Coach Will Muschamp was at it again this week, flipping yet another committed blue chip player to Florida. Thomas Holley brought his total to five in the last four weeks, four of which have flipped to the good guys in just the last ten days. Gator Nation has taken to calling him Flipper for his recent spatula brilliance with players committed to other teams. But it was brought up amidst all the flipping that Champ has suffered some flops as well – players committed to Florida flipping to other teams. And it bears scrutiny. After all, with so many in such a short period of time, it may just be a false perception, much like the false perception that we suffered an abnormally high number of transfers, caused most likely by their somewhat tight chronological grouping.
So I took a look at the numbers. And I took it back the last two years as well, to see if there are any apparent trends developing. It appears that there is at least one. And that is that Muschamp is getting the hang of this flipping thing.
In 2012, Champ flipped three commitments by my count: Dante Fowler Jr. (FSU), Willie Bailey (Miami) and Skyler Mornhinweg (Penn State). But one of the things that stands out to me in this flipping game is that they are only significant what they take place after the players’ senior season has begun. The fall opener through National Signing Day. Any earlier than that and you have so many players who are simply not that serious about their commitments, or they have committed long before they were capable of making an educated choice. So de-committing and flipping is no surprise then, and it is so early that a college team’s recruiting plans can be completely redirected with no negative consequences. The biggest flips occur after New Year’s Eve, but any time after the fall season begins is a coup for the committed school and puts the de-committed school in a bad position. The later the flip, the worse the position. Since Bailey flipped in April, I can only really count two flips in the class of 2012. Just one flip of Fowler’s magnitude usually makes a season for any Gator coach of the past, and two flips is a real celebration. Any more than that is serious business, because due to the numbers involved, a school will generally always expect to lose more floppers than their gained flippers. That same year, Champ lost three floppers: LB Lorenzo Phillips in October (LSU), RB Mike Davis in December (South Carolina) and DT Visesio Salt in January (Utah), so the net was negative one (or plus one flop).
In 2013 however, as Ron Burgundy would say, it jumped up a notch. It escalated quickly. Muschamp flipped seven players last year, one of them with a trident: WR Demarcus Robinson (Clemson), DT Darious Cummings (Ole Miss), DT Jarran Reed (Ole Miss), LB Jarrad Davis (Auburn), LB Matt Rolin (South Carolina), P Johnny Townsend (OSU) and LB Alex Anzalone (OSU by way of Notre Dame). And while Muschamp lost a few commitments that summer, after the season began only LB Quinton Powell flopped out of the Gator class (to USC and the soon-to-be-fired Lane Kiffin). Muschamp went from a negative one to a plus-6 in one year. And we have seen this year that it was no fluke.
Thus far in the class of 2014 Muschamp has flipped five previously committed players, and all in the last month. With twenty current commits, that constitutes 25% of the class. The newest flip DT Thomas Holley (Penn State) joins CB Jalen Tabor (Arizona), WR Ryan Sousa (FSU), RB Brandon Powell (Miami) and OL Kavaris Harkless (Louisville). On the flopper side, Florida has lost three de-commits by choice. I say that because OL Dontae Angus had to withdraw his commitment because he is not going to academically qualify for an FBS scholarship. And of those three de-commits, only Dalvin Cook actually flopped so far. Ermon Lane and Chris Lammons did not switch commitments to another school; they simply left the signing class. They will of course ultimately choose different schools and bring Champ’s net flip-flop score to a plus-2 on the year.
However, he is not finished. There are well over a dozen prospects still on the board who Florida has a legitimate chance of landing. At least nine of them are currently committed to other schools or were at some point this fall. It is very likely that two or three of those players sign with Florida, which would bring Champ’s flipper-flopper balance to plus-4 or plus-5. Over the past two years, he could be in double-digits in terms of the flipping ratio.
