A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
GUT CHECK GAME
Who thought when the season began that the Vanderbilt game would largely determine Florida’s fate? Sporting News had the Gators ranked fourth nationally and winning the SEC East in its preseason magazine and the Gators were a consensus top ten team. Now, they’re fighting just to keep their heads above the water and Saturday they’ll be going against a Vanderbilt team that has its own motivations – a 22-game losing streak to Florida and a chance to make it to a bowl for the third straight year, something that hasn’t happened in school history. If ever Will Muschamp got a team fired up to play a game, this is it. If the Gators can’t match Vanderbilt emotion for emotion, they could be in for a long and difficult afternoon.
STARTING QUICKLY: A NOVEL CONCEPT
The Gators have this very bad habit of starting slowly in the first quarter dating back to 2011, Muschamp’s first season. In three seasons the Gators have only had one game – Kentucky (21 points) in 2011 – in which they scored more than one touchdown in the first quarter of a Southeastern Conference game. The last time the Gators scored in double figures in the first quarter was the 10 they scored against Alabama in 2011. Since then, Florida has gone 19 straight SEC games without scoring more than seven points. It breaks down like this: one touchdown, 5 games; one field goal, 5 games; zero points, 9 games. This season, the Gators have scored one first quarter touchdown in an SEC game. If ever the Gators needed to get off to a fast start in an SEC game, this is the week. If they are going to make it to 6-6 this year, they better put points on the board early against Vanderbilt.
FLORIDA-VANDERBILT FLASHBACK, 2006
The road to the 2006 national championship almost hit a speed bump in Nashville where Florida gutted out a 25-19 win over the very pesky Commodores. It was a game in which the Gators never got into any kind of offensive rhythm. About the only thing that worked well was Chris Leak throwing to Dallas Baker and Bubba Caldwell. Baker caught eight passes for 135 yards and a touchdown and Caldwell caught eight for 68, but Leak also threw three balls to the bad guys including interceptions on consecutive possessions in the second quarter. He threw another one in the fourth quarter plus he was sacked four times.
FLORIDA-VANDERBILT FLASHBACK, 2006
Florida fans, who made up about 60% of the 38,000 or so in attendance, thought they could finally breathe easily when Chris Hetland knocked down a 29-yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter to make it a 25-6 game, but suddenly Vanderbilt started finding holes in the Florida defense. Chris Nickson went 12-18 for 148 passing yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and Earl Bennett, who caught 13 passes for 157 yards on the day, had five fourth quarter receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown. The Gators had to recover an onside kick and get a 12-yard run for a first down from freshman Tim Tebow to finally seal the deal.
BAYLOR PASSES ITS FIRST TEST
This was supposed to be the night that Baylor got its first real test. If Oklahoma is the real test, then the Bears have a very serious chance to run the table. In spite of going AWOL offensively in the first quarter (only three points and 58 offensive yards) and playing without Lache Seastrunk most of the game, the Bears lit up Oklahoma for 41 points and 459 yards including 255 on the ground. When Seastrunk went down, Baylor put in Glasco Martin, but he got hurt also. So third string tailback Shock Linwood took over and shredded the Sooners for 182 yards. The big surprise was Baylor’s defense, which held Oklahoma to 237 total yards. Defense was supposedly the Bears weakness. Baylor has back-to-back games with ranked teams and finishes the year with Texas. If Baylor runs the table, will that be enough to get to the national championship game?
So much for Oregon’s national title hopes. Memo to the Ducks. If you’re going to win national championships it’s best to play a little bit of defense. Stanford simply lined up and knocked the Ducks off the football and there was absolutely nothing Oregon could do about it. That Stanford dominated Oregon with such ease for three quarters calls into question the entire Pac-12 Conference. Yes, Stanford looked dominating, but this is the same team that lost to a very average Utah team. If anything, Thursday night proves that the Pac-12 is just like Oregon – great pretenders.
COULD FSU BE OVERTAKEN BY OHIO STATE?
The natural assumption is that Florida State has a clear path to the national championship game, but the toughest game the Seminoles face the rest of the year is the season-ender at Florida, and the Gators might be in the tank by that time. The next three games are The Little Sisters of the Poor – Wake Forest Gump, Syracuse and Famous Idaho Potatoes, none of which you would even consider to be token opposition. Is the door now open for Ohio State to jump the Seminoles? The Buckeyes have Illinois and Indiana the next two weeks, but they do finish at Michigan and will probably face a very good Michigan State team in the Big Ten Championship Game. Should the Buckeyes run the table that will mean 25 straight wins. Although the Big Ten is not exactly the toughest conference in the world, neither is the ACC so strength of schedule is probably going to offset. If that happens, that 25-game winning streak could very well be the trump card to decide who plays Alabama.
SO LONG MR. HEISMAN
Two weeks ago, the odds-on favorites to win the Heisman Trophy were Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida State. But, Winston didn’t play great in FSU’s win over Miami and Mariota was average to poor in the loss to Stanford. Mariota’s chances are all but gone. Winston’s problem moving forward is the lack of strong competition. That could tilt the votes in favor of Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M to win a second straight Heisman and it could also open the door for Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. If McCarron is off the charts against LSU Saturday night, he could pose a very serious challenge to Johnny Football. It’s hard to argue with a quarterback with two national championships under his belt and a third on the way.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
It was at Monterrey in 1967 that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had its real breakthrough moment. The band was only together for seven years but from their seven albums on Elektra are all extraordinary. At Monterrey, Butterfield really blew everyone away with his vocals and harmonica on “Driftin’ Blues,” a song first recorded in the 1940s by Johnny Moore. There are some great versions of this song by Ray Charles and Lightnin’ Hopkins, but the Paul Butterfield version is my favorite.