The anointing of the Georgia Bulldogs as the next great team from the Southeastern Conference is about to begin, just like last year when Kirby Smart was expected to take the SEC East by storm.
We all know what happened there.
But it’s spring and spring means spring football and since the subject is football, inevitably Georgia is a hot topic item for the most visited websites. That, of course, means once again the Bulldogs will have an opportunity to soak up all the hype from March until September only to disappoint their rather large contingent of fans who will spend the next few months guzzling the Kool-Aid.
Writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com, “Soon, a large contingent of media will likely pick the Bulldogs, who return 10 starters from a pretty solid defense and have a young superstar in the making at quarterback to win an SEC East that’s still a mess.”
Later on, Aschoff penned, “Honestly, we (that’s media and your average consumer of college football) keep wanting to believe that when Georgia should win the division it should, well, win the division.”
And this: “But Smart might be the biggest X factor. He’s a year wiser and is more comfortable with his coaches, his team and himself. He’s gone through the growing process and he’s learned from early mistakes.”
Yes, a large contingent of media will fall in love with Georgia again. That’s not unusual. It’s like Alabama except there’s reason to believe in Alabama. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to believe that Georgia will do anything different than what it always does – win a bunch of games against nobodies and lose games it probably should win against decent teams, which will cost the SEC East title. Oh, and lose to Florida, too. Georgia does that well.
But the part about Smart has gone through the growing process and has learned from early mistakes … oh really?
Georgia will once again have more talent than anyone in the SEC East. That’s almost a given. Mark Richt spent his last six years at Georgia with the most talent in the SEC East and how many times did he win the East? Exactly one. How many times did he go to Atlanta and win the SEC title after 2005? Zero. I’ve seen nothing from Kirby Smart to indicate he’s a better coach than Mark Richt and Georgia ran Richt off.
I also haven’t seen that Smart is a better coach than Jim McElwain, who has won two SEC East titles with far less talent than you’ll find in either Athens or Knoxville. That talent gap isn’t as great this year as it was last because McElwain has been sneaking up on the rest of the East when it comes to accumulating talent and this year he should (a) have quarterbacks who can make all the throws and (b) more speed at the skill positions than he’s had in his previous two seasons. Florida’s defense? Yes, a bunch of Gators will be playing for paychecks on Sunday in the fall, but we got a pretty good indication what kind of talent has been stockpiled and what Randy Shannon can do with it at the Outback Bowl.
Yet, you can take it to the bank that when the preseason magazines come out in two months, Georgia will have all the hype and Tennessee won’t be far behind and all the “experts” will claim there are too many questions surrounding Florida.
Something to think about: McElwain has a track record of success with two SEC East titles in two years. Does anyone recall how many SEC East titles Kirby Smart has won at Georgia or Butch Jones has won at Tennessee?
MIKE WHITE SHOULD GET A RECRUITING BOOST
When he took the Florida job, everybody knew Mike White could coach. He proved that at Louisiana Tech where he went 101-40 in four seasons in his first head coaching stop including 56 wins in his last two years. The questions with White had everything to do with recruiting. He spent those years at Louisiana Tech taking players the power conferences rejected. You’re not going to win consistently in the Southeastern Conference with second tier talent.
Since arriving in Gainesville, we’ve seen White show resourcefulness by bringing in grad transfer Canyon Barr to play this season and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson for next year. We’ve seen him bring in very good but developmental talent such as Eric Hester, Gorjok Gak and Dontay Bassett. He really didn’t need a whole lot from those three this year, but they’ve developed and will make a mark next year.
The 2017 recruiting class features a stud center in Isaiah Stokes, younger but larger brother of Jarnell, who has told plenty of folks he screwed up by going to Tennessee instead of signing with Florida. Younger bro Isaiah Stokes is a 275-pound wide body who is a serious low blocks scorer and immovable object in the paint. DeAundre Ballard has grown to 6-6 and is a slasher who couples the ability to get to the rim with a streaky jump shot. When he’s hot he can hit several shots in a row no matter who’s guarding him. Chase Johnson is a 6-9 forward who’s got a frame that will fill out to about 240. He won’t have to contribute much early on, but in a couple of years he could be a real stud. And then there is verbal commit Michael Okauru, a 6-4 point guard who will sign in April. He’s so creative off the dribble and has very long arms and quickness in the press that should make him an extraordinary open court defender.
That’s a good class and it’s the stepping stone to an even better one in 2018. By landing a solid class for 2017 and by making the Sweet 16, White has got the attention of the kind of talent that probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day a couple of years ago. They’re listening now.
Here are a few names the Gators are looking at for the recruiting class of 2018:
Elijah Weaver (6-5, 190, Oldsmar, FL Oldsmar Christian): It’s the same school that gave the Gators Hester and Bassett. He’s a big point who can get to the rim and overpower opponents defensively.
Keldon Johnson (6-6, 205, South Hill, VA/Huntington, WV Huntington Prep): The Gators landed Chase Johnson from Huntingon Prep so there is a connection at the school. He’s got serious scoring ability and is an explosive jumper and rebounder.
