You have to go all the way back to 1989 to find the last time the Florida Gators lost their season opening football game. Fans booed throughout the fourth quarter of that 24-19 loss to Ole Miss, a game that in many ways was an omen for things to come. Galen Hall would be fired as head coach on October 14 after the Gators beat LSU in Baton Rouge. Three days later quarterbacks Kyle Morris (starter) and Shane Matthews (6th string) were suspended for the rest of the season for gambling on NFL games throughout September and into the first week of October. Without Morris the Gators didn’t have a passing threat and so the offense became even more Emmitt (Smith) left, Emmitt right and Emmitt up the middle than it was in game one when frustrated fans let Galen and offensive coordinator Whitey Jordan have it.
There is no chance there will be a repeat of that 1989 game Saturday night when Florida opens the 2016 season with UMass. The Minutemen are here with one thing in mind – get a big paycheck and get back home with as few injured players as possible. Winning? You hate to say no chance because any time two teams strap on the helmets and pads, there is always a chance but donkeys might fly before UMass beats the Gators.
Florida’s goal in at least one respect is the same as UMass and that’s get out of this game with as few injuries as possible since it’s an SEC game next week when Kentucky comes to town. The Gators will want to get the starters into a rhythm, let them score enough points that the coaches are satisfied and then let the guys on the two and three deep charts get their shot at real football after a month of getting beaten up in practice by the first team.
Three things to watch very closely:
1. Luke Del Rio is the starting QB but keep a close eye on Austin Appleby to see if he has a command of the offense and looks sharp enough to take over should something happen to Del Rio. In each of the last three years we’ve seen what happens to the Florida offense when there are quarterback issues and the backup has to take over.
2. Watch what happens on the right side of the offensive line. With David Sharpe and Martez Ivey on the left side, the coaches are confident they have two linemen who can play at a very high level against SEC competition. The questions are from center Cam Dillard, right guard Tyler Jordan and right tackle Fred Johnson.
3. It is imperative that the defensive tackles play at a very high level. The Gators have speed and playmakers on the edge, good linebackers and a secondary that should rank with the best in the country. If there is a position of concern it’s the two interior guys on the D-line. Caleb Brantley came back to school with the idea that he can make a lot of money if he can not only force a double team on every play but show the ability to split the double to get into the backfield. As he goes, so will go the interior of the Florida line.
THE SAYER SAYS SOOTH: Del Rio and the offense will cut through the UMass defense with laser-like precision and Appleby will look nearly as good in his 20 minutes of playing time. Antonio Callaway and Dre Massey will show why the offense has a chance to be explosive and Mark Thompson will knock at least one UMass linebacker into next week. I see it Florida 55, UMass 7
This week’s games:
So far: 1-1 (.500)
#1 Alabama 31, Southern Cal 17: Southern Cal might have the best two athletes on the field in WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and CB Adoree’ Jackson but they are only two. The problem with Alabama is that nearly every starter was somebody’s 4 or 5-star recruit and it’s the same thing on the second and third units. By season’s end nobody will want to play Southern Cal. From game one onward nobody will want to play Alabama and that’s no matter who plays QB.
#5 LSU 34, Wisconsin 14: The big question in this game isn’t so much that Leonard Fournette will go for somewhere between 150 and 225 yards, but whether Les Miles will take the wraps off the passing game. If the Tigers are willing to get the football to wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural the Tigers are capable of winning it all this year because no one will be able to play them 8-in-the-box. LSU’s defense is gong to be lights out.
#22 North Carolina 30, #17 Georgia 22: The fact that Georgia is starting Greyson Lambert at QB tells me the offense is going to be one-dimensional at least until freshman Jacob Eason can figure things out. UNC can score on anybody and by Sunday everybody in the country is going to know who Mitch Trubisky (UNC QB) is. Word out of Chapel Hill is that year two of Gene Chizik’s defense will be night and day different than last year. Chizik’s history is that he doesn’t lose to teams that are one-dimensional.
Mississippi State 38, South Alabama 14: No Dak Prescott, no problem, at least for game one. Dan Mullen is always going to have an offense that can score points no matter who the QB is. Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams will look like the second coming of Dak against this South Alabama defense. The real questions for the Bulldogs are over on the other side of the ball where there is a new DC and two untested corners. They’ll be good enough for South Alabama but the real test will be in weeks two and three against SEC defenses.
West Virginia 28, Missouri 7: Mizzou averaged only 15 points per game last year with an all-senior O-line, a returning 1,000-yard rusher and some experience at receiver. This year the O-line has three combined starts, there is no 1,000-yard back and the receivers have less experience than last year. The defense will be good and that’s why West Virginia will only score four touchdowns.
Texas A&M 21, UCLA 17: If this game were played at the Rose Bowl, UCLA would be a 10-point favorite, but it’s in College Station where it is very difficult to go against the Aggies, particularly with 102,000 fans who have been waiting nine months for football jam packed into Kyle Field. On paper this is a battle of the new QB at A&M (Oklahoma grad transfer Trevor Knight) and UCLA’s talented sophomore Josh Rosen, but the defenses should rule the day. The Bruins return nine starters from last year and the Aggies have the bookend pass rushing studs in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, who are going to spend half the night in the UCLA backfield.
