Take a moment today to say a prayer of thanks for America’s greatest generation, whom we remember because it’s Pearl Harbor Day. That attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor at dawn on December 7, 1941 was the inspiration and motivation for the United States to win a war on two fronts against formidable armies and navies. No country has ever responded to such a challenge in such a magnificent way. The freedom of the world was held hostage that day but the United States entered the war and turned back the forces of evil in both Nazi Germany and Japan. We owe the men and women who served in World War II an everlasting debt of gratitude.
GRADING UF’S QUARTERBACKS
For the next few days, we’ll go position by position to analyze the 2016 Gators, starting today with the quarterbacks.
Luke Del Rio: The fear heading into the season was that while Del Rio might be a film room junkie who knows the offense inside and out, he lacked the athleticism and the arm strength to play at a consistent level in the SEC. Even though he had 6 TDPs and just 1 INT heading into game three when he was injured, Del Rio missed a lot of big plays. He either misfired with his passes (usually underthrown) or didn’t see wide open receivers. In the three midseason games after he came back from injury, Del Rio was tentative and didn’t step into his throws. He threw 2 TDPs in games against Missouri, Georgia and Arkansas and 6 interceptions. Regular season stats: 114-201 (56.7%) for 1,358 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) with 8 TDs and 8 INTs. Rushing totals -43 yards.
Austin Appleby: There is no question Appleby has a stronger arm than Del Rio and he’s far more athletic, but he’s not very accurate, and, like Del Rio, he doesn’t see the field. He had a great first half against Tennessee but never again played at that level. Regular season stats: 113-184 (61.4%) for 1,225 yards (6.7 per carry) with 8 TDs and 5 INTs. Ran for -34 yards.
Grade C-: The Gators won 8 games against a schedule that included 9 bowl teams including the #1 team in the country, Alabama, so you can’t give Del Rio and Appleby failing grades. They were average and inconsistent, bailed out by a superior defense and an excellent kicking game. While Appleby will be gone next year, Florida’s future at QB is either Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask or incoming freshman Jake Allen. Florida is courting former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham but the Gators are just one of many. This is Del Rio’s fourth year of college football and he’s not going to improve significantly. He could graduate, transfer (again) and still have two years of eligibility but it would likely be to a D1AA school.
ALL-SEC GATORS (COACHES)
First team: CB Jalen Tabor
Second team: OL Martez Ivey; DL Caleb Brantley; LB Jarrad Davis; CB Quincy Wilson; P Johnny Townsend
DUKE TOO MUCH FOR GATORS IN JIMMY V CLASSIC
The 21st-ranked Gators (7-2) hung with Duke for much of the first half, but their inability to defend Luke Kennard (29 points, 5-7 on 3-pointers), Amile Jefferson (24 points on 11-14 shooting, 14 rebounds) and Jayson Tatum off the bench (22 points, 8 rebounds) was costly as Florida dropped an 84-74 decision at Madison Square Garden.
Florida led, 29-26, on a KeVaughn Allen 3-pointer with 5:21 left in the first half, but Duke went on a 15-3 run to close out the half to take command. In the second half, the Blue Devils stretched their lead to 14 (76-62) with 4:21 left in the game, but Florida chipped away to close the gap to 78-71 on a Justin Leon 3-pointer with 2:31 to go. That was as close as it got as the Blue Devils (9-1) hit their free throws down the stretch.
Allen led Florida with 21 points while Kasey Hill scored 13 and Devin Robinson 11. John Egbunu scored 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
RANKING THE CONFERENCES
1. BIG TEN: Ohio State (11-1) didn’t win the conference but the Buckeyes are still in the College Football Playoff. Penn State (11-2) is the conference champ and going to the Rose Bowl, ranked #5 in the final CFP poll, while Michigan (10-2) ranked #6 and Wisconsin (10-3) finished at #8. The rest of the league isn’t all that great but the Big Ten is so top heavy that it has to go down as #1.
2. SEC: The SEC is here because Alabama (13-0) is simply head and shoulders better than any team in the country, much less the league. There are a lot of good teams in the league but only one that’s exceptional. Could we be heading toward an era when it’s Alabama and the 13 Dwarves?
3. ACC: Clemson (13-1) is #2 in the CFB poll while Florida State (9-3) is #11 and Louisville (9-3) #13. Beyond those three teams there are a lot of competitive teams in the league but too much of the ACC resembles the SEC East.
4. PAC-12: Washington (13-1) is the #4 team in the playoff. Colorado (10-3), Southern Cal (9-3) and Stanford are very good, but not great. The rest of the league is a mishmash of decent to bad teams.
5. BIG 12: Oklahoma (10-2) might actually be the best team that didn’t make the playoff and Oklahoma State (9-3) is really good as is West Virginia (10-2). The rest of the league can’t play a lick of defense.
WHY IT’S ALABAMA THEN EVERYONE ELSE
The stats don’t lie.
Alabama ranks #1 nationally in total defense (247.8 yards per game, just 3.94 yards per play); #1 in scoring defense (11.8 points per game); #1 in rushing defense (824 yards allowed in 13 games. 63.4 yards per game and 2.03 per attempt with only 3 TDs); #4 in sacks (45-370); and #1 in defensive touchdowns (5 returned fumbles and 5 returned interceptions). Alabama also has 4 punt returns for TDs and 1 blocked punt returned for a TD. Alabama gave up only 14 offensive touchdowns and 1 on special teams.
Over on the offensive side, Alabama ranks #13 in scoring (40.5); #14 in rushing (245 yards per game); and #26 in total offense (471.3).
