing has been resolved yet. And there really isn't – there isn't a timetable on it. So that's about what it is right now.”

McElwain announced 2-3 weeks ago that Callaway was back in school and allowed to use team facilities once again after a suspension that began back in January. At that time, he gave no information about Harris, but Monday McElwain noted Harris is also back in class and using team facilities. That was a new revelation.

While it may not seem that McElwain said revealing, take a moment, connect the dots and you’ll understand that he said plenty without giving away all he knows.

If Harris and Callaway were in danger of being suspended an entire year or given the boot by the student judiciary committee, which will decide their fate, they would NOT be in school right now. Count on it. Both Harris and Callaway know either through direct contact or through people who have a measure of influence over them, that they don’t lack for Division I options. One Big 12 school, in particular – whether it was through the coaching staff or some “representative” is not exactly clear – made a high-powered recruiting pitch for Harris and Callaway and by no means was that their only option.

But, they stayed put and they’re in school. That should tell you that they will be suiting up this fall. At this point we don’t know whether the committee will say Harris and Callaway have paid the price for whatever transgression got them suspended in the first place or if they’ll miss some games in the fall, but the fact that they’re in school should tell you they will be on the team and they will play football.

Someone I know who usually doesn’t speak unless his info is reliable “guesses” there will be punishment of perhaps 1-2 games for Callaway and 2-3 for Harris. Again, he qualified what he told me with the word “guesses” but many of his “guesses” have been on the money in the past.

The focus should be on the fact that both Harris and Callaway are in school, on scholarship and using team facilities. You don’t have to be particularly adept at puzzle solving to connect the dots that they are going to play in the fall, otherwise they would already be gone.

SEC MEDIA DAYS: CONFIDENCE AND REALITY

FLORIDA

Jim McElwain proved the pundits wrong last year with 10 wins, four more than most predicted at SEC Media Days 2015. The Gators made it to Atlanta as the SEC East champ but they collapsed the last three games of the year and the offense went from very good at midyear to needing a transfusion at the end.

Confidence: Was it confidence or was McElwain trying to pull a Nick Saban by not really saying much of anything when he took to the podium? Let’s go with confidence because he didn’t say anything much last year. He’s good at that. Here is what we do know: Florida has more talented skill people and more go the distance speed than last year and an offensive line that should be better no matter if the QB is Luke Del Rio or Austin Appleby. About the O-line, McElwain  said, “Obviously our offensive line play has tog to get better … You know, Ideally, what we’d like to be able to do is be 10, where you had, you know, kind of backups at every position. Whether we get there or not, I’m not sure. Usually, in a rotation of nine is ideal and you got to have versatility at the center spot, and that’s something we got.”

Reality: Get used to the fact that McElwain is never going to show much of his hand. He will aw shucks you to death and dance around the question like a pole dancer who knows how to make it rain. Florida could be a better team and still not win 10 games in the regular season this year, but 10 is not out of the question if the QB makes good decisions and the O-line gets the job done. The defense will be nasty.

Jarrad Davis said it: Regarding the 11-year win streak over Tennessee, Davis said, “It’s all of our responsibility to win that game one more time. Each and every year, just win it one more time. Keep adding to that record. Keep adding to it.”

AUBURN

After Gus Malzahn took Auburn to within 15 seconds of a national championship in his first year on the job in 2013, it’s been a downhill slide to 8-5 in 2014 and 7-6 last year. Patience is not exactly a virtue at Auburn, especially with Alabama winning four national championships in the last six years. This is, after all, the same school that fired Gene Chizik just two years after he ran the table and won the 2010 national championship.

Confidence: Malzahn said, “Overall, I really like where our team’s at. I like where our staff’s at. We have one of the toughest schedules in all of college football again this year. We’ve got to win close games and that’s what you have to do in this year and you’ve got to earn it. We’re going to take the one-game-at-a-time approach, similar to what we did in 2013.”

Reality: Auburn didn’t win close games last year but that was only part of the problem. His defense never gelled under Will Muschamp and rarely stopped anyone in critical situations and Jeremy Johnson, predicted as a Heisman contender, played quarterback like he took football lessons by mail order and the mail was late arriving.

This year, the defense will be under the guidance of Kevin Steele, who Malzahn says “we’re blessed to have a guy like him.”  He would get agreement from the folks at Clemson (Steele was DC there in 2012) and LSU (DC there last year), who would rather see Auburn “blessed” by Kevin Steele than endure another year of him directing the defense. As for Johnson, Malzahn says he will still be in the mix at QB this year, but in reality, the guy is going to have to be John Franklin III. Franklin can run. Johnson and Sean White cannot. When Gus has a running QB (see Cam Newton; see Nick Marshall) the offense hums along.

Prediction: For Auburn to win the nine games most feel Malzahn must win to continue picking up $5 million a year paychecks, Steele is going to have to do something he’s never done which is lead a defense that consistently gets stops and Franklin is going to have to make the offense dynamic. If you are one to place bets, bet that Franklin will get the job done and Auburn will only win nine games if he can put enough points on the board to overcome Steele. If Malzahn is gainfully employed at Auburn next year, bet the farm the Tigers will have their seventh DC in eight years.

