GRADING THE CENTERS
We’re analyzing the Gators position by position for the 2016 regular season. Today, we take a look at the centers.
Cameron Dillard: If it were simply about effort no one would have a problem with Dillard. Nobody tries harder. The problem is for all the effort he doesn’t always succeed and you can’t have that in the middle of a successful offensive line. He makes good reads and the right line calls, but he can’t handle the big guys in the middle without some help and that alters what can be done in both the running game and the passing game.
T.J. McCoy: When Dillard went down with a knee injury against Arkansas, Tyler Jordan moved over to center, but he got dinged and that opened the door for McCoy, who has shown consistency and toughness. He’s listed at 6-1, 308 but that’s wearing cleats (which most people play in). He’s probably closer to 5-11 but built low to the ground and he proved powerful enough to handle most nose tackles without any help. He’s got a very high football IQ so he is quite capable of making all the right calls on the line. Jordan could take the center snaps in the spring and Dillard will come back from injury, but from what we saw in the last four games, the job is going to be McCoy’s to lose.
Brent Heggie: He took a redshirt this season. He’s got good size (6-3, 317), mobility and extraordinary football intelligence. In all probability, he will be cross-trained to play guard, too. With Dillard coming back from injury, he will get plenty of opportunity to make a move on the depth chart in the spring.
Grade C: Dillard is a good kid who gives it all he has, but you have to wonder how long he will get the start in the middle. For everything he brings in terms of making the line calls, he gives up with his inability to handle bigger nose tackles on his own. McCoy doesn’t have ideal size but he’s strong, mobile, tough and has no fear of going toe-to-toe with the big guys. We’ll have to wait and see with Heggie. And, with so many guards on the roster, there is the possibility that Jordan will be moved permanently to center, although he’s probably best suited as the one guy who can fill in at every position on the O-line. For the Gators to improve on the O-line next season, however, it will start in the middle.
HOME SWEET DOME
The last time the Florida Gators (8-3) played a home basketball game was March 1, 2016 when they played host to Kentucky. Since then it’s been 17 consecutive games away from Gainesville, a streak that will come to an end Wednesday night when the Gators play host to Arkansas-Little Rock (9-2) of the Sun Belt Conference. Little Rock scored a first round double overtime upset of Purdue in last year’s NCAA Tournament and finished its season 30-4.
The Spartans aren’t a big team – 6-11 senior center Lis Shoshi (10 points, 8.3 rebounds) is the only starter taller than 6-5 – but they press, push the ball in transition and shoot the 3-ball (38.9%) very, very well. They’re just a bit taller than the Charlotte team the Gators beat Saturday in Sunrise, but a lot more physical.
This will be the only time the Gators play in Gainesville in the month of December. They won’t play again until December 29 when they travel to Arkansas for the first SEC game of the season, then return home on January 3 for their SEC home opener with Ole Miss.
Notes from Charlotte: Although the Gators had to play without John Egbunu (hamstring issues), Kevarrius Hayes filled in nicely in the post and that allowed redshirt freshman Keith Stone to get more involved in the rotation. At 6-8, 240, he showed that he can play the high post or run the baseline and he’s got range enough to extend the defense all the way to the 3-point line. Getting him more involved has to be one of the keys for Florida to have a successful SEC run … The Gators shot 23-30 from the foul line against Charlotte. They are hitting 74.3% from the line for the season with KeVaughn Allen (87.5%), Canyon Barry (84.4%), Devin Robinson (80.5%), Chris Chiozza (80%) and Kasey Hill (74.4%) leading the way. What a change from last season!
HOOPS DU JOUR
Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina was the kind of game you wish you would see in the NCAA championship game. Kentucky’s Malik Monk lit up the Tar Heels for 47 and his game-winning 3-ball went against John Calipari’s orders. Cal wanted Monk to take it to the rack. Monk said he was feeling it so he shot. Cal’s response, “Great shot, kid.”