And adding one last measure of significance is the list of schools from which Champ is flipping these kids. In the last three years, it has looked like this:
Ohio State (2)
Penn State (2)
Not only a very impressive list of programs, but Champ took seven of them directly from chief rival schools from the state of Florida or the SEC, as well as two from recruiter extraordinaire Urban Meyer. That is some very rare air. And the remaining committed players that Muschamp is looking to flip have made pledges to schools that include LSU, Tennessee, Notre Dame and FSU.
The Best Cook in the Kitchen?
Yes I know, we’d all like to put the unpleasant Dalvin Cook episode behind us now, but when discussing flips and flops, I can’t exactly ignore him. And not only is he of primary concern when considering the impact of flippers and floppers, he serves as a perfect example of the nebulous nature of judging their potential impact and forecasting the careers of these kids. Some turn out better than others. Some turn out better than their hype, some fall far short. When projecting what kind of college player Cook might be, or what kind of player he could have been at Florida, it might be a good start to pin down just how good he was in high school.
Was Cook the best runner in the country? Some say. Was he the best back in Florida? The Florida Dairy Farmers certainly think so, naming him Mr Football for the Sunshine State. It bears noting that he did edge out second place Treon Harris by one of the narrowest vote margins in the history of the award. And while very prestigious, the award has hit some home runs and had some fall-on-their-butts whiffs over the years. Past winners like Tim Tebow, Matt Elam, Anquan Boldin, Travis Henry and Daunte Culpepper certainly give the award some heavy cachet. But other than the two Gators on that list, none of those names have hit the radar since 1998. Let’s look at the more recent winners.
Duke Johnson and Derrick Henry have had solid early careers at Miami and Alabama, respectively, but nothing to set the world on fire. Quentin Williams plays for Bethune Cookman. Okay. A.J. Graham almost didn’t make it to Marshall, after an arrest just a few months after signing day, but he eventually started a few games for Doc Holliday’s crew before getting kicked off the team. I think we all remember the distinguished fizzles of Jacory Harris and Robert Marve. Then there were Adrian McPherson, Antone Smith, Xavier Lee, Andre Reese and Leon Washington. If you remember anything about any of them, you should consider going on a game show.
He is a special player. I could and would never dispute that. But I have to ask: was he even the best running back on his own team? Cook’s backfield tandem mate Joseph Yearby finished his senior season with 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns. For his career, he had 5,593 yards and 68 touchdowns. Cook ran for a county-best 1,940 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. In the same offense, Cook ran for more yards and far more touchdowns. Of course, being the much bigger of the two, Cook got the ball in the red zone far more often. The thing to remember however is that Yearby entered the next-to-last game of their season as the county’s leading rusher. Yearby was lost in that game for the balance of the year to injury and Cook ran in his absence to 244 yards and then 223 yards in their final game, the state championship. Cook finished the year with just 240 more yards than Yearby, but he gained 467 yards after Yearby went down. That last number is not exact because I do not have Yearby’s first quarter total before he was injured, but suffice it to say Cook was the touchdown production leaders on his team, but not the yardage production leader.
But that does not prove anything. I am sure Cook is the better of the two in terms of pure talent and athleticism. And he may be the best back in the state. But the reason I bring this comparison up is that the best athlete or the most gifted all-around player does not always make the best piece for a team. It does not always equate to the most production. And while highlight reels are great, production is what matters. And the Gators don’t need to replace Cook’s athleticism or his speed or his extra dimension. They just need to replace the production he would have contributed to the Gator program. In the new Kurt Roper offense, Florida has a bevy of candidates ready to audition for that role.
Oh the Stars at Night are Big and Bright…
And there is also something else brewing deep in the heart of Texas: a killer coaching staff in Austin. Charlie Strong is making the most of his opportunity to stretch out the Longhorn checkbook and assemble a coaching staff that should strike more than a little fear across the college football landscape.
