As the Gators get ready to gather in Tampa to begin preparation for their January 2 game with Iowa in the Outback Bowl, here are two post-Christmas wishes:
1. Name Randy Shannon the permanent defensive coordinator, move Tim Skipper from running backs to linebackers and bring in bring in a couple of offensive coaches to help coordinate the offense with Doug Nussmeier. I believe it’s a done deal for Shannon. Skipper to defense makes sense but he very well could stay on the offensive side of the ball.
2. While winning the bowl game is important, it’s also a chance to make a statement. With recruits for 2017 and beyond looking on, open up the offense. Austin Appleby has a big arm so let him heave it down the field. Let Antonio Callaway stretch the defense. For once, don’t be so predictable. Iowa has a stout defense, but the combination of the heat and Florida’s speed should give UF a real advantage. Make it count on the offensive end.
GRADING THE GATORS
Grading the Gators for the 2016 regular season. Today, a look at the linebackers.
Jarrad Davis: Second team All-SEC and second team Sporting News and CBS Sports All-America selection in a year in which he missed three games completely and battled through injuries in several others. When Davis was healthy, Florida’s defense was one of the top three in the country. His best game was 15 tackles against Vanderbilt. Regular season stats: 60 tackles, 6 tackles for -28 yards in losses, 2 sacks for -19 yards, 4 pass breakups and 5 QB hurries.
Daniel McMillian: His 4-year career resulted in 58 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Considering he came to UF with such hype, his career can only be called a disappointment. He had 4 tackles in the win over Georgia and 7 in the loss to Alabama. Regular season stats: 22 tackles, 1 tackle for -2 yards, 1 pass breakup, 1 QB hurry.
Alex Anzalone: Before he broke his arm against Arkansas, Anzalone was Florida’s most consistently disruptive player in the front 7. He participated in Senior Day and could go to the NFL, but he has a year of eligibility remaining so it’s possible he could return for 2017. Regular season stats: 53 tackles, 4 tackles for -17 yards, 3 sacks for -16 yards, 2 pass breakups and 6 QB hurries.
David Reese: Middle linebacker will be in good hands with Jarrad Davis gone next year. Reese filled in admirably as a true freshman (see LSU game) and finished as the fifth leading tackler as a true freshman. He is stout against the run and will get better in pass coverage with experience. Regular season stats: 49 tackles, 2 tackles for -5 yards, 1 safety.
Kylan Johnson: After a redshirt season allowed him to grow out of a safety and into a linebacker, Johnson turned in a solid season and showed good ability to stuff the run and good enough quickness to be a significant pass rusher. Regular season stats: 39 tackles, 5 tackles for -20 yards, 1 sack for -5 and 1 pass breakup.
Vosean Joseph: True freshman who played in 12 games. Made the most of chances to play against LSU and FSU. Against LSU delivered the hit of the game on QB Danny Etling to keep the Tigers out of the end zone. An offseason in the weight room should do him well and make him into a serious player for 2017. Regular season stats: 7 tackles.
Jeremiah Moon: Moon was off to a good start in the first two games when he broke a thumb that required surgery. He’s tall and rangy (6-4, 220) and has outstanding speed and freaky athletic ability. Regular season stats: 3 tackles
Rayshad Jackson: A redshirt freshman, he played in eight games with only limited productivity. He will get plenty of chances to get reps in the spring Regular season stats: 1 tackle, 1 QB hurry
Grade A: The Gators got away with a shortage of linebackers because most teams they played lined up in a spread, so most of the time UF needed only two linebackers on the field. When those two were Davis and Anazalone, the Gators were one of the truly elite units in the country. When Davis and Anzalone went down true freshman David Reese and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson offered a very positive look into the future. Freshmen Vosean Joseph and Jeremiah Moon both have enormous potential so the Gators have a solid foundation for the future but they have to add 4-5 linebackers to have a comfortable depth situation.
MCSHAY HAS 4 GATORS GOING FIRST ROUND
In his first mock draft last week, ESPN’s Todd McShay had four Gators (all defensive) going in the first round – Jalen Tabor to Philiadelphia at #18; Caleb Brantley to Denver at #23; Jarrad Davis to Detroit at #24 and Quincy Wilson to Atlanta at #27. Wilson to the Falcons would be a most interesting pick since former Gator DC and Falcons HBC Dan Quinn already starts former Gators Keanu Neal at safety and Brian Poole at nickel.
