A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning.
ATHLON RATES THE SEC COACHES
Athlon Sports has come out with its annual ratings of the Southeastern Conference’s football coaches. The two guys at the top – Alabama’s Nick Saban and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier – shouldn’t surprise anyone but the rankings of coaches 3-14 might raise a few eyebrows. Here are the rankings 1-14:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama: 79-15 at Alabama; 170-57-1 overall.
2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: 77-39 at South Carolina; 219-79-2 overall.
3. Gus Malzahn, Auburn: 12-2 at Auburn; 21-5 overall.
4. Mark Richt, Georgia: 126-45 at Georgia.
5. Les Miles, LSU: 95-24 at LSU; 123-45 overall.
6. Gary Pinkel, Missouri: 102-63 at Missouri; 175-100 overall.
7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: 20-6 at Texas A&M; 55-23 overall.
8. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: 15-11 at Ole Miss, 45-18 overall.
9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: 36-28 at Mississippi State
10. Butch Jones, Tennessee: 5-7 at Tennessee; 55-34 overall.
11. Will Muschamp, Florida: 22-16 at Florida.
12. Bret Bielema, Arkansas: 3-9 at Arkansas; 71-33 overall.
13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky: 2-10 at Kentucky.
14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: First year on the job.
FOCUS ON THE PASSING GAME
One of the constants through nine spring practices is the distribution of the football in the passing game. Kurt Roper’s insistence on spreading the ball around has provided opportunity for several receivers to step it up. Wednesday was a big day for Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. Monday, it was Demarcus Robinson’s day to shine. Valdez Showers, who had the dropsies early in spring practice, is catching the ball consistently while Alvin Bailey and freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby continue to make plays when the ball comes their way. Quinton Dunbar has been solid and Latroy Pittman made the best catch at Wednesday’s practice. Roper is getting the ball to the running backs out of the backfield and that includes fullback Hunter Joyer, who is showing that he’s very capable of catching the football.
GATORS HEAD TO DALLAS
The Gators will fly to Dallas today and get in their first practice at AT&T Stadium in Arlington where they will play UConn Saturday (6:09 p.m., CBS) in the first of two NCAA semifinals. Las Vegas has established the Gators as 1/1 favorites to win it all with Kentucky at 5/2, Wisconsin at 7/2 and UConn at 8/1. Florida has held steady since Sunday as a 6.5-point favorite while Kentucky has dropped from -2 to -1-1/2 for its game with Wisconsin.
MIDWEEK THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FAMILIAR FOUR
Florida has the most experienced team and plays the best overall defense, but to beat UConn, the Gators are going to have to prove they can get the ball inside against the Huskies, who limited Michigan State to six points in the paint in the East Regional championship game. That was the lowest total of points in the paint by any team in the NCAA Tournament so far … The X-factor for UConn could be forward Niels Giffey. If he’s hitting 3-balls, it makes it takes away the help on Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright … UConn’s dilemma is Michael Frazier II. If he’s hitting 3-balls, they can’t double down on Patric Young. If they can’t double down on Patric, he kills them on the inside … Wisconsin is a dilemma for Kentucky. Try zoning the Badgers and they’ll light it up from beyond the arc. Play them man and they’ll run that pattern offense all night that makes opponents chase them until their legs go dead. It worked against Arizona in a very big way … Kentucky’s key is making shots. If there is one constant in the Wildcats rejuvenation the last three weeks it is they are hitting shots from beyond the arc. The Wildcats hit 31.2% during the SEC regular season from the 3-point line. They are hitting 39.2% in the three games they played in the SEC Tournament and the four in the NCAA Tournament.
SEC SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP
Okay, even if you’ve been around recruiting a lot of years and thought you’d seen it all, this is probably a new one. Georgia is sending out hand drawn portraits of recruits then having them personally signed by head coach Mark Richt … Mississippi State is having an outstanding spring practice. With 20 of the top 22 returning on the defensive side of the ball and only five starters to be replaced, expectations are as high or higher than they’ve been in Dan Mullen’s five previous seasons. Quarterback Dak Prescott could be the best in the SEC in the fall … Mike Davis is healthy at South Carolina and the skill players are having a good spring catching passes from Dylan Thompson. The wildcard for the Gamecocks is Pharoh Cooper, who lines up wide, plays some tailback, takes snaps at quarterback and returns kicks … With 15 wins and two bowl victories the last two years, the talk at Ole Miss is taking the next step to become a real contender in the SEC West … Alphonese Taylor at right guard and Leon Brown at left tackle are settling in as the new starters on Alabama’s offensive line … Shon Coleman, who has battled back from leukemia, and Patrick Miller are battling it out for the starting left tackle job at Auburn … Les Miles called LSU’s Saturday scrimmage “physical, intense.” There were four touchdown passes thrown but there were also three interceptions.
IF YOU ARE THE HOUSTON TEXANS, WHAT DO YOU DO?
First off, the Texans need a quarterback and there is that Johnny Football guy just up the road in College Station, who is somewhat of a Texas folk hero and he did win a Heisman, by the way. Then there is Blake Bortles, who has the NFL size that Johnny Manziel doesn’t have, but you take a serious risk with the fan base if Bortles is a bust and Manziel becomes a stud somewhere else in the league. And then there is Jadeveon Clowney, who is 6-6, 266 pounds and ran a mere 4.53 at the combine. Clowney blew the scouts away at South Carolina’s pro day Wednesday but he has been known to take plays, games – and in the case of last year – an entire season off. He sure would look good on the other end from superstud J.J. Watt, though, wouldn’t he? And there will be quarterbacks in the second and third rounds. So, if you’re the Texans, what do you do?
NOT EVEN WARNING TRACK POWER
Ben Revere of the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t hit a home run Tuesday night, which is no shock to anyone. Actually, he’s never hit one out of the park nor has he even done an inside-the-park job. He’s gone 1,410 plate appearances without hitting a home run of any kind but he’s got a way to go before he can make the record books. Dave Eggler (1871-1885) went 2,593 plate appearances without ever hitting a home run. Then there was Tommy Threvenow (1926-38) went 3,605 at bats without hitting a home run although he did hit an inside-the-parker during the 1926 World Series.
HIRINGS, FIRINGS, ETC.
Georgia gave basketball coach Mark Fox a two-year extension after shocking 12-6 regular season run through the Southeastern Conference that saw the Bulldogs tie Kentucky for second place in the league behind SEC champ Florida. The extension locks Fox up in Athens through 2018. Georgia loses only one starter from its team that finished the season 20-14 and went to the NIT … As expected Kelvin Sampson, who got in NCAA trouble at both Oklahoma and Indiana and had a 5-year show cause, was hired by Houston. That’s an act of desperation … North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton has interviewed with Florida Atlantic … Missouri’s Jabari Brown will test the NBA Draft waters. He hasn’t decided whether he will hire an agent. Earlier in the week Missouri’s point guard, Jordan Clarkson declared. With the graduation also of Earnest Ross, Missouri could be losing 51.4 points from its 2014 lineup … Danny Manning will decide today if he stays at Tulsa or accepts the offer to be the head coach at Wake Forest. Smart money is on Wake Forest.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Before she became famous, Janis Joplin was Jimmy Johnson’s (yes, the football coach) prom date at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas. She went on to Austin where she used to sing at Threadgill’s when she wasn’t waiting tables. When she moved to San Francisco in 1966, she became the singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company for two years before going out on her own. This is a live performance of “Ball and Chain” from her 1968 album “Cheap Thrills” that also included “Piece of My Heart.”