A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning.
MAKING THE PUZZLE FIT
Now that the #1 ranking is inevitable – barring something unforeseen the Gators will ascend to that lofty perch sometime around noon – the question you will hear over and over again is how will Florida handle prosperity? That might be a problem for a team loaded with players projected to leave early for the NBA, but really shouldn’t be a problem for this group that Billy Donovan has assembled. This is one time when the lack of superstar talent comes in handy because Donovan doesn’t have to waste his time soothing egos of players who are concerned if they don’t get enough minutes or launch enough shots they will lose millions when the NBA drafts in June. Donovan might have the ultimate team on his hands – one with zero in the way of ego and complete devotion to the concept of all for one and one for all. It was interesting listening to The Sports Reporters on ESPN Sunday morning because they all agreed with Bob Ryan’s assessment that Florida 2006-07 is the last great team we’ve seen on the collegiate level. Well, Bob might want to make room for Florida 2013-14 if the Gators win the national title because its a true team where all of the pieces of the puzzle fit quite nicely. The star of this team isn’t an individual, it is the team itself. With a group of players who all know and understand their roles perfectly, Billy Donovan might have created the ultimate basketball machine that is very capable of trampling everything in its path en route to a national championship.
WITH 24 DAYS UNTIL SPRING PRACTICE BEGINS
Here are two questions that will have to be answered during the 15 days in March and April that the Gators are allowed to practice: (1) Jonathan Bullard started the 2013 season at defensive end but when Dominique Easley went down with the ACL injury, he was often plugged in at nose tackle where he was undersized at 275 pounds. Will the coaches bulk him up and keep him inside or play him on the outside at end? (2) Jarrad Davis was a surprise last year at inside linebacker and showed signs of playmaking ability. He’s likely to be on the field in a 3-4 alignment and could be the middle linebacker when the Gators go 4-3. Can he be that defensive quarterback on the field who gets everybody in their proper alignment?
AND THESE QUESTIONS FOR THE REST OF THE SEC
When Ellis Johnson was Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator at South Carolina, he worked magic and the Gamecocks became one of the best teams in the SEC. He’s in his second year at Auburn with 15 of the 22 players on his two-deep from last year. Can he turn Auburn’s defense respectable? If he can the Tigers might do a repeat of the SEC title … Tennessee is replacing its entire offensive line, which was the strength of the team last year. Can the Vols come up with a unit that can give them enough offense to win six games this year? If they don’t at least break even you have to wonder about the fan base. They haven’t had a winning season since 2009, which just happened to be Lane Kiffin’s only year on the job in Knoxville.
SPORTING NEWS RANKS TOP 25 PLAYERS FOR 2014
Matt Hayes, the highly respected college football analyst for Sporting News has ranked the top 25 players in the country for 2014 and surprisingly, his top player is not Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Hayes places Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota at the #1 position followed by Winston, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Southern Cal defensive end Leonard Williams (from Daytona Beach Mainland) and defensive end Randy Gregory of Nebraska in his top five. Hayes lists Florida corner Vernon Hargreaves III as the #14 player and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. as the #20.
Johnny Manziel won’t throw for the folks in Indianapolis, but he did run and was impressive with a 4.56 time in the 40. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw did a 4.55. Balke Bortles of UCF was timed at 4.81 and A.J. McCarron of Alabama was timed at 4.94. Running back Dri Archer of Kent State wowed the folks with stopwatches with a 4.26 40 while Henry Josey of Missouri and LaDarius Perkins of Mississippi State came in at 4.4. Tre Mason of Auburn had a 4.43 while Devonta Freeman of FSU and Storm Johnson of UCF both had a 4.5. LSU’s Jeremy Hill had a 4.63. Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina had a disappointing 21 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. Among tight ends, Florida’s Trey Burton had a 4.5 while former Gator A.C. Leonard did a 4.43. When the wide receivers ran, LSU’s Odell Beckham and South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington both turned in a 4.31 while Clemson’s Sammy Watkins had a 4.34. Mike Evans of Texas A&M did a 4.47. Kevin Benjamin of FSU ran a 4.53 and Jarvis Landry of LSU had a pedestrian 4.65.
LSU LANDS COMMITMENT FROM 8TH-GRADER
The Tigers landed a commitment (class of 2018) from Zadock Dinkelmann – yes, that’s his real name; I’m sure he blames his parents since they didn’t consult him – who is an 8th grade quarterback and the nephew of 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer (BYU). Dinkelmann is 6-3 and 180 pounds, which is terrific size for a 14-year-old. His high school coach is Texas legend Sonny Detmer, Ty’s dad. This is the second straight year LSU has offered an 8th-grader. Last year, Les Miles extended an offer to running back Dylan Moses, who will be a 6-2, 220-pound ninth grader this year and is a class of 2017 prospect. What’s next? They’ll be taking commitments from kids who just finished Pop Warner ball?
BAD LOSSES FOR VOLS, MIZZOU
Tennessee and Missouri dug themselves into a hole they might not be able to escape from this weekend when their SEC records dipped to 7-7 with bad losses. Tennessee lost for the second time to a mediocre Texas A&M team while Missouri lost to Alabama, which has 16 losses. To get into the NCAA Tournament both will need to win at least three more games in the regular season and then do some damage in the SEC Tournament. Georgia, which is sitting pretty at 9-5 in league play, will probably have to win the SEC Tournament to get into the NCAA. Ole Miss will have to go 4-0 down the stretch and win at least two SEC Tournament games to get in. It’s entirely possible that only Florida and Kentucky will make it to the NCAA Tournament from the SEC, although I’m betting on at least three.
THINGS TO DO ON A RAINY DAY WHEN YOU HAVE THE FLU
While spending the day in bed trying to stay warm and seeing if I can overwhelm the germs by drinking a few gallons of water and discovering that I much prefer Simply Orange over Tropicana, I caught up on “House of Cards” on Netflix. Kevin Spacey is just incredible in that made for Netflix series, which also features Robin Wright (she was Jenny in Forrest Gump). I also caught up on “True Detective,” the rather dark series that HBO is running that stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. For music, I listened to some vintage Lee Ritenour, Boz Scaggs and Otis Redding. For me, “Try a Little Tenderness” ranks as one of the ten best songs ever.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I first got to know Gregg Karukas when he was playing keyboards for The Rippingtons back in the late 1980s. He’s also done stints with Boney James, Larry Carlton and Peter White but I like the solo work he’s done dating back to a song he did called “Whale Watching” on his 1993 album “Summerhouse.” This song is “Lost in Negril” from his “Looking Up” album that was released in 2006.