Chuck is bringing a quartet with him from Louisville, in the form of defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary, assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and strength and conditioning coordinator Pat Moorer. Tight ends coach Bruce Chambers was the sole Mack Brown holdover, and Joe Wickline brings possibly the best offensive line coach in the nation to address the Longhorn’s biggest pain point over the last four years: bad line play for the offense. Charlie added more star power by poaching the mighty Crimson Tide of their excellent defensive line coach Chris Rumph, and much like the Gators, Strong will have a former offensive coordinator coaching up their receivers in Mississippi State’s defecting Les Koenning. Tommie Robinson will coach the running backs; all he did was come over from the recently transitioned staff at Southern Cal after coaching the running backs for the Arizona Cardinals the previous three years where he mentored Beanie Wells to become the first back in franchise history to run for over 1,000 yards and 10 or more touchdowns. Chris Vaughn rounds out the staff as defensive backs/special teams coordinator, after quickly doing wonders in turning around the Memphis Tigers’ secondary the last two years.
I point this out not to sell you tickets to the upcoming Longhorn season, but to point out that if Longhorn fans look at this staff and think it is the staff that can return the program to where it used to be, they are sorely incorrect. This staff has the potential to “return” the program to the elite heights that Longhorn fans only think they used to enjoy, but never really did.
In 123 years of football, Texas has just four national titles. Had the 1996 Fiesta Bowl gone a bit differently, they would be tied with the Gators, who didn’t win their first national title until just 18 years ago. And they each have the same number of unshared titles (3). As it is, Texas stands in a 4-way tie for 14th in the nation in national titles won. Before Vince Young led them to the glitter and glory, it had been 35 long years since they had last won it all. And they shared that title with two other schools. Basically, Texas won three national championships in an 8-year stretch in the sixties and that’s the basis of their lifetime of arrogance and entitlement issues. And they have never come close to approaching that level of elite program presence since. However, now that they have Charlie Strong, the very impressive new coaching staff and the Longhorn Network, they may actually have a shot at becoming what their fans always erroneously thought they were.
And a Gator shall lead them.
Halloween Comes to Tuscaloosa
What else could be said about the football marriage of Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban? It is college sport’s version of teaming Lex Luger and Kevin Sullivan. Lost in all the giddiness about the potential calamity, as well as the concentration of what Kiffin will bring to the recruiting trail, is a dose of current events that was perhaps the driving force behind the hire. I spoke to an Alabama source of mine this week and he told me that Saban, while he ostensibly brought Kiffin in to breathe new life into the offense and to make it a more dynamic machine, had his defense in mind first and foremost. When assessing the Tide’s rare pitfalls over the previous two years, his three most difficult offenses to control were those that handed him his three losses over that time (Oklahoma, Auburn and Texas A&M – both in last year’s loss and this year’s near loss). The common thread was up-tempo offenses. The very offensive style he campaigned the NCAA to legislate against to slow down.
With Urban Meyer out of the picture at Florida, Alabama’s defense had little to worry about from this offensive style and Saban could concentrate on stopping more traditional offenses like the one at his biggest divisional foe LSU. But with the arrival and fast emergence of Kevin Sumlin at A&M and Gus Malzahn at Auburn – both obstacles to winning the West – and his old right-hand man Will Muschamp switching to an up-tempo spread at Florida – the Tide’s most frequent opponent in the SEC title game – Saban saw enough of the writing on the wall. According to my source, his hiring of Kiffin was not primarily an effort to bring the same up-tempo style offense to Tuscaloosa, but rather to give his defense the opportunity to practice against a proficient up-tempo offense every day so that they are much more prepared to stop it in the future when they play one of the growing number of elite teams driven by an up-tempo offense.
Whether this strategy will work for his defense, or offense, remains to be seen. What is certain is that the pairing of Saban and Kiffin is one for the ages in terms of evil that is celebrated for its ugliness. Regardless of what results are tallied on the field or in the won/loss columns, the folks in charge of printing the programs, the branded Alabama merchandise, and anything else that bears the Bama name – these folks have a lot of work to do. Because the name of the school has just changed.
UA used to stand for University of Alabama. With Saban and Kiffin scheming together, UA now stands for Unholy Alliance.