DT Montravius Adams said it: “I need to be more of a dominating specimen, more tenacious this year.”

VANDERBILT

With only seven wins combined in the last two seasons after a 3-year stretch that produced 24 wins and three bowl games for former coach James Franklin, Derek Mason knows he has to win football games this year. Last year the Commodores went 4-8 but in five of those losses, Vandy was within a touchdown of either tying or winning in the fourth quarter. Nobody in Nashville is coming right out and saying it, but if the Commodores can’t figure out a way to win more close games than they lose and get to the magic 6-win mark, Commissioner Greg Sankey will probably be introducing a brand new Vandy coach at next year’s SEC Media Days.

Confidence: Mason says, “We talk about 42 returning upperclassmen, juniors and seniors, who have gone through maturation process, the fire so to speak, in terms of what it takes to try to compete in this conference, this big dog conference called the SEC … As I look at our football team, we have 15 returning starters. Okay? And we have a lot of guys who have played significant or earned significant time played in the SEC, and we’re extremely excited to see this group take the field.”

Reality: Vanderbilt was within one possession of tying the game or taking the lead in the fourth quarter five times last year, but the Commodores found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The big problem was turnovers. The Commodores threw 16 interceptions, lost 9 fumbles and were -8 in turnover margin last year). Mason says, “We have got to stop beating ourselves in terms of making poor decisions, not taking care of the football … That’s where we’re at, that’s where we’re pushing towards. We believe this football team is making the right steps in that direction.”

Prediction: Vanderbilt needs more than “right steps in that direction” this year. The Commodores need six wins and to do that they do have to take care of the football but they also have to find a way to score points. They managed only 15.2 per game last year and you don’t win in the SEC averaging two touchdowns a game. Vanderbilt will be very good on defense. There is quickness and Mason’s schemes are extremely sound. The Commodores will stink once again on offense because they don’t have the kind of scheme that will  compensate for a lack of speed. What Mason didn’t mention was that all the speed

Zach Cunningham said it: “Coach Mason drives it into us to have that ‘destination defense.’ That relentless defense is what he preaches to us. Go out there and try to dominate, come out every week and try to enforce our will on every opponent.”

TIM DUNCAN RETIRES

Tim Duncan retired Monday after 19 years in the NBA. He played all 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, all 19 for one coach, Greg Popovich. There is something to be said about that.

Call me old school but I am dismayed when I see teams gutted by players for whom they invested millions of dollars bolting the moment free agency arrives. I understand that players have only so many years to make it big and for many of them, if they don’t make the money now, they’ll never have money later in life. That’s reality. Far too many players are ill-prepared for life without a sport and while excessive amounts of money does not guarantee there will be money to retire on, at least there is a possibility.

Even so, I miss the days when there was a measure of loyalty. I always appreciated that Mickey Mantle was a Yankee his entire career and that Jim Palmer was always a Baltimore Oriole. I was bothered immensely when Hank Aaron left the Braves at the end of his career and that Charlie Finley sold or traded all the vital cogs of the great Oakland A’s teams. I loved it that Roger Staubach, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Lilly and others always played for the Dallas Cowboys. I always felt that Deion Sanders pimped himself to the highest bidder the way he moved from one team to another.  Larry Bird was always a Celtic and Magic Johnson was always a Laker. That’s the way it should have been.

So I appreciate Tim Duncan’s loyalty to his teammates, coaches, organization and the people of San Antonio. He’s an instant Hall of Famer, not only for the way he played the game but in terms of character and loyalty. It’s my guess that both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli will also retire as Spurs rather than go somewhere else. We may never see anything like this again.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Did you watch Giancarlo Stanton launch 61 home runs Monday night at the Home Run Derby? Stanton hit 24 in the first round, 17 in the second and hit 20 in the final round. He had the two longest home runs of the night at 491 in the final round against Todd Frazier and 497 in the second round against Mike Trumbo. 

When will folks learn about Larry Brown? The guy can coach. No doubt about that, but he (a) will cheat and (b) rather than face the consequences of what he’s done, will walk away. SMU is the latest to learn that beneath the smile and all the happy talk, Larry Brown is a slug of a human being.

One of the real standouts at the Nike Peach Jam was Florida target Chaundee Brown (6-5, 210, Orlando, FL First Academy), who averaged 22 points and 6 rebounds per game. He’s got offers in state from Florida, FSU, Miami and UCF and added one from Kansas at Peach Jam.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Whose seat is hotter: Derek Mason of Vanderbilt or Gus Malzahn of Auburn?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

One of the more underrated Southern rock and roll guitarists of all time is Steve Morse. He was the founder and front man for The Dixie Dregs before he replaced Ritchie Blackmore as the lead for Deep Purple. He still tours with his own band when he’s not with Deep Purple. Today’s music is his 1992 album “Coast to Coast” with the Steve Morse Band. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwZo6osLXqM

 


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