Of the four teams in the College Football Playoff, Alabama has a considerable edge because none of the other three teams can win in so many ways. Just ask the Gators, who found themselves trailing 16-9 in the SEC Championship Game even though Alabama had -3 yards on 6 offensive plays. An interception return set up a field goal, an interception was returned for a TD and a blocked punt produced yet another score.
The defense and special teams are so good that it affords Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin the ability to be patient with freshman QB Jalen Hurts (220-337 passing for 2,592 yards and 22 TDs; 841 rushing yards for 12 TDs). The Crimson Tide never panics if they start out slowly on the offensive side since the defense and special teams aren’t going to give up much of anything. But, once Alabama gets cranked up offensively, Kiffin has the choice to go ground and pound or over the top.
This is easily the most complete team in the College Football Playoff. Clemson, Ohio State and Washington are all three good teams and certainly they could amp up their games and win the national title … but if Alabama shows up focused and ready to play, you can all but put one in the win column.
Just a day after first choice Jeff Brohm chose Purdue over Baylor, Baylor pulled somewhat of a surprise by hiring Temple’s Matt Rhule and giving him a 7-year contract. Rhule was 28-23 in four years with back-to-back 10-win seasons for 2015-16. Baylor will be a true uphill struggle since last year’s recruiting class was gutted by the scandal that cost Art Briles his job and there is only one committed player for 2017. Late Monday night it was being reported that Baylor and Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson were negotiating a deal, so the Rhule hire is a surprise.
Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck has said thanks but no thanks to Cincinnati. He’s holding out for a power 5 job and is willing to return to Western Michigan for another year rather than sign a deal at a place that’s simply a stepping stone. Cincinnati has Charlie Strong on the short list but some people close to him say he’s planning to sit a year to focus on and be a changing force to some college football issues that are near to his heart. Meanwhile, Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn says head coaching experience is not a requirement. As of Tuesday night, it was being reported that Cincinnati had narrowed its search to two or three candidates, one of whom is Ohio State co-DC Luke Fickell.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the winner of this year’s Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.
Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Eastern Washington HBC Beau Baldwin seem to be the front runners for the open job at Nevada.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com writes that Lincoln Riley “knocked it out of the park” when he interviewed for Houston today. As of Monday it was thought this was a done deal for Lane Kiffin and maybe that will still be the case, but I’m hearing Kiffin might prefer to take the South Florida job in the event that Willie Taggart, as expected, takes the job at Oregon. Kiffin’s ex-wife Layla lives in Tampa with their kids and former brother-in-law David Reaves (Layla and David are former Gator John Reaves’ kids) is the Bulls’ tight ends and associate head coach.
WILL DISNEY PUT ESPN ON THE MARKET?
Tara Lachapelle of Bloomberg writes that ESPN parent Disney may be considering selling ESPN. The sports network and its many affiliates have lost 9 million subscribers in the last three years including more than 1.1 million in the last two months alone. ESPN’s NFL ratings are down 17%. With ABC’s ratings down 11% compared to a year ago, Disney might have to decide to ditch one of the two networks and if that happens, it’s likely that ESPN would be the one to go.
Writes Lachapelle, “The reversal has Disney’s shareholders uncharacteristically restless, waiting to see how Chairman and CEO Bob Iger – set to retire in mid-2018 – is going to respond.”
With junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky expected to declare for the NFL Draft, where he could be the first quarterback taken, former Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire seems to be zeroing in on North Carolina as a final destination. Zaire will visit Wisconsin today but will be in Chapel Hill for the weekend. Pitt, Michigan State and Auburn are also making a pitch but UNC seems to have the lead at this point.
Butch Jones is hoping the commitment of offensive tackle Trey Smith (6-6, 299, Jackson, TN University School) will stop the perception of a program in need of a tourniquet to stop the bleeding in Knoxville. Jones, the #4-ranked offensive tackle nationally and #22 player overall by Scout.com, chose the Vols over Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson among others.
Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 Heisman Trophy running back out of Colorado, was found dead in a park in Boulder Monday. There were no signs of foul play.
Christian McCaffrey, who made the Heisman podium in 2015, has declared for the NFL Draft. McCaffrey’s stats in 2016 weren’t nearly as good as they were last season, but it took Stanford until midseason to compensate for the loss of quarterback Kevin Hogan and several other moving parts. Still, McCaffrey produced 253-1,603 rushing yards (6.34 yards per carry) for 13 touchdowns, caught 37 passes for 310 yards (8.38) and 3 TDs, plus ran back 10 punts for 96 yards and 15 kickoffs for 318. McCaffrey produced 2,327 all-purpose yards and 16 TDs. Last year McCaffrey was good for 3,864 yards and 9 TDs.
The San Francisco 49ers are a 1-11 NFL train wreck but Chip Kelly will still be back as the HBC next season.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are the marquee names for the Golden State Warriors but even they had to take a backseat to Klay Thompson Monday night. Thompson hit 21-33 shots from the field including 8-14 from the 3-point line and 10-11 from the foul line. He scored 40 points in the first half, 23 in the second quarter.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: (1) What kind of grade do you give Florida’s quarterbacks this season; and (2) is it worth it to burn the redshirt of either Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask in the bowl game or should the Gators stick with Del Rio or Appleby?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
It’s hard to state the importance of Booker T and the MGs during the 1960s. Booker T. Jones took a real chance when he integrated his band by adding Steve Cropper on the guitar and Donald “Duck” Dunn on the bass, but the band was so good both in concert and the studio that barriers were broken down and for the most part, stayed down. They started out as the house band for Memphis-based Stax Records and then became an outstanding concert group when not playing backup for everyone in the Atlantic Records/Stax stable or going on tour with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jefferson Airplane.