The only way to describe Saturday in Nashville is a get well game for the Florida Gators. Considering the Gators went from looking like a team capable of playing in college football’s final four to a team capable of bringing up the bottom of the SEC East all in the same game last week in Knoxville, it is imperative that Florida put together a 60-minute football game in which the offense plays with a measure of consistency and the defense goes without embarrassing breakdowns.
In other words, it’s up to the Gators to use this opportunity against Vanderbilt to get well.
Florida is 3-1 overall, 1-1 in the SEC, and there isn’t an SEC game on the schedule the Gators can’t win. LSU, even with Coach O in charge, will be a challenge. Georgia in Jacksonville is always tough and that game at Arkansas is probably the toughest SEC game remaining. But all of those games are winnable.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is at Georgia and Texas A&M before Alabama comes to town. That’s a schedule with at least two losses so Florida’s chances to repeat as SEC East champions are very, very good if the Gators go 6-0 against the SEC the rest of the way.
But it starts this week against Vandy. Getting well is priority #1.
THE SAYER SAYS SOOTH
#23 FLORIDA (3-1, 1-1 SEC) 35, VANDERBILT (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 10: Above all else, the Gators have to win, but you can’t understate how important it is for a complete game to reset the momentum for the rest of the season. Vandy’s offense sucks and its defense has been a sieve this year. If Florida’s game plan is conservative, then Vandy will be in this well into the fourth quarter. If the Gators come out aggressive on both sides of the ball, it will be the perfect get well game that erases the bad taste left by last week’s second half against Tennessee.
Elsewhere in the SEC:
#1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) 55, Kentucky (2-2, 1-1 SEC) 10: In Alabama this is a football game and it’s sacred, even if it is against Kentucky. It’s not a big deal that backup QB Blake Barnett is transferring out. That’s why they have “the process” in place, which translates to “if you don’t like it here, go somewhere else because we’ve got someone just as good to play in your place.” As if the Crimson Tide needs it, DB Tony Brown is now eligible after serving a 4-game suspension. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Saturday’s game against the nation’s #1 team is a reason for fans to get together and discuss tailgating plans for Midnight Madness, which is just around the corner. Nothing gets Kentucky fans more in the mood for basketball than Kentucky football.
#9 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0 SEC) 27, South Carolina (2-2, 1-2 SEC) 3: Every time he gets ready to take a snap, South Carolina QB Brandon McIlwain is going to look to his left where he sees Myles Garrett, then look to his right where he sees Daeshon Hall. When he looks in the middle he’s going to see 330-pound Daylon Mack, who can run with just about any back in the league for 10 yards. Daylon Mack will be drooling. It won’t be a pretty sight. Brandon McIlwain will try to be brave but instead of remembering that Will Muschamp told him he’s the little engine that could (“I think I can! I think I can!”) the override in his mind is going to channel in “Feets don’t fail me now!” There are two chances and two chances only that South Carolina springs the upset – no way and no how.
#11 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) 28, #25 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) 17: Now that the Vols have ended “the streak” with Florida, the next big question is can they handle prosperity? The feeling is just the opposite in Athens. Now that the “next Nick Saban” has had his butt sliced, diced, skewered and sautéed by Ole Miss, how will Kirby Smart and those zany Georgia fans handle another year when the best they can do is another one of those infamous “near national titles?” If the Tennessee team that played the second half against Florida shows up, Georgia is in deepest and darkest. If the Tennessee team that played the first half shows up, Georgia could win even without Nick Chubb. Of course, if that happens, all the good will earned by Butch Jones last week has been wasted.
#16 Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 SEC) 38, Memphis (3-0) 24: This is a very dangerous game for Ole Miss, which thinks of itself as the best 2-loss team in the country. Memphis is still making its pitch to join the Big 12 Conference and a win over a ranked SEC team would do wonders for that effort. If Ole Miss plays with the same effort it had last week when Georgia’s doors were blown off, the best Memphis will be able to do is make it respectable.
#20 Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 SEC) 47, Alcorn State (1-2) 7: The Hogs need a get well game after their monumental fourth quarter collapse against the Aggies last week. The Hogs can score a big win, fine tune a few things and get everybody well rested for when Alabama comes to town next week.
LSU (2-2, 1-1 SEC) 30, Missouri (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 17: I’m betting Coach O rips off his shirt when he gives LSU its pre-game speech. I’m also betting LSU plays like a team with its hair on fire because the kids will love Coach O so much they will want him to be the permanent replacement for Les Miles.
Auburn (2-2, 1-1 SEC) 41, Louisiana Monroe (1-2) 13: For Auburn to be anything more than a 6-6 team this year, someone not named Sean White is going to have to be the QB. This is the perfect opportunity for Gus Malzahn to let John Franklin III get on the field and figure things out. He’s Auburn’s only chance for a really good record this year.
10-YEAR EXTENSION FOR SULLY IS A VERY SMART MOVE
One of the things we will remember about Jeremy Foley as Florida’s athletic director was his commitment to giving his coaches what they need to succeed. By extending baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan 10 years and raising his pay to more than $1 million a year along with the commitment to elevate McKethan Stadium from one of the worst venues in the SEC to one of the best, Foley has added to his legacy while ensuring that Florida baseball will remain at an elite level years into the future.
