It’s Friday and time to crunch a few numbers.
In 2008-09, the Florida Gators were a combined 26-2 with a 2008 national championship. In 2008, the Gators converted 51.55% of their third downs and in 2009 they were good on third down 49.15% of the time. The Gators made first down 306 times in 2008 and 314 in 2009.
In the six years since, the Gators have gone 47-30 (41st best record in the country) and have only one SEC East championship to show for it. That might be partially explained in the third down conversion percentages and first down averages for each year since 2009:
2010: 37.43%/247 (19 first downs per game)
2011: 32.08%/222 (17.07 first downs per game)
2012: 36.31%/228 (17.53 first downs per game)
2013: 38.73%/213 (17.75 first downs per game)
2014: 36.46%/210 (16.15 first downs per game)
2015: 36.41%/234 (16.71 first downs per game)
It must also be noted that the Gators have only scored at least 30 points per game once since 2009 and that was 2014 when they averaged 30.3.
There are aberrations to the theory that third down conversions and more first downs equal more points and more wins – Alabama was an exception last year, converting only 37.38% of its first downs, but the Crimson Tide averaged 22 first downs per game. Every other national championship team since 2010 converted at least 41.01% (Auburn 2010) of its third downs. Alabama converted 46.43% in 2011 and 47.9% in 2012. Florida State converted 52.53% of its third downs in 2013 and Ohio State converted 52.02% in 2014.
In Jim McElwain’s first year on the job as the Colorado State HBC, the Rams converted 34.84% of their third downs and averaged 18 first downs per game. CSU was 4-8 in that first year. In year two, the Rams went 7-6, converted 43.19% of their third downs and averaged 24.69 first downs per game. In 2014 (year three), the Rams finished 10-3, converted 48.85% of their third downs and averaged 23 first downs per game. The Rams averaged 21.2 points in 2012, 36.2 in 2013 and 33.9 in 2014.
So here is what we can conclude: For the Gators to significantly improve in 2016, look to third down conversions and first downs. If the Gators are moving the chains, converting those third and two and third and threes and staying on the field, they will put points on the board and win football games.
JIMBO CALLS FOR REFORMS
Whether you like Jimbo Fisher or not, the Florida State coach is right to call for scheduling and conference reforms that will level the playing field for everyone. Speaking to Jared Shanker of ESPN.com, Fisher said Thursday, “I’d like to play for a championship where everyone has the same rules … You don’t think we need a commissioner and a set of rules to make things even? We’re the only sport in America that doesn’t have the same set of rules for everybody that plays.”
Just a few examples of the uneven playing field:
(1) Notre Dame doesn’t belong to a conference and doesn’t play in a conference championship game. Yet, the Irish are given consideration for the College Football Playoff and given their reputation for filling seats and TV ratings you can almost bet they will get the nod over another team with a similar or perhaps even better record.
(2) There are only 10 teams in the Big 12 and while they are the only conference to play a round robin schedule, if one of their teams is in the playoff, it didn’t have to play a conference championship game.
(3) The Big Ten and Pac-12 play nine conference games while the SEC and ACC play only eight. Given the strength of the SEC, you can understand why adding a ninth conference game creates a measure of opposition.
Fisher commented Thursday, “Everybody goes to their own neighborhood and makes their own little rules. I’m for uniform everything across the board no matter what it is: eight and two (eight conference games, two against Power 5 opponents), nine and one (nine conference games, one against a Power 5), 38 and 38. Why can’t we uniformly play the same number of games, play the same conference championship, play the same number of Power 5s? … It’s called common sense.”
Fisher also made sense when he added, “If you don’t play an FCS (Division IAA) … how do they make their budget? … When you start taking these budgets away where are all the high school football players going to go? Where are they going to play football when all these teams drop football? You’re killing the sport for ego.”
Forget you are a Gator for a moment and say “Amen!”
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: Four freshmen are getting plenty of work in the Bama secondary. Corners Shyheim Carter, Aaron Robinson and Jared Mayden are all in the mix for playing time at corner while Trevon Diggs is getting a long look at safety. Nick Saban said, “It’s going to be important that some of these young guys provide us with the depth that we need and there’s a lot of opportunity for these guys to play and I think they’re working hard and focused on it and making improvement ever day.”
Arkansas: The offensive line had a very difficult day Thursday. O-line coach Kurt Anderson and OC Dan Enos say they are going to look at more combinations to find five guys who can play together … On the field temperatures were as high as 107 Thursday so HBC Bret Bielema ended practice about halfway through and took the team swimming. A couple of players had to leave practice due to heat related issues.
Auburn: Writing at Gridironnow.com, Tony Barnhart writes that everyone he talks to in the Auburn program says the dismissal of running back Jovon Robinson “would be addition by subtraction.” Without Robinson, Kerryon Johnson is the feature back but he is getting some competition from Kam Martin, who came to Auburn after he was released from his LOI because of the scandal at Baylor.
Georgia: According to seccountry.com, the five most impressive players in Georgia’s fall camp are sophomore LB Roquan Smith, freshman DE David Marshall, freshman RB Elijah Holyfield, WR/KR Isaiah McKenzie and freshman CB Mecole Hardman.
Kentucky: Tight end Darryl Long is transferring. He played in 10 games but didn’t catch a pass last year. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones, who was one of Kentucky’s spring stars, has been replaced on the first team defense by redshirt freshman Eli Brown. Says HBC Mike Stoops, “We’re going to be a disciplined football team. Jordan needs to work on that discipline. If he can’t, then he won’t play.”
