Three predictions for the Gators as the clock ticks down to the season opener with UMass:
1. Luke Del Rio’s understanding of the offense will compensate for the O-line: The offensive line is going to be improved, but it’s still a work in progress and probably won’t hit its stride until midseason. Del Rio has distinct advantages over last year’s QBs because he has such an understanding of the offense and the ability to see the entire field. There is no wasted time and he’s not slowed going through progressions. Instead, he knows where everybody is supposed to be, his vision allows him to make extremely quick decisions and the ball is gone in a hurry. There is nothing quite so helpful to a developing O-line than a QB who minimalizes sacks and Del Rio is that kind of QB.
2. The over-under for freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the regular defensive rotation is 10: There is no shortage of young talent for DC Geoff Collins to work with. What the young guys lack in experience, they make up for in speed and athleticism and they’re going to give a coach like Collins, who is enamored with bringing the blitz from every angle but never the same angle twice, plenty of options. Redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga is going to make his mark early on the D-line while true freshman David Reese will be on the field early and often at LB. Chauncey Gardner will be a stud somewhere in the secondary starting with game one.
3. Jim McElwain will look for a chance to let Eddy Pineiro try a FG from another area code ASAP: Mac knows what he has in Pineiro, a thunderfoot whose athletic ego could apply for statehood. The first chance he has to give EP a try from long distance he will take it, knowing fully well that it will take a ton of misses for his freshman kicker’s confidence to be tarnished. But think what happens if he hammers through a moonshot from close to 60 yards or longer? Not only will EP’s confidence soar but so will Mac’s. Your entire play calling strategy changes on third down when you know you’ve got a guy who’s good from midfield (or longer).
LOCHTE DANCING WITH THE STARS?
There are some reports out there that former Gator swimmer Ryan Lochte, the centerpiece in a misdemeanor that became an international scandal at the Rio Olympics, is thought to be a mortal lock for the ABC series “Dancing with the Stars.” If selected, Lochte will be the third former Gator who has appeared on the show. Erin Andrews and Emmitt Smith were the other two.
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: Redshirt junior Anthony Averett is seeing action in the secondary when Alabama goes to its nickel package. Averett has been timed in the 4.2s in the 40. In high school he was the New Jersey state champ in the 100, high jump and long jump … Back from injuries are WR Cam Sims (knee), ILB Keith Holcombe and DT Dalvin Tomlinson (ankle).
Arkansas: WR Keon Hatcher, TE Anthony Antwine and RB Devwah Whaley were back in red (contact) jerseys today. WR Dominique Reed and CB D.J. Dean were back at practice but they were wearing green (non-contact) jerseys.
Auburn: While all eyes point to a 3-way QB (John Franklin III, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White) race that is unresolved, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit told SECCountry.com that he thinks the key for Auburn will be a defense that “is going to be one of the best in the SEC.” Herbstreit went on to say, “I think defensively they’re going to stay in almost every game that they play and then it’s just a matter of the head coach, Gus Malzahn, and the offense finding ways to put enough points p on the board to win.”
Georgia: RB Nick Chubb will definitely play when Georgia opens its season against North Carolina at the Georgia Dome but there is no word yet on Sony Michel, who is recovering from a broken arm. If Michel is out, the #2 running back will be freshman Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield.
Kentucky: Neither OC Eddie Gran nor QB coach Darin Hinshaw were pleased with the way the Wildcats converted third downs in the Wildcats’ last scrimmage. “We didn’t throw and catch on third down, bottom line,” Gran said. At Cincinnati last year, Gran’s offense was second nationally in third down efficiency at 51% while Kentucky was 85th nationally at 37.5%.
LSU: Former LSU OT George Brown is transferring to Miami. He’s the eighth Tiger to transfer since the end of last season. Said LSU HBC Les Miles, “Transferring now, it’s like changing your hairdresser. ‘Let me have another experience and see what it’s like.’ And I understand that, but in the same vein they don’t get to finish being Tigers.