GATORS BACK IN AP HOOOPS TOP 25
Impressive wins over Charlotte and Arkansas-Little Rock got the Gators (9-3) back into the Associated Press top 25 basketball poll. Kentucky is the only other Southeastern Conference team in the AP poll. Next game for the Gators is Thursday night at Arkansas (9-1).
The AP Top 25
SEC teams in bold face
9. North Carolina
11. West Virginia
19. Saint Mary’s
20. Florida State
22. Southern Cal
24. Notre Dame
Nitty Gritty Report national top 10 RPI
1. Villanova 12-0
2. Baylor 11-0
3. Louisville 11-1
4. Xavier 10-2
5. FLORIDA 9-3
6. Gonzaga 12-0
7. Creighton 12-0
8. Minnesota 12-1
9. Kansas 11-1
10. Kentucky 10-2
The rest of the SEC
19. Arkansas 11-1
30. South Carolina 9-2
33. Ole Miss 9-3
52. Auburn 10-2
56. Georgia 7-4
70. Texas A&M 8-3
73. LSU 8-3
84. Vanderbilt 6-6
109. Tennessee 6-5
130. Alabama 6-5
213. Mississippi State 8-3
244. Missouri 5-6
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State 17, Miami, Ohio 16
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College 36, Maryland 30
Independence Bowl: North Carolina State 41, Vanderbilt 17
Heart of Texas Bowl: Army vs. North Texas
Military Bowl: Temple vs. Wake Forest
Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State
Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State: Passes for 136 yards and ran for 132 and 2 TDs to lead Mississippi State to a 17-16 come from behind win over Miami, Ohio in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Fitzgerald threw for 2,436 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs this season.
SEC bowl records
SEC East: 0-1
SEC West: 1-0
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: Rashaan Evans will start at linebacker against Washington in place of Shaun Dion Hamilton, who tore an ACL in the first half of Alabama’s SEC Championship Game win over Florida ... Nick Saban expects LT Cam Robinson and CB Marlon Humphrey to be at 100% when the Crimson Tide faces Washington.
Arkansas: Running back Kody Walker, who has had six foot surgeries during his Arkansas career, is expected to play when the Razorbacks face Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl Thursday night. Also expected back is linebacker Dre Greenlaw. Both Greenlaw and Walker broke a foot against Alabama on October 8.
Auburn: Stuffing the Oklahoma run will be critical for the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn has given up only 3.58 yards per carry through 12 games while Oklahoma, led by Joe Mixon (1,183 yarrds, 8 TDs) and Samaje Perine (974 yards, 11 TDs) averages 5.38 per carry and 237.50 yards per game.
Georgia: Isaiah Wynn, who has been starting at guard, may have to play left tackle in Georgia’s Liberty Bowl game with TCU after LT starter Tyler Catalina missed some practice last week after suffering an unspecified head injury. If Wynn has to move outside, Dyshon Sims will step in at left guard.
Kentucky: Athletic director Mitch Barnhart is planning to put more money into the assistant coach pool in an effort to keep Mark Stoops’ staff intact for 2017. Kentucky’s assistant coach pool is just $3.4 million, second lowest in the Southeastern Conference.
LSU: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda isn’t waiting until 2017 to overhaul his defense. The Tigers will be giving Louisville a new look Saturday in the Citrus Bowl. LSU will be switching to the 3-4 Aranda plans to play next year and incorporate more speed, more blitzing and far less predictability.
South Carolina: Former Wisconsin running back Caleb Kinlaw will transfer to South Carolina from Pearl River Community College. As a redshirt freshman RB at Wisconsin in 2015, Kinlaw carried 7 times for 30 yards. Also transferring in is CB Jaylan Foster, the Big South Freshman of the Year at Gardner Webb, where he picked off 5 passes.
