A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning.
WITH 22 DAYS REMAINING 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) Vernon Hargreaves III had a remarkable freshman season, earning first team All-SEC and third team All-America honors. He’s earned the big reputation and teams probably won’t throw in his direction very much, but can he (a) avoid getting too full of himself and (b) maintain the work ethic that made him a star as a freshman? If he can then he will be able to avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx. (2) Chris Thompson saw most of his action in 2013 on special teams. He won the MVP award for special teams on the scout team. Against Vanderbilt he caught two passes and he actually started against FSU. Word has it that he’s having an outstanding offseason and might be moving ahead of some of his more highly publicized teammates. Can Thompson become a viable option in the passing game or is he headed for another season chasing down punts and kickoffs?
AND QUESTIONS FOR THE REST OF THE SEC
LSU always loses defensive linemen early to the NFL Draft so it’s no shock that the Tigers will be breaking in new tackles this season. Folks in Baton Rouge rave about the potential of Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas, but they combined for only 20 tackles last year. Can they step in and get the job done in 2014? If they can’t LSU is going to struggle on the defensive side of the ball … Heading into November, South Carolina’s Mike Davis was leading the SEC in rushing but he was banged up the rest of the year, missed one game completely and saw limited action in three others. If he’s healthy, he’s as good as any back in the league. Can the Gamecocks keep him healthy in 2014 when he will also have to pick up the slack from the departure of Connor Shaw?
SEC BASKETBALL BY THE NUMBERS
Florida (26-2, 15-0 SEC) only needs one win or a Kentucky loss in the final three games to clinch the SEC championship outright. The Gators have already secured a bye for the first two days of the SEC Tournament and won’t have to play their first game until 1 p.m. on Friday, March 14. Kentucky (21-6, 11-3 SEC) has already clinched a bye for the first two days, but with one more win can clinch the #2 seed. The surprise team is Georgia (16-11, 10-5 SEC), which needs one more win to assure itself of a bye the first two days. After those three teams, it’s a scramble for that fourth spot … Right now, the SEC is trending toward only two teams in the NCAA Tournament – Florida and Kentucky. Georgia’s low RPI (#80) and unimpressive non-conference schedule – the best win was against Wofford (#174 RPI) – probably means the Bulldogs have to win their final three regular season games and get to the SEC Tournament finals to make the NCAA Tournament. Right now, they are a couple wins away from locking up an NIT berth … Missouri’s chances to make the NCAA took a hit with the loss to Georgia Tuesday night, but the Tigers (#50 RPI) had four nice non-conference wins so winning out in the regular season and then one or two SEC Tournament wins might salvage a big dance bid … LSU (#68 RPI) has to win two out of its last three regular season games and then two more in the SEC Tournament to get in … Tennessee (#56 RPI) lost twice to Texas A&M. If the Vols don’t go 3-0 the rest of the way and at least get to the SEC Tournament semifinals, they’re going to the NIT … Every other team in the league will have to win the SEC Tournament to get into the big dance.
MOVING UP AND MOVING DOWN
By running a 4.43 40 and benching 225 pounds 22 times, Jaylen Watkins’ draft stock is definitely on the rise. The same can’t be said about Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. They both ran 4.61 and their bench press was anything but impressive. Purifoy did six reps while Roberson did eight. At one point Purifoy was thought to be a first or second rounder. Right now it would appear that he is looking at something like fourth round or later. Roberson was showing up in the late first round in some mock drafts as late as last week. Figure he’s dropped to third round or later. Watkins could move up to late second or early third.
COOP CASHING IN
In his first three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Riley Cooper caught 46 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns. In proving last year that he’s the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, Cooper caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s about to be rewarded with a multi-year contract that will involve a substantial raise from the $532,869 he made in 2012. Cooper is a legitimate deep threat in the league. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch last season, the same as Calvin Johnson. Only Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns (18.9 per catch) averaged more among receivers who caught at least 40 passes.
SELLING “THE DREAM TEAM”
Georgia, which is good at selling almosts, is planning to sell recruits on joining “The Dream Team” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This approach has been used before. Mark Richt did it in 2011 when he landed a class that included Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. That was a good class but “dream team?” Sure, they made it to the 2012 SEC Championship Game, but they lost. Of course that hasn’t stopped Georgia from talking about how it was ALMOST the SEC champion, just like it took a year for Georgia fans to stop talking about 2007 when the Bulldogs were ALMOST the national champions even though they didn’t even win the SEC East. Now before you ridicule Richt for selling the “Dream Team” approach, consider this. Georgia hasn’t won a national championship since 1980 so really, Richt is right. He’s selling a dream – dream about winning a national title because a dream might be as close as you ever come.
JUST SAYING NO TO THE “SABAN RULE”
ESPN put the proposed “Saban Rule” to the test by polling all 128 Division I football coaches. Judging by the results, either Nick Saban and Bret Bielema are part of a vocal minority begging for safety when no one else will listen or 103 Division I coaches think it’s all a bunch of hooey that no-huddle, up tempo offenses endanger players. Only 11 coaches in the five power conferences support the proposed rule that would prevent snapping the ball until 10 seconds are gone from the play clock and just 25 in all of Division I. So much for everybody wanting to be like Nick.
WINNING THE PUBLIC RELATIONS WAR
With so many coaches opposed, it’s hard to imagine that the NCAA will approve the switch to the “Saban Rule.” National perceptions of Nick Saban won’t move in either direction when the rule is shot down, but in the state of Alabama this will be a huge public relations coup for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. In the state of Alabama where the “Saban Rule” has been viewed as an our way vs. their way battle, Malzahn is going to be able to go on the recruiting trail and tell the best players in the state that Nick Saban couldn’t slow his offense down and neither could a Saban-influenced rules committee. That will be magnified 10X if Auburn beats Alabama a second straight year.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
There is only one Al Green. The first time I heard “Let’s Stay Together” it made the hair stand up on my arms and neck. Wow! What a soulful voice. Forty years later, the song still does the same thing to me. At the height of his success on both the pop and rhythm and blues charts in 1974, Green’s girlfriend doused him with a pot of boiling grits while he was taking a shower, then found his .38 revolver and committed suicide. Two years later, Green became Reverend Al Green for the next 15 years pastored a church and recorded only gospel music, for which he won eight Grammy Awards. He is still a pastor but he does secular music now although he’s never been as successful as he was in the early 1970s. This is a 2010 video of “Let’s Stay Together” done on British late night television.