Supposedly, the weakest link in the chain that is Florida football is an offensive line that gave up 45 sacks and 274 negative yards in 2015. We can point to the suspension of Will Grier at midseason as one reason the sack total was so high, but let’s get real here. While Grier probably would have avoided some of those sacks with his legs or by unloading the ball faster since he could actually see over the offensive line, you have to wonder how many beatings he would have taken before his body gave out? The numbers would have been better, but would they have resulted in wins in any of those final three games? Doubtful.
So now it’s 2016 and the line is a year older. A year better? Maybe, and don’t take my word for it.
Last week the media in Hoover voted left tackle David Sharpe and left guard – possible right tackle – Martez Ivey second team in its preseason All-SEC poll. Not a big deal, you say? Think again. While many of the media that gather from the four corners of SEC territory struggle to have anything close to a clue, there are some very serious football analysts in that crowd. They voted Florida ahead of Georgia in their SEC East poll. They voted Sharpe and Ivey second team.
Additionally, Mike Hugenin of Gridironnow.com, one of the best and most respected college football analysts in the country, rates Sharpe as the sixth best offensive lineman in the SEC and he’s got Ivey at #8. That’s more respect from an unexpected source.
Now, Sharpe and Ivey are only two players and it takes five to make up an O-line. It also takes another 4-5 ready and waiting if you’re going to make it through an entire season. Injuries to the guys in the trenches aren’t a matter of if, but when. Sharpe and Ivey represent the left side of the line. The guy in the middle (Cam Dillard) has been through the fire and the right side (Tyler Jordan or Antonio Riles at RG and Fred Johnson or possibly Ivey at RT) does not lack for talent. Will they be significantly better than last year?
They might not have to be. McElwain got an Alabama offense to the SEC title game in 2008 with John Parker Wilson and then won a national championship the next year with Greg McElroy, two years a backup who only saw the field in mop-up time. What did they have in common? They threw the ball to the people wearing the same colored shirts and they didn’t take sacks. Bama’s O-line concentrated on running the ball first and knew they didn’t have to hold blocks in pass protection very long because the QB was going to unload. Luke Del Rio has that quality about him and he certainly knows this offense better than either Wilson or McElroy.
This UF offensive line might rank with the best in the SEC, but the seeds of effectiveness are there. They aren’t going to be the weak link. Bet on that.
WILL HUGH FREEZE BE SUSPENDED BY NCAA?
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com says that Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze could be suspended for the NCAA under the new penalty guidelines. Speaking “SportsTalk with Bo Mattingly,” a syndicated sports radio show in Arkansas, Dodd said that an NCAA suspension is entirely possible for Freeze, who was implicated in many of the 13 violations leveled at Ole Miss by the NCAA.
Dodd said, “There are two things in play for Ole Miss: Are they going to get post season [ban] and is Hugh Freeze going to get suspended? I think he’ll make it through this … but not without embarrassment and some severe damage to this program.”
Elsewhere in the SEC:
Alabama: The buzz around Tuscaloosa is that Alabama’s already talented wide receiver corps has a stud in Bowling Green graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter, who caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 TDs last year … Alabama is among the schools former Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome is considering … Alabama’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.8 and 316.6 pounds.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks lost Mackey Award winner Hunter Henry to the NFL, but the tight end position shouldn’t suffer with Jeremy Sprinkle taking over as the go-to guy. The 6-6, 255-pound senior caught 27 passes for 389 yards and 6 TDs last season … The projected offensive line for Arkansas averages 6-6.2 and 316.4 pounds.
Auburn: Players will report on August 2 and practice will begin on August 3 … Auburn’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.2 and 306.6 pounds.
Georgia: Starting RT Greg Pyke, who has 23 career starts, had surgery to remove his appendix Monday. He is expected to be ready to go by the opening game of the season against North Carolina on September 3 … Chad Clay, wo was dismissed from the team last month, is expected to transfer to Butler Community College in Kansas … Georgia’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.2 and 295 pounds, the smallest offensive line in the SEC.
Kentucky: On Sports Center, Mike Stoops commented, “I do feel like we do have the pieces for that this year. I do. I’ve got a lot of confidence in what our team has done. We’ve put the work in and I feel great with the coaching staff. And it’s time.” When asked about getting to a bowl game and actually winning, Stoops replied, “It most definitely would mean a great deal.” Stoops might survive getting to a bowl game and losing it, but it’s hard to imagine he survives if Kentucky stays home at bowl time for the fourth straight year of the Stoops era … Kentucky’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.6 and 313.2 pounds.
LSU: Trent Domingue, who was named to the Lou Groza Award watch list just a couple of weeks ago, is transferring out. His scholarship was not renewed although Les Miles says he probably was going to wind up on scholarship. “I think he had other reasons so he needed to go,” Miles said. Last season Domingue hit 13-17 field goals and 49-50 extra points. Colby Delahoussaye, who was the field goal kicker in 2015 but missed last year with an injury, is expected to be the #1 kicker when practice starts in August … LSU’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.8 and 306.2 pounds.
Mississippi State: Controversial freshman D-lineman Jeffery Simmons will be wearing jersey #36 this fall. That was the number of former MSU DE Nick Bell, who died of cancer and it has been worn by players since as a way of honoring his legacy. Bell’s mother told Rick Karle, “Maybe the young man can learn from wearing my son’s number. Nick was a young man who stood for what was right and perhaps this young man can look to Nick for inspiration” … Mississippi State’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.2 and 309 pounds.
