It is only the sixth game of the season, midway through the Florida football schedule but there is no denying the importance of Saturday’s noon kickoff between the 18th-ranked Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and LSU Tigers (3-2, 2-1 SEC). Calling it make or break could be the understatement of the year. Certainly, the loser of this game could rally the troops, finish very strong and still be perceived as an exceptional football team, but consider what’s at stake the rest of the way and you’ll understand why the weight of the world will be on the shoulders of both Gators and Tigers.
A loss and Florida is all but out of the SEC Eastern Division Race. The Gators are already a game behind Tennessee, which means the Vols have to lose one more conference game than UF. If Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 SEC) is going to lose in conference play it will be either this Saturday in College Station against the 10th-ranked Aggies (5-0, 2-0 SEC) or next week at Neyland against #1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC). The only gimme remaining on the seven games left on the Florida schedule is D1AA Presbyterian. Besides LSU, there are four other conference games: Missouri, Georgia in Jacksonville, at Arkansas and at South Carolina. South Carolina is the easiest of the conference games, but this will be Will Muschamp’s shot at revenge so don’t think the Gamecocks are beyond playing over their heads.
A win and the Gators stay in the division race and suddenly look very capable of winning at least three of the four SEC games remaining. A loss and you just don’t know how the Gators will react. Most experts think UF will tank and go 7-5 if they can’t beat LSU, but a win could give UF the feel of a 9-3 team.
For LSU, interim Ed Orgeron can afford to lose one game and still be in the hunt to be the permanent replacement for Les Miles, but that game can’t be Florida. The folks in Baton Rouge could live with a loss to Alabama but not Florida. A win over, Florida, however, could be a momentum builder for a Coach O Train that might not be stopped.
WHAT I’M HEARING ABOUT WHO STARTS AT QB
As you might expect, Austin Appleby is preparing this week for a start against LSU. However, I’m hearing that unless he tweaks his knee between now and Saturday noon, Luke Del Rio will be starting at quarterback. I think Florida has to have Del Rio taking the snaps to have a chance against an LSU pass rush led by Arden Key (7-49 sacks). Del Rio is more mobile in the pocket and has a better timer telling him when to unload the football.
I wouldn’t be surprised if David Sharpe moves inside and Martez Ivey moves outside. The Gators need more quickness on the edge than Sharpe can hope to deliver against Arden Key. Ivey is a natural outside guy and if Sharpe intends to play for pay someday it will be inside and not outside.
COACHING STUFF FROM THE FIVE HOTTEST JOBS
LSU: The wish list to replace Les Miles has Jimbo Fisher of Florida State and Tom Herman of Houston at the top. Here’s reality from a couple of people I know who have their fingers all over coaching searches from HBCs to assistants: Jimbo isn’t going anywhere although he probably will get a $1 million raise to stay in Tallahassee. If Houston goes to the Big 12 – very likely – Tom Herman will pick up a raise to at least $5 million a year. That might be chump change compared to what Texas will pay him if Charlie Strong can’t turn things around the rest of the season and if Southern Cal fires Clay Helton (expected) the Trojan bankroll is almost as deep as Texas. So who’s on the LSU radar?
We will start with Coach O. Yes, Ed Orgeron. Now there are strings attached for Coach O. He’s got to make LSU relevant, but if he does it and among the wins in regaining relevance is one over Alabama he will be LSU’s HBC.
But what if Coach O doesn’t get the job done? I’m told LSU’s list will include Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, who is a proven winner; Larry Fedora, who has made North Carolina relevant after navigating the Tar Heels through NCAA sanctions from the previous administration; and Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech. Fuente is in his first year at VaTech so would he leave? For what LSU would pay, you betcha.
BAYLOR: The only way that Jim Grobe remains as HBC next season is if Baylor runs the table and gets to the College Football Playoff. Odds aren’t good that will happen. Baylor’s AD Mack Rhoades is the guy who hired Tom Herman at Houston so there is a connection there and Baylor can match dollars with all but about 5-6 programs in the country. Alumni dollars run deep. But, Baylor is a real longshot for Herman. The folks who write the biggest checks really like Fedora, a Texas native and a former Baylor assistant whose integrity is unmatched and who needs integrity more than Baylor at this point? But let’s say Baylor is outbid for Fedora and someone like LSU gets him. If that happens, then I’m told Baylor will turn to a pair of former Baylor assistants – Dino Babers at Syracuse and Phillip Montgomery at Tulsa. They cut their teeth on the Art Briles offense and they are proven recruiters in the state of Texas.
