Thoughts of the day: September 29, 2013


Memo to Dick Vitale. Stick to basketball. That’s what you’re good at. Vitale tweeted Friday that Kentucky could beat Florida in football, something that hasn’t happened since the Reagan administration. It didn’t happen Saturday because Florida has the nation’s best defense even without Dominique Easley dancing and disrupting. Without Easley, Will Muschamp put the Gators in a 3-4 for most of the game and that stuffed Kentucky’s running game. Inside linebackers Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison were there to snag any Kentucky runner who managed to squirt past the line of scrimmage. When the Wildcats tried to throw the ball, Dante Fowler, Jonathan Bullard and Bryan Cox were there to pressure the quarterback. Ronald Powell didn’t have a sack but he was active and disruptive. The secondary was on lockdown with Vernon Hargreaves III picking off his third pass of the season. With defense that good, all Florida’s offense had to do was take care of the football and strive for efficiency. The result was a 24-7 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the score might indicate. This is the nation’s best defense, something Dick Vitale needs to remember before he tweets about Florida football again.


“If that wasn’t targeting I don’t know what is,” ESPNU color analyst Matt Stinchcomb said in the third quarter when Florida’s Jabari Gorman laid out Kentucky wide receiver Alexander Montgomery with about as perfect a form tackle as you could ask for. Gorman didn’t lead with the helmet to either the head or neck area as Stinchcomb claimed. Replays clearly showed that Gorman stuck his face into Alexander’s sternum but Stinchcomb didn’t have the guts to admit that he was dead wrong. In addition to being wrong on the play, Stinchcomb is flat our boring. Suggestion: ESPN should pair him with Beth Mowins and they will have the cure for insomnia.


Oregon lost do-it-all superstar DeAnthony Thomas on the opening kickoff against California Saturday night. It took the Ducks all of a minute and 33 seconds to get over it. That’s how long it took them to go 58 yards for their first touchdown of a 41-point first half. Byron Marshall took Thomas’ place. All he did was run for 103 yards in the first half. There was some dropoff in production, though. Thomas averages 8.0 yards per carry. Marshall didn’t even average seven. Oregon led at one point, 55-6, but then the Ducks let off the gas and had a cruise control fourth quarter. This is a team that could score 80 on just about anyone if it left the starters in for the entire game.


In the course of a month, Lane Kiffin has gone from the Endangered Species List to Dead Man Walking. Translation: It’s no longer a matter of if he gets fired, just a question of when. After Saturday night’s blowout loss to Arizona State, Kiffin’s days as Southern Cal’s head coach are numbered. Given Southern Cal’s resources – money is no object and within a 200 mile radius of the campus are more people than live in Alabama, Missisissippi, Georgia and Louisiana combined – the first speculation will center around Nick Saban, but figure he’s not going anywhere. The diehard SC people will call for either Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams head coach) or Jack Del Rio (former Jags head coach; defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos) but neither has the background as a college coach where it’s essential to recruit and babysit 18-year-olds away from home for the first time. At some point, watch these three names pop into the conversation: Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Al Golden (Miami). I’m not sure any of the three would leave their current job, but if I am Pat Haden, they would be at the top of my list.


Jameis Winston threw another interception Saturday against Boston College. That’s two this season. Oh my. He also threw four touchdown passes, his second four TD game this year, and he ran for another. That’s 12 touchdown passes and three rushing touchdowns in four games for the FSU freshman. It is a fact that the Seminoles have played only token opposition so far, but this kid is brimming with confidence. It’s going to take a really stout defense to slow him down. Next up for the Seminoles (4-0) is Maryland at Doak Campbell Stadium followed by a week off before the showdown game with Clemson in Death Valley.


My top ten would be (1) Alabama; (2) Oregon; (3) Ohio State; (4) Clemson; (5) Stanford; (6) Louisville; (7) Georgia; (8) Florida State; (9) Texas A&M; (10) LSU. My second ten would be (11) Oklahoma; (12) Miami; (13) South Carolina; (14) UCLA; (15) Florida; (16) Washington; (17) Baylor; (18) Northwestern; (19) Michigan; (20) Fresno State. My final five would be (21) Wisconsin; (22) Ole Miss; (23) Arizona State; (24) Texas Tech; (25) Maryland.


That list starts with Oklahoma State, which gave up 31 points to a West Virginia team that got shut out by Maryland the week before. The Cowboys are borderline top 25, certainly not deserving of the #11 ranking they had coming into Saturday’s 30-21 loss to West Virginia. Also on the overrated list is Notre Dame, which Phil Steele had preseason #10. The Irish were supposed to have the defense that could win games for them and Tommy Rees was supposed to be a good enough quarterback to win with. Notre Dame lost to Oklahoma, 35-21, Saturday, the second loss of the season for the Irish. The schedule isn’t all that tough the rest of the way – the only formidable opponent remaining is Stanford – but even if the Irish finish the regular season 9-3 they don’t deserve to be in the top 15. They’re just not that good.


Put Oklahoma at the top of that list. This was supposed to be a down year for the Sooners, playing without an experienced quarterback but Blake Bell has taken over and suddenly the Sooners (4-0) have once again discovered defense. Since he became the starter in the third game of the season, Bell has thrown six touchdown passes without an interception and he’s given the Sooners a running threat from the quarterback position. The defense picked off Reese three times and took one to the house. There isn’t a game remaining on the schedule in which Oklahoma won’t be favored to win. This is a team that could easily run the table.


A friend of mine got his divorce finalized last week. He should have been sad to split the blanket after nearly 17 years, but instead he was genuinely giddy. That reminded me of this classic from Loudon Wainwright III, “So Damn Happy” which is about a not so agonizing breakup. Loudon writes and performs some of the funniest songs you’ll ever hear such as “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” and “I Remember Sex.” If you ever get a chance to catch one of his performances, please park your politics at the door because he’s an equal opportunity offender who long ago tossed political correctness in the tall weeds on the side of the road.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.