Mississippi State: Hopes for an improved defense have taken a serious hit as starting corners Tolando Cleveland and Cedric Jiles have gone down with injuries. Cleveland is gone for the year with an ACL and Jiles is out at least until mid-October with a broken arm. Juco transfer Larshard Durr, Jamoral Graham, Jamal Peters and Maurice Smitherman will all get a shot to step into a starting job … HBC Mullen plans to name a starting QB early next week between Nick Fitzgerald and Damien Williams.
Missouri: Missing practice were RB Ish Witter (bruised knee), CB Finis Stribling IV (concussion) and S Anthony Sherrils (excused absence to take care of a family matter). Among those back from injury were TE Sean Culkin and LB Donavin Nesom … RB Trevon Walters, who was dismissed from the Mizzou program 10 days ago, has been added to the roster at Coahoma Community College in Mississippi.
Ole Miss: As it stands Wednesday, Rod Taylor (6-3, 329) will be the starting LT with redshirt freshman Alex Givens and true freshman Greg Little backing him up. Nearly everyone expected Little to start from day one but HBC Hugh Freeze points out that Laremy Tunsil didn’t start until the fourth game of his freshman year … On the injury front, DE Fadol Brown is still recovering from a fractured foot and freshman S Deontay Anderson has a fractured bone in his hand. Anderson will wear a cast and won’t miss any time.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp says he has a “very good idea” who will start at QB between senior Perry Orth and true freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley, but he’s not going to tip his hand and allow Vanderbilt HBC Derek Mason, who doubles as the DC, any extra preparation time. Muscamp said, “Derek Mason is a good coach, and I think when you narrow things down sometimes for a coach like him, preparation wise, it makes things a little bit easier. We will try to use some of our unknowns to our advantage.”
Tennessee: HBC Butch Jones says the formula for winning football at UT is pretty simple. Jones said Wednesday, “We had only 12 turnovers [last year] which was fourth in the country; our defense only started on their side of the 50 [yard line] 12 times. We protected our defense and I think that’s part of the winning formula.”
Texas A&M: Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports says a Texas A&M assistant told him, “When I see Trevor Knight (Aggie QB, transfer from Oklahoma) and how the team responds to him and what he’s like in the locker room that’s probably what Tim Tebow was like. Just in terms of this aura he has, that guys respond to him. He’s very clean cut, he does a lot of charity work off the field. That’s one of the vibes they get.”
Vanderbilt: With the return of C.J. Duncan, who missed all of 2015 with an injury after making 28 catches for 441 yards and 4 TDs in 2014, Vanderbilt feels it has two quality receivers who can stretch a defense and force teams out of the 8-in-the-box alignments the Commodores saw too often last year. Duncan and last year’s receiving leader Trent Sheffield (51-659, 3 TDs), could be the best receiving duo Vandy has had since 2012 when Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for 144 catches, 2,097 yards and 13 TDs.
FIVE TEAMS THAT AREN’T THAT FAR FROM BEING GREAT
1. Washington: Because he hasn’t won big yet, there are some folks doubting Chris Peterson, thinking he’s just like the other Boise State coaches who flopped at their next stop. This is his third year and he’s finally got a QB who can run his offense in Jake Browning, a tailback as comfortable between the tackles as outside in Myles Gaskin and a defense on the verge of great things. If Peterson can find some quality receivers and a couple of quality D-linemen, the Huskies could be the best team in the Pac-12.
2. Louisville: Bobby Petrino has 17 returning starters, the makings of a nasty defense and maybe the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Vick in Lamar Jackson. If Jackson’s learning curve is anything like we saw from start to finish of last season, then the only QB in the ACC better than him will be Deshaun Watson. On the defensive side of the ball, Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields lead what will be one of the nation’s elite units. The only questions are on the offensive line where the young guys who gave up 44 sacks last year better grow up. If they can pass block, Louisville is capable of challenging Clemson and FSU for the ACC title.