Arkansas 45, Louisiana Tech 10: Some people think the Arkansas passing game will be better with Austin Allen throwing the ball than last year when Allen’s older brother Brandon was chunking it all over the yard. The Razorbacks will be terrific when they’ve got the football. They have to be better on defense if they’re going to be a factor in the SEC West. Whether the Hogs are on their game defensively or not, they’ll still blow the doors off Skip Holtz and LaTech.
Kentucky 33, Southern Miss 28: The difference in this game will be Kentucky’s offensive line, which averages 6-5 and 315 pounds going against a Southern Miss front four whose biggest guy is 287. The Wildcats need to get confidence in the running game because next week they’ll be traveling to Florida, which they haven’t beaten since Ronald Reagan was the president. Southern Miss will expose the UK defense, but Kentucky will still win although it’s going to be white knuckles in the fourth quarter.
#2 Clemson 40, Auburn 21: Folks keep telling me Auburn is going to be better than they were last year and the defense is going to be surprisingly good. To that I have only two words: Kevin Steele. He is Auburn’s defensive coordinator. He was once Clemson’s DC but his troops gave up 70 points in an Orange Bowl game to West (By God) Virginia and that was the end of that contract. Last year Steele turned LSU’s talented defense average. So, how does he expect to slow down Clemson and the best QB in the country in Deshaun Watson? By the time this one is over, Auburn people will be comparing Watson to Cam Newton.
ELSEWHERE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Tennessee, #9 team in the country and a threat to make the college football playoff? Surely you jest. After watching the Vols need overtime to beat Appalachian State it’s easy to see a 3 or 4-loss season looming. Can Butch Jones survive a 4-loss season?
It’s hard to call game one make or break, but Vanderbilt’s season might be in a tailspin already. That loss to South Carolina and Will Muschamp will have the buzzards circling Derek Mason’s offices in the morning. The next three games (Middle Tennessee, at Georgia Tech and at Western Kentucky) are all very losable. The Commodores could be 0-4 heading into the Florida game on October 1.
By halftime, Louisville sophomore QB Lamar Jackson had accounted for 405 yards of total offense (286 passing, 119 rushing) and 8 touchdowns (6 passing, 2 rushing) in the Cardinals’ 70-14 rout of Charlotte, which has absolutely no business whatsoever playing Division I football.
Florida State president John Thrasher suspended strength and conditioning coach Vic Viloria for 30 days following his arrest for a DUI and property damage. Viloria will miss five games and cannot return until October 2.
When ESPN released its list of 12 schools that had made the cut for Big 12 Conference expansion, it could not confirm one way or the other if Memphis was under consideration. There are many people connected to the Memphis program and the Big 12 who believe Memphis will be part of any expansion package. ESPS reported 12 schools under consideration: Air Force, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, Colorado State, UConn, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple and Tulane.
One good guess has the league expanding into Colorado with Air Force Academy and Colorado State and eastward with Memphis and either Cincinnati or UCF.
Sources told ESPN that the Big 12 rejection list included Arkansas State, Boise State, East Carolina, New Mexico, Northern Illinois, San Diego State and UNLV.
Among the 20 assistant coaches who should be on short lists for HBC jobs per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated are Florida DC Geoff Collins and OC Doug Nussmeier. I’m a little bit surprised that Randy Shannon is not on anyone’s short list. Other assistants from the SEC listed by Thamel were LSU DC Dave Aranda; Alabama O-line Mario Cristobal and OC Lane Kiffin; and Tennessee DC Bob Shoop.
In a very interesting development, LeBron James has withdrawn his support of the King James Shooting Stars AAU basketball program based out of Akron. No reasons were given for the withdrawal of support.
Colin Kaepernick didn’t exactly win friends with the police nationwide Wednesday when he wore socks that depicted a pig wearing a police uniform and hat. Kaepernick admitted Thursday that the socks are a protest against what he calls “rogue cops.” Police organizations were not amused, calling the socks “disrespectful.”
Former Gator Mack Brown certainly improved his odds of making the Washington Redskins when he ran for 149 yards Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Bucs. Included in his total was a 60-yard TD run.
TNT sportscaster Craig Sager, a staple of the network’s NBA coverage, has undergone his third bone marrow transplant as he battles an aggressive form of leukemia.
It’s September and the only decent pennant races in Major League baseball are the AL East where the Toronto Blue Jays have a 2-game lead over the Boston Red Sox and the NL West where the San Francisco Giants lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by 1.5 games. I guess I should get interested in the wild card races, but I liked baseball better when we didn’t have wild cards and designated hitters.
After two years in Chicago, the NFL Draft will move to Philadelphia in 2017.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Since college football has begun in earnest it’s time to ask the ultimate question: Which four teams will make the College Football Playoff?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Since it’s the start of football season, can there be a better music selection than Jakcsonville’s Lynyrd Skynyrd from their heyday years? You have to wonder how good these guys would have been if Ronnie Van Zandt and Steve Gaines hadn’t died in that plane crash in 1977. Today’s music is a video of a 1976 concert from England.