Missouri: Missouri has three all-star types on the D-line with DE Charles Harris, DT Terry Beckner Jr. and DT Harold Brantley, who was poised to be an All-SEC type before missing all of 2015 with an injury … Missouri’s projected offensive line averages 6-5.2 and 300 pounds.
Ole Miss: The projected starting line for Ole Miss averages 6-4 and 306 pounds.
South Carolina: Sophomore Deebo Samuel (12-164, 1 TD in 2015) is the most experienced returning receiver for the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks inexperienced wide receiver corps will be bolstered by five new recruits and the expected position change of Lorenzo Nunez, who was a freshman QB last season … South Carolina’s projected offensive line averages 6-5.4 and 307.4 pounds.
Tennessee: The Vols are one of three finalists for former Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome, a former 4-star recruit who played in three games and caught 4 passes for 23 yards as a freshman last year ...Tennessee’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.6 and 307 pounds.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are in the running for former Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome, who has been given his release. Newsome is a sophomore who will have three years of eligibility remaining … Texas A&M’s projected offensive line averages 6-4.8 and 308 pounds.
Vanderbilt: Gainesville native Ralph Webb, who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore, could become Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher this year if he gains 1,085 yards. The school record of 3,143 career yards is held by Zac Stacy … Vanderbilt’s projected offensive line averages 6-5 and 307.4 pounds.
SEC Network: The network is making changes to its football coverage teams. David Pollack and Jesse Palmer, who worked together on Thursday night broadcasts last year, will be in different roles. Pollack is being moved to more of a studio role while Palmer will stay with Brent Musberger for the Saturday night broadcast. Palmer will work with Dave Flemming on the Thursday night broadcast with Laura Rutledge taking over as the sideline reporter. Laura will have an expanded role with the SEC Network show on Saturday.
GRIDIRONNOW.COM RATES THE 10 BEST O-LINEMEN IN THE SEC
Mike Hugenin of Gridironnow.com published his list of the 10 best O-linemen in the Southeastern Conference, a list that included two Gators, David Sharpe and Martez Ivey. Not surprising, Hugenin’s choice for the top lineman is Alabama LT Cam Robinson, whose punishment for a May arrest on drug and illegal firearm charges (since dismissed) hasn’t been announced.
1. Cam Robinson, Alabama LT (6-6, 327, JR)
2. Ethan Pocic, LSU C (6-7, 309, SR)
3. Dan Skipper, Arkansas RT (6-10, 326)
4. Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M LT (6-5, 310)
5. Braden Smith, Auburn RG (6-6, 300, JR)
6. David Sharpe, Florida LT (6-6, 347, JR)
7. Frank Ragnow, Arkansas C (6-5, 312, JR)
8. Martez Ivey, Florida LG/RT (6-5, 312, SO)
9. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia LT (6-2, 278)
10. Jon Toth, Kentucky C (6-5, 310, SR)
BIG 12 EXPANSION: HOUSTON, BYU LEADING CANDIDATES?
All signs point to the Big 12 Conference adding a couple of teams in the very near future. There are reports that the league’s coaches would prefer adding independent Brigham Young and Houston of the American Athletic Conference. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy says a poll of the Big 12 coaches showed five votes each for BYU and Houston with Cincinnati and Memphis tied for third with four votes each. Colorado State and UCF each received one vote.
Should BYU get the invitation, it would certain create some scheduling conflicts in the Big 12. BYU athletic teams are forbidden by Mormon church doctrine to compete on Sundays.
Although the coaches might favor adding BYU and Houston, Memphis is going to get a very hard and long look, particularly with Memphis alum and FedEx CEO promising to sponsor a Big 12 Conference Championship Game and spearheading a fund raising campaign to bring in $500 million in academic and athletic infrastructure upgrades over the next five years.
The Big 12 distributed $30 million to its 10 teams for the 2014-15 fiscal year. UCF, Houston and Memphis each got $4.5 million from the American Athletic Conference.
ACC WILL GET ITS OWN NETWORK
The ACC and ESPN have reached agreement on a standalone network. As part of the agreement, should Notre Dame elect to join a conference for football prior to 2036 it will be obligated to join the ACC.
The NCAA is about to make a significant change to its basketball tournament. Starting in 2017, the overall #1 seed will have a chance to choose the location of its first two tournament games. That, of course, will shuffle the entire placement process.
Shaquille O’Neal has written a letter to the committee in charge of retiring basketball jerseys at LSU stating that it’s time to retire the jersey of Chris Jackson. Jackson was a 2-time All-American, averaging 30.2 points per game in 1989 and 27.8 in 1990. Nobody who was there will ever forget Jackson lighting up the Gators for 53 points at the O-Dome in 1989 when he was a freshman, maybe the greatest offensive performance ever in that building.
Former Southern Miss and Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall has appealed his 10-year show cause by the NCAA. His attorney says the NCAA missed its deadline to respond to Tyndall’s appeal. It shouldn’t matter. Tyndall is so slimy he makes Hugh Durham seem squeaky clean.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If you are the Big 12 and about to expand, which two teams do you add?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
“Journeyman” is one of my favorite Eric Clapton albums. It has one of the more impressive lists of musicians – Nathan East (bass), Steve Ferrone (drums), Robert Cray (guitar), George Harrison (guitar and vocals), David Sanborn (sax), Gary Burton (vibes), Chaka Khan (background vocals), Daryl Hall (harmony vocals), Phil Collins (drums, backup and harmony vocals) and Alan Clark (keyboards).