Nassir Little (6-6, 210, Orange Park, FL/Orlando, FL Orlando Christian Prep): He’s still growing and could top out at 6-8. He is a hard worker on both ends of the floor and is more of a scorer than shooter. His coach is Reggie Kohn, who coached both Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes at Lake Howell.
Silvio De Sousa (6-9, 240, Luanda, Angola/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy): The Gators were in on him very early and stand a good chance to land him. He’s a powerful rebounder and when he gets position in the low blocks, he’s going to score because no one can root him out.
Emmitt Williams (6-8, 210, Lehigh Acres, FL/Bradenton, FL IMG Academy): He’s a catch and shoot guy on the perimeter and an exceptional offensive rebounder. He plays power forward in high school but has the athleticism to transition to the wing in college.
Alex Lomax (6-0, 189, Memphis, TN East): He’s a Chris Chiozza clone from Chiozza’s old stomping grounds. He’s super quick, busts a press easily and intimidates on defense.
GATORS GET 19TH SHUTOUT IN TUNEUP FOR AUBURN
With 6th-ranked Auburn (27-3) coming to town for a 3-game series this weekend, the #1 Gators (27-1) got a nice tuneup Wednesday night when they run ruled South Florida, 8-0, behind a grand slam by freshman Jordan Roberts and a 2-hitter by Aleshia Ocasio (5-0, 0.55 ERA).
This was the 19th shutout of the season for the Gators and the sixth in the last seven games. The Gators lead the nation in ERA (team 0.54) and fielding (only 6 errors in 28 games). This weekend they will be going against an Auburn team that made it to the championship round of the Women’s College World Series last year. The Friday night matchup should be as good as it gets in college softball with Florida sending Delanie Gourley (11-1, 0.82 ERA) against Auburn’s Kaylee Carlson (15-0, 0.93 ERA).
LAVAR BALL RUNNING OFF AT THE MOUTH
The father of UCLA stud freshman Lonzo Ball never met a microphone he wouldn’t speak into, particularly if the subject matter is one of his three sons (LiAngelo and LaMelo are already committed to UCLA but still in high school). Here are a couple of LaVar’s latest offerings:
Lonzo vs. Magic Johnson: “Lonzo is more athletic than Magic, blocks more shots and makes more steals … Lonzo is Magic with a jump shot.”
Lonzo (and LiAngelo and LaMelo) vs. Michael Jordan: “Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, but all three of my boys can go down as the greatest player ever. Lonzo is better than what Michael Jordan was doing in high school and he’s better than what Michael Jordan was doing in college … He’s only 19. He’s got to get past Jordan’s six titles and get to seven to be the greatest player ever and I think he can do it.”
On UCLA vs. Kentucky: “I already said UCLA will win the national championship and I’m not going backwards on it now. With Zo, the chemistry that UCLA has is better than what Kentucky has.”
A couple of notes: Magic Johnson won an NCAA title at Michigan State and 5 NBA titles. Not bad for a guy without a jump shot … Michael Jordan won an NCAA title at North Carolina and six NBA titles with the Bulls … In their head to head matchup back in December (UCLA won the game), De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky had 20 points, 9 assists and 2 turnovers while Lonzo Ball had 14 points, 7 assists and 6 turnovers.
UCF is off to the final four of the NIT in New York after the Knights took out Illinois, 66-58, Wednesday night in Orlando before the first sellout crowd in the history of the UCF Arena.
The hiring of Brian Daboll from the New England Patriots to become the new offensive coordinator at Alabama has a lot of folks thinking the Crimson Tide will revert back to the old smash mouth days, but Nick Saban says that’s not going to happen. “I mean the New England Patriots threw the ball over 60% of the time, which was more than we threw it,” Saban asked Tuesday. “So where does that assumption come from?” Of course, if you check Daboll’s resume as a play caller with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins, you will see he ran a smash mouth, ball control system.
Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, testifying at a child endangerment trial of former PSU president Graham Spanier, says “I wish I would have done more” when it comes to dealing with child predator Jerry Sandusky. Curley testified that he and former PSU vice president Gary Schultz “did what we thought was appropriate” by banning Sandusky from taking children into team facilities. Appropriate would have been calling the police, something neither of them did. Curley has already taken a plea agreement and hopes to avoid jail time if the court agrees that it’s medically necessary for him to be on home confinement.
Cam Newton has just had rotator cuff surgery, which is typically a 6-month recovery (I know, I’m going through it now). The injury and recovery are a concern but will the Carolina Panthers risk hurting Newton’s feelings by bringing in someone ready to play or take their chances Cam’s a quick healer? Tony Romo is available.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
It’s still March and a lot of things can happen between now and September, but based on what you know now, how do you see the SEC East race shaping up?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I caught a portion of Chuck Mangione’s “Hill Where the Lord Hides” while driving back from my physical therapy appointment early Wednesday morning and that got me listening to Mangione music the rest of the day. I found his 1981 album “Tarantella,” which was recorded live in Rochester. It’s a subtle reminder of what a great talent Chuck was back in the days when he was actively recording. He hasn’t done an album since 2000.