As good as Monk is, the best freshman I’ve seen all year is T.J. Leaf of UCLA. And UCLA just might be the best team in the nation. When the Bruins beat Kentucky at Rupp, six of the eight players who were in the UCLA rotation were in double figures with Leaf getting 17 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot, which is right about what he averages per game. Right there with Leaf is freshman Lonzo Ball, who doesn’t have to score to affect the outcome of the game.
If I had a vote in the polls, my top ten would be: (1) UCLA; (2) Villanova; (3) Kansas; (4) Duke; (5) Baylor; (6) Kentucky; (7) North Carolina; (8) Gonzaga; (9) West Virginia and (10) Louisville.
Ranking the SEC top to bottom: (1) Kentucky 10-1; (2) South Carolina 9-1; (3) Florida 8-3; (4) Texas A&M 7-3; (5) Georgia 7-3; (6) Auburn 8-2; (7) Arkansas 9-1; (8) Tennessee 6-5; (10) Ole Miss 7-3; (11) Vanderbilt 6-5; (12) Mississippi State 6-3; (13) Alabama 5-5; (14) Missouri 5-5.
In case you missed it, Bob Huggins got his 800th coaching win Saturday. For a coach who has never been blessed with outstanding talent from top to bottom of his roster or who has coached in one of college basketball’s garden spots, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Beware of Butler. As usual, the Bulldogs don’t have any 5-star recruits and not nearly enough size, but they’re 10-1 and a team nobody in his right mind wants to play.
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
In San Diego State’s 34-10 win over Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl, Donnell Pumphrey ran for 115 yards to give him 6,405 for his career and first place on the all-time college football list, surpassing Ron Dayne (6,397 yards). Consider what Herschel Walker (5,259 yards) might have accumulated if he had come back for his senior season at Georgia.
After starting the season 0-4, Arkansas State went 8-1 the rest of the way, finishing the season with a 31-13 win over UCF in the AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando.
Dakota Cox had 10 tackles in New Mexico’s 23-20 win over Texas-San Antonio to finish his career with 403.
Today’s bowl game: Tulsa (9-3) vs. Central Michigan (6-6) in the Miami Beach Bowl.
THE NO FUN LEAGUE
This is Blake Bortles’ third year in the NFL and he’s described by Chris Mortenson of ESPN as “a basket case.” Is Bortles’ lack of productivity because he just doesn’t have what it takes to play in the NFL or is it because the Jacksonville Jaguars are the worst coached team in the league?
The Jaguars have lost 9 in a row and have turned snatching defeat from the jaws of victory into an art form, which is why Gus Bradley was fired as HBC after the Sunday loss to the Houston Texans. Suggestion: Tom Coughlin would love to coach again. Give him a call.
Is there a bigger free agent bust than Brock Osweiler? The Houston Texans have finally grown weary of his lack of productivity and benched him. They signed him to a 4-year, $72-million free agent deal with $37 million guaranteed based on 7 starts for the Denver Broncos in 2015. If they were to cut him now the Texans would take a $25 million hit on next year’s salary cap.
Colin Kaepernick ran his record as a starting QB to 0-9 when the San Francisco 49ers were knocked off by the Atlanta Falcons, 41-13. He is making $19 million this season. I doubt the 49ers keep him next season and considering his current lack of fan appeal doubt he’ll get much more than a free agent offer to play for $5-6 million … if that much.
Former Gator DC Dan Quinn knew what he was getting when he drafted both Keanu Neal and Brian Poole to bolster his Atlanta Falcons’ secondary. Against the 49ers, Neal was the leading tackler with 11 plus 2 pass breakups while Poole had 7 tackles and a sack on a corner blitz.
The New England Patriots are 12-2. Take a look at the roster and see how many of the Patriots are late round draft picks, free agent pickups or castoffs from other teams, which only goes to show that Bill Belichick is unquestionably the best coach in pro football.