LSU: Sophomore wide receiver Tyron Johnson, a former 5-star recruit, has been granted his release and will look to transfer. Playing time is the apparent issue. Clemson, SMU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are possible destinations … The starting 3-wide group seems set with Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and D.J. Chark.
Mississippi State: QB coach Brian Johnson is giving all four quarterbacks (Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley and Nick Tiano) the same amount of reps with the first, second and third team offenses. Johnson believes all four QBs have a legitimate shot to earn the starting job. “This is very uncommon and obviously, it’s a great problem to have,” Johnson said, adding, “we’ve been able to manage it.”
Missouri: Former Alabama WR Chris Black is hoping to jumpstart his career as a graduate transfer. Black caught only 25 passes in three seasons at Alabama after going to Alabama in a heated recruiting battle that involved Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Clemson. AL.com reports the only reason he was allowed to transfer to Missouri was because of a paperwork mishap in which Alabama didn’t respond to his transfer request within seven days.
Ole Miss: Despite all the hype, freshman LT Greg Little isn’t being force fed into a starter’s role. Right now, the starting LT is redshirt freshman Alex Givens and that could change if and when Jeremy Liggins gets out of Hugh Freeze’s doghouse. Little, meanwhile, is dividing his time between the second and third team.
South Carolina: South Carolina is finalizing a 10-year, $71.5 million extension of its partnership with Under Armour. South Carolina expects to break ground on a brand new football operations center sometime around December or January.
Tennessee: DT Alexis Johnson, who was charged back in February with aggravated assault and false imprisonment of a woman who accused him of choking her, has been cleared by a student judicial panel. Even though the criminal charges were reduced to a misdemeanor and could be dropped completely if Johnson stays out of trouble, there is no word from HBC Butch Jones if and when Johnson’s suspension from the team will be lifted. Because the university settled a Title IX lawsuit with several women earlier in the summer, it will be interesting to see if Tennessee allows Johnson back on the team.
Texas A&M: Former Texas A&M great and HBC Gene Stallings weighed in on the numerous controversies at A&M including the recent women’s clinic in which some rather inappropriate graphics caused two assistant coaches to get suspended without pay. Speaking on The Opening Drive radio show, Stalling said, “They had a clinic for women. Maybe 700 people attended. They had some graphics that were … they were just classless is the word for that. Everything starts at the top. Even though [HBC Kevin Sumlin] probably didn’t have anything to do with it, still was on his watch.”
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt’s O-line took a serious hit Thursday when HBC Derek Mason announced that LT Andrew Jelks has injured his knee again and will completely miss a second consecutive season. Also out for a second straight season is backup QB Shawn Stankavage. He missed all of last year with a leg injury and will miss this season with an unspecified injury to his knee.
SECCOUNTRY.COM RATES SEC SCHEDULES BY DIFFICULTY
1. Ole Miss
4. Texas A&M
7. Mississippi State
10. South Carolina
Top 5 countries medal count:
1. USA 38 (16 gold, 12 silver, 10 bronze)
2. China 30 (11 gold, 8 silver, 11 bronze)
3. Japan 22 (7 gold, 2 silver, 13 bronze)
4.Russia 19 (4 gold, 8 silver, 7 bronze)
5. Great Britain 16 (4 gold, 6 silver, 6 bronze)
Watching Fiji’s rugby 7 team on the podium after earning the first gold medal in the history of the country reminded me why I watch the Olympics. Yes, I get annoyed with NBC and its analysts who must be paid by the word, constantly battering me with information I do not want or need, but it’s possible to tune them out. It isn’t possible to tune out the emotions of Team Fiji, which stomped the life out of silver medalist Great Britain, 43-7, in the championship game. I think we are so accustomed to Americans standing on the podium and listening to the Star Spangled Banner that we are almost numb to what has just happened. You see Americans break down in tears when they stand on the podium and maybe it moves us but maybe not. With Fiji we saw a team of 12 carry the hopes and dreams of a tiny island nation from way out in the South Pacific. They carried the weight of hope and expectation for each of the 1 million citizens of Fiji and they made dreams come true for themselves and for everyone back home. At some point, we will forget which American won a swimming race or if the volleyball team lived up to its hype or if the latest version of the Dream Team slashed and burned its way to a gold. We are accustomed to it so it's not really a big deal for us. No so in Fiji. Thirty years from now everyone in Fiji who was alive on August 11, 2016 will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing the moment the final whistle blew and a gold medal was theirs for the very first time.
I don’t know what I could possibly say about Michael Phelps that someone more eloquent than I has already said but did you see him win the 200 IM Thursday night? The man is 32 years old and he won the gold in the event not just for the fourth straight Olympiad but by two full seconds. A two second win in the 200 IM is like winning a football game by 60 points. And then 30 minutes later he finishes second by 1/10th of a second in the semis of the 100 butterfly. It really means something when you say best of all time with this guy.
LeBron James is about to sign a 3-year extension worth $100 million with the Cleveland Cadavers. Believe it or not, I have actually lived on less.
Joe Girardi denied Alex Rodriguez’s request to play third base in his final Major League Baseball game. Girardi defended his decision by saying he’s paid to win baseball games, but anyone who thinks this was a business and not a personal decision still believes in the Easter Bunny.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
As difficult as it might be for you to admit he’s onto something, do you agree that it’s time for all the Power 5 schools – including Notre Dame – to level the playing field?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I get in musical moods that defy my own concepts of what and where my taste is on any given day. Thursday I spent a couple of hours listening to the country band Lady Antebellum. I confess, it’s not the first time. Their harmony and lyrics are exceptional and the music doesn’t sound like a rerun of something I’ve heard before.