Tennessee: The Tennessee defense, which gave up 1,983 yards and 118 points in the last three games of the regular season, will have to contend with a dual threat quarterback in Nebraska’s Tommie Armstrong Jr. in the Music City Bowl. Armstrong passed for 2,180 yards and 14 touchdowns plus ran for 512 yards and 8 TDs. The Vols had real problems with dual threat QBs. Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight ran for 115 yards and 3 TDs and passed for 239 yards and 2 TDs in the Aggies’ 45-38 win over Tennessee, while Alabama’s Jalen Hurts ran for 132 yards and 3 TDs and threw for 172 yards and another TD in Bama’s 49-10 win.
Texas A&M: QB Trevor Knight (shoulder) expects to be the starter when the Aggies face Kansas State in the Texas Bowl Wednesday night. In 10 games, Knight threw for 2,122 yards and 16 TDs and ran for 594 and 10 more TDs.
Given nearly a month to prepare, Washington does indeed have a chance to knock off Alabama in the Peach Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff. With a month to prepare, both Fiesta Bowl participants Clemson and Ohio State could also beat Alabama. But could they do it with only a week to prepare? That’s the real question.
Washington coach Chris Peterson cemented his reputation as a giant killer when he was at Boise State with a 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma and a 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over #3 TCU, so he’s not going to be the least bit intimidated by Alabama. In the wins over Oklahoma and TCU, Peterson dialed up funky gadget plays on offense and confusing looks on defense. Peterson has better players now at Washington than he ever had at Boise State but he will still need some sort of edge to get past Alabama. I’m not sure anyone can simply line up and beat Nick Saban, who has also had nearly a month to get ready, without gadget plays and exotic defensive looks.
Both Swinney and Meyer are superb coaches when given a month to prepare, but Alabama is so complete it’s hard to imagine a week is enough time to get ready for the Crimson Tide. Between Clemson and Ohio State, the Tigers have the best offense (505 yards and 40.2 points) and the best QB in the playoff in Deshaun Watson. Ohio State, on the other hand, has the better defense (281.6 yards per game and 14.2 points). If you could combine the Clemson offense with the Ohio State defense, you’d really like the chances of knocking off Alabama whether with a month or a week to prepare.
Offensively, Alabama averages 40.5 points and 471.3 yards per game. Defensively, the Crimson Tide gives up only 247.8 yards per game and allowed only 17 offensive touchdowns all year, but only two after October 22. Alabama scored 5 TDs on fumble returns, 5 TDs on interception returns and 4 on punt returns.
I like Alabama over Washington and Ohio State over Clemson.
UConn has fired Bob Diacco after three seasons. Diacco was 2-10 in his first year, 6-7 in year two and then the Huskies regressed to 3-9 in 2016. It will be interesting to see if UConn tries to bring back Skip Holtz, who was 34-23 as the UConn head coach from 1994-98 when the Huskies were in D1AA. Holtz has posted three straight 9-win seasons at Louisiana Tech, where he makes $750,000. Diacco was paid $1,700,000 per season. If I were advising the powers that be at UConn I’d make a call to Greg Schiano at Ohio State. He resurrected Rutgers and if you can win at Rutgers, UConn should be a piece of cake.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have hired a search firm to help them find a new coach. You don’t need a search firm to hire one of these three: (1) Tom Coughlin; (2) Scott Linehan, OC of the Dallas Cowboys; (3) Josh McDaniels, OC of the New England Patriots. Coughlin has the coaching bug again and he would rebuild the Jags. Seeing what Linehan has done with Dak Prescott, he’s earned a second chance and it’s a mystery to why McDaniels hasn’t gotten a job since his days at Denver.
Washington State QB Luke Falk will return for his senior season. Heading into tonight’s Holiday Bowl game with Minnesota, Falk has thrown for 88 touchdown passes (25 interceptions) and 10,624 yards.
Seven Miami Hurricanes won’t be playing in the Russell Athletic Bowl against West Virginia Wednesday night including former Gator Gerald Willis. The players are suspended for “failing to meet the standards of expectations set by the program.” That usually means they flunked a drug test.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Mississippi State won its bowl game today but still finished the season 6-7. Are there too many bowl games when a team with a losing season can go bowling? What should be the minimum requirement for bowl eligibility?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I discovered the Rolling Stones latest (December 2, 2016 release) album on YouTube so that’s the music for today: “Blue and Lonesome.” I particularly like the old Eddie Taylor blues standard “Ride ‘Em On Down” which is the seventh track.