3. Baylor: So maybe Art Briles is gone and maybe it’s going to be tough sledding moving forward after losing almost an entire recruiting class after the news of the scandal broke nationally. There is still a ton of talent and never underestimate Jim Grobe. He took Wake Forest Gump to bowl games and made life hell for the Seminoles for much of his career. There is enough talent on the defensive side to get by. The only question is depth. Losing so many signees means the Bears are way too thin in way too many places. If they stay healthy, they can win the Big 12.
4. Arkansas: Bret Bielema has been a head coach for 10 seasons. He’s had a 1,000-yard runner in every one of those seasons and he could have two this year in Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley. The Hogs have some of the best receivers in the country and over on the defensive side there are 29 experienced lettermen led by stud DE Deatrich Wise Jr. The two questions are QB and the O-line. Some observers think Austin Allen will be a better QB than older brother Brandon, who threw for 3,440 yards and 30 TDs last year. As for the O-line, they’ve constantly shuffled the combinations in August and think they have the right crew now. The Hogs gave up only 14 sacks last year. They play Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU in Fayette Nam.
5. TCU: Remember the first half of 2014 when every Heisman watch list has Kenny Hill’s name on it? He was an Aggie then but like a lot of quarterbacks have lately, ran afoul of HBC Kevin Sumlin. He’s at TCU now where he gets coached up by Doug Meachen and Sonny Cumbie. Even with only three returning offensive starters, there won’t be any shortage of production this year. The questions are on the other side of the football but the Horned Frogs do return eight starters and 29 lettermen so there is no lack of experience. The Froggies gave up 182 rushing yards per game last year. If they can cut that by at least 1/3, they could go from good to great.
SECCOUNTRY.COM RANKS SEC FOOTBALL COACHING JOBS
6. Texas A&M
9. Ole Miss
10. South Carolina
11. Mississippi State
How I would rate them: 1. Alabama; 2. FLORIDA; 3. LSU; 4. Texas A&M; 5. Georgia; 6. Auburn; 7. Tennessee; 8. Arkansas; 9. Ole Miss; 10. Mississippi State; 11. South Carolina; 12. Missouri; 13. Kentucky; 14. Vanderbilt
USA TODAY RATES THE SEC FOOTBALL STADIUMS
1. Tiger Stadium, LSU
2. Kyle Field, Texas A&M
3. Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama
4. Sanford Stadium, Georgia
5. BEN HILL GRIFFIN STADIUM, FLORIDA
6. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee
7. Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
8. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ole Miss
9. Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas
10. Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina
11. Faurot Field, Missouri
12. Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State
13. Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky
14, Vanderbilt Stadium, Vanderbilt
How I would rank them: 1. Tiger Stadium; 2. Kyle Field; 3. Bryant-Denny Stadium; 4. Jordan-Hare Stadium; 5. BEN HILL GRIFFIN STADIUM; 6. Sanford Stadium; 7. Neyland Stadium; 8. Williams-Brice Stadium; 9. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium; 10. Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium; 11. Davis Wade Stadium; 12. Faurot Field; 13. Commonwealth Stadium; 14. Vanderbilt Stadium
San Diego Chargers and former Alabama DT Damion Square has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy. Square missed a drug test and will not appeal. He is the third former Alabama player (Rolando McClain and Marcell Darius are the others) suspended to start the season for substance abuse issues.
For calling Sweden “cowards” after they beat the USA in women’s soccer in the Olympic quarter-finals, Hope Solo has been suspended for six months.
Albert Pujols hit the 584th home run of his career Wednesday night, passing Mark McGwire on the all-time list. With three more homers, Pujols will pass Frank Robinson for ninth on the all-time list.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What is your sleeper team for the SEC that could go from good to great with a break or two along the way? Nationally?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
It’s hard to get more recent performances than this one. Today’s music is the audio from Gov’t Mule’s Tuesday night performance in Des Moines, Iowa.