SOUTHERN CAL: What a mess! The horrible NCAA sanctions are still being felt as the roster is being rebuilt but in the interim since Pete Carroll left, Lane Kiffin was fired although he never had a full roster to work with, Steve Sarkisian was fired largely due to substance problems, and now Clay Helton is now in way over his head as the HBC. AD Lynn Swann probably doesn’t want to fire Helton because USC needs stability in the worst way, but a couple of years of Helton might make the entire program irrelevant for years to come. My friends tell me this is a coaching search that will be done completely under the radar. No move will be made to fire Helton unless Swann has his guy in hand and ready to step into the job seamlessly. The guy who Southern Cal needs is Tom Herman, who grew up in Simi Valley, just a quick hop down the freeway from the USC campus. His college roomie was LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who’s going to be somebody’s head coach very soon. But imagine if those two were to team up in L.A. with all that talent within a 150-mile radius of the campus. This could be the fastest turnaround for Southern Cal and it might very well be the move Lynn Swann has to make if he doesn’t wish to see Southern Cal go completely off the rails.
OREGON: I asked my friends why Oregon will ditch Mark Helfrich, who had the Ducks in the final four two years ago and was 33-8 heading into the season? Their response: Oregon is 2-3 with Washington, Stanford and Utah still on the schedule and if that isn’t bad enough, recruiting scholarship quarterbacks has hit a wall because the Ducks are starting a D1AA grad transfer at the single most important position in the game. Overall recruiting is on the skids, too. The Ducks have the 28th-ranked recruiting class for 2017 per Scout.com so the future isn’t looking as bright as it was when Chip Kelly handed the reins to the program to Helfrich. Helfrich will be given an opportunity to turn things around but he is on a very short leash and there are available coaches who could get Oregon back to what it was when Helfrich took over. I’m told Oregon won’t scrap the system, but will find a coach who will be a good fit from day one. The one who everybody seems to agree is the perfect fit is UCF coach Scott Frost, who coached three years under Kelly and was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks under Helfrich for three years. Frost has the right pedigree, having played for Tom Osborne and coached under Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Jon Gruden.
TEXAS: I have yet to talk to anyone who thinks Charlie Strong survives this season and it’s not helping matters that Texas A&M is suddenly looking like a team that could make the final four. Nothing chaps Longhorns quite like Aggie success and barring a collapse, the Aggies are going to pull off a big season. Meanwhile, Texas has a defense that can’t stop anyone and the Longhorns still have offensive juggernauts like Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU still on the schedule. Money won’t be an barrier for Texas. Whatever they have to pay Strong, they’ll pay it, and whatever they need to get the coach they want is a matter of a few boosters stroking some checks. Texas was willing to pay Nick Saban $100 million three years ago. Would the Longhorns up the ante and go for Saban a second time? Or would they make Tom Herman the offer he can’t refuse? The folks I know who are involved in coaching searches think Texas will make the obligatory offer to Saban, then make it very difficult for Herman to say no. I asked what is Plan C? I got two names: Gary Patterson of TCU and Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech.
SPORTING NEWS BOWL PROJECTIONS AFTER FIVE WEEKS
These are the latest bowl projects from Sporting News. I’ve only included the SEC and relevant Florida schools. Do take note of where SN places Florida State and Florida. I’m not surprised the Seminoles will go to a lower tier bowl, but since they don’t travel particularly well, I would expect the Russell Athletic Bowl to make FSU a priority. SN has Florida going to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, which means the expectation is the Gators will finish no worse than second in the SEC East.
Chik-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Houston
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson
National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Ohio State
AdvoCare Texas Bowl: TCU vs. LSU
Birmingham Bowl: Mississippi State vs. South Florida
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Auburn
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Georgia
Outback Bowl: Nebraska vs. Ole Miss
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Wisconsin vs. FLORIDA
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas vs. Arkansas
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M
Capital One Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Tennessee
Other Florida schools:
Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl: UCF vs. Louisiana Tech
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Minnesota vs. Florida State
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami vs. Oklahoma State
A bunch of folks are reporting that Big 12 expansion might be stalling and if the league does elect to expand it will be by only two teams. Here’s a thought: What happens if Texas and Oklahoma petition the SEC or the Pac-12 for membership? Under the rules of the Big 12, that could actually happen.
Jimbo Fisher examined what Auburn is doing offensively and stated, “What they’re doing on offense right now is illegal. Should never be a part of football and I’m an offensive guy. When you can have a lineman go three yards down the field and it’s a pass, there’s something wrong with that.”
How bad are things are Purdon’t? As if losing to Maryland 50-7 wasn’t bad enough and having head coach Darrell Hazell’s name in the top five of every most likely to get fired soon isn’t bad enough, there is a sinkhole forming in the south end zone of Ross-Ade Stadium.
Now that the Atlanta Braves have moved out of Turner Field for their permanent new digs at SunTrust Park, the old ball yard will be converted to a 40,000 seat or so football stadium for Georgia State, which currently shares the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
NFL television ratings have taken a hit and some blame the controversy begun by Colin Kaepernick. Has Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem and subsequent players joining the protest had any effect on you watching the NFL?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
There is a new Rolling Stones album due out tomorrow so today’s music is a live performance from Rome in 2014. They’re old and they haven’t had a great new hit in years, but they still put on a great show. This concert has a memorable version of “Gimme Shelter” at the 1:22:48 mark.