This is a move that has the approval of incoming AD Scott Stricklin, who shares Foley’s determination that every sport matters and should be given a chance to compete at a championship level. Stricklin will bring some new elements to the AD position while respectfully continuing the Foley legacy. This is an outstanding hire by UF.
As for Foley, don’t think for a second he’s just going to be hanging around Gainesville. A couple of friends for whom I have the utmost respect believe Foley will resurface as a conference commissioner in the very near future.
Streaking across the sky
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: There are some QBs who would consider what Lamar has done in four games – 1,330 passing yards, 13 TDs; 526 rushing yards, 12 TDs – an extraordinary season. If he lights up Clemson like a Christmas tree Saturday night he may have wrapped up the Heisman sooner than any player since 1991 when Desmond Howard had the trophy sewn up even before he struck the pose in the end zone at the Big House after the punt return against the Buckeyes.
Looking really, really good:
1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: He hasn’t put up Star Wars numbers just yet, but he’s been so solid. If he’s going to mount a serious challenge to Jackson he better start doing something spectacular to catch up. So far, McCaffrey has 436 rushing yards and 3 TDs, 12-119 receiving for 1 TD, 2 punt returns for 16 yards and 3-64 on kickoff returns.
2. Donnell Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State: Can a player from San Diego State win a Heisman? Pumphrey might if he continues to play like he has the last two games when he’s rushed for 501 yards and 6 TDs. For the season he has 599 yards, 7 TDs rushing; 9-67 receiving. Since the Aztecs won’t have a marquee game that the whole country will be watching, he’ll have to average 200 a game just to stay in the conversation much less challenge.
3. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: He’s been steady and often times spectacular in leading the Buckeyes to a 3-0 start with 650 passing yards and 10 TDs; 159 rushing yards and 3 more TDs. Games against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan will be big stages with national audiences so his stock could rise dramatically with outstanding performances.
4. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston: He had a Heisman statement game Thursday night against UConn when he completed 32-38 passes for 389 yards and 3 TDs, then ran 12 times for 65 yards and 2 more scores. In four games he has thrown for 1,225 yards and 8 TDs, plus ran for X yards and 5 more. n three games he has passed for 936 yards and 5 TDs, rushed for 178 and 5 more TDs. He’s about where he was last year when his numbers kept getting better every single week. He will have a showdown game with Lamar Jackson in Houston on November 17 that could determine his chances of either winning or at least getting to the Heisman podium.
It’s not too late for these guys:
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: What frustrates everyone is the number of potential TDPs that have been missed because Watson undershot or overthrew his receivers. Clemson is unbeaten and his numbers are solid – 996 passing yards, 9 TDs (4 INTs); 35-120 rushing. He’s got to come up big this week against Louisville and on November 29 against FSU to mount a serious challenge.
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: He ran for 267 yards last week against South Florida. He needs a lot of 200-yard games and has to come up big at Miami, against Clemson and Florida to get back into the conversation. At this point he is a very long shot.
Dropping like a rock
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: He hasn’t played healthy all year. He has 386 rushing yards and 2 TDs, but will probably miss his second game with that bad ankle this week.
2. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: He has only 200 total yards in the three games since that 222-yard first game effort against North Carolina and now he has an ankle injury that could keep him out awhile.
3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: In losing to Houston and Ohio State in September, Mayfield proved that old adage that you cannot win a Heisman in September but you can indeed lose one.
A potential breakthrough star on the horizon:
1. Jake Browning, QB, Washington: In four games he has thrown for 904 yards and 14 TDs and run for another. If he lights up Stanford and the Huskies win tonight, he could catapult past a bunch of folks who have their eyes set on the Heisman podium.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour says James Franklin’s job is safe and secure now and will be in December. That’s true as long as he goes 7-1 the rest of the way.
Southern Cal’s game plan is to blitz from the time the Trojans get off the bus until the final whistle. Southern Cal gives up 8.59 yards on the average every time it blitzes. Are you starting to understand why Clay Helton isn’t going to be the Trojans’ head coach once this season is mercifully over?
The Big 12 is in all sorts of disarray when it comes to expansion. After months of speculation that the league might add four teams instead of just two, there are reports that it may choose to stay put at 10 teams another year. These are the same folks who chose to add West Virginia over Louisville four years ago. Talk about a league in serious need of new leadership.
What Dak Prescott is doing with the Dallas Cowboys is going to make Dan Mullen a very hot name in December. If he can go to bowl games at Mississippi State and develop players of the caliber of Prescott, then some school that actually has a chance to win championships is going to hire him away.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
How closely will you watch the Ryder Cup matches this weekend and do you think the US will score a win over the Europeans this year?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I got to see War live in the 1970s back when Howard Scott, Lonnie Jordan, Lee Oskar and B.B. Dickerson formed the core of the band. They put on an incredible show that remains one of my favorite concert experiences of all time. I heard the song “All Day Music” today in my car and I’ve been playing their music ever since. Today’s music is “Greatest Hits Live” from 2006.