Heading into Sunday’s game with the Green Bay Packers, former Gator Deonte Thompson had caught 11 passes for 105 yards and 1 TD for the Chicago Bears. In the 30-27 loss to the Packers, Deonte caught 8 passes for 110 yards.
The Oakland Raiders clinched a playoff berth with their 19-16 win over the San Diego Chargers. Jack Del Rio has not only resurrected a franchise but his head coaching career this year.
THE LATEST JON GRUDEN RUMOR
Now that Jeff Fisher has been fired by the Los Angeles Rams the hot name to replace him next year is – are you ready for this? – Jon Gruden. Isn’t Gruden the first name that pops up any time a job of magnitude opens up? He was supposed to be the guy at Tennessee before Butch Jones and at Texas before Charlie Strong. He was supposed to be the guy with the Tennessee Titans after they fired Jeff Fisher. And his name has been listed as a serious possibility with at least 5-6 other NFL and college jobs.
It’s understandable that Gruden wouldn’t take a college job since it would require recruiting and dealing with all sorts of issues you don’t have to deal with in the NFL. You don’t worry in the NFL if a guy skips a class or flunks a music appreciation test. And if he’s a slow learner who can’t grasp what you’re trying to do on offense or defense, you just cut him. So obviously there would seem to be more appeal to an NFL job, but why take it? Gruden is 52 and firmly entrenched at ESPN both on Monday night and his quarterback camp series, which leads up to draft day. ESPN pays him quite well and he has plenty of time to spend with his wife and kids.
It is rumored that Rams owner Stan Kroenke will spend whatever is necessary to get a new head coach and that Gruden would be his top choice. Pro football analysts are speculating that the bright lights and glitter of Hollywood and a new stadium would lure Gruden back to the sidelines.
Maybe it will, but I think Jon Gruden is quite comfortable where he is and since he makes plenty of money already will ask himself the question “how much money is enough to make me leave my comfort zone?”
Bob Stoops is catching hell from all sides now that a video of Joe Mixon punching a woman three years ago has surfaced. Mixon sat out a year and had to go through counseling, community service, etc., but never lost his scholarship. As a third year sophomore, Mixon turned in a 2016 regular season that saw him emerge as the nation’s most complete running back. His numbers are quite impressive: 1,183 rushing yards and 8 TDs, 32 catches for 449 yards and 5 TDs, 1-1 passing for 26 yards and a TD, and 21 kickoff returns for 494 yards and 1 TD. It must be noted that Mixon has not been involved in any kind of trouble since the incident but now that the video has been released there is a bigger uproar than there was three years ago when Mixon punched the woman.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has fined Louisville and Virginia Tech $25,000 each for receiving game plan information from Wake Forest and not reporting it. That might seem like a small amount, but it’s the heaviest fine the league can levy on a member institution according to its by-laws.
Lane Kiffin has hired Charlie Weis Jr. and Alabama assistant strength coach Wilson Love. Weis Jr. was a student assistant at Florida in Will Muschamp’s first year on the job in 2011.
For those who question why Nick Saban would hire Steve Sarkisian as his offensive coordinator given Sarkisian’s well publicized past episodes with firewater, consider this: Saban had Sarkisian on campus for four months and was able to observe and lay the law. If Sark had veered off Saban’s straight and narrow highway he would have never gotten the OC job and a chance to rehabilitate his coaching career.
The catch of the year goes to Youngstown State’s Kevin Rader for the game winning touchdown against Eastern Washington in the D1AA semifinals. Watch for yourself:
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Should there be a blanket rule that any male athlete who punches or hits a woman is automatically dismissed or should this be decided on a case-to-case basis where the athlete has a chance to seek counseling and rehab his image?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
At 80 years old, Buddy Guy shows no signs of slowing down. The list of guitar legends he’s influenced is like a who’s who: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richard, John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughn among others. Today’s music is a 2013 concert he played at Red Rocks.