A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
WITH 29 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) Will Muschamp would prefer to run a 3-4 as his base defense, but for a 3-4 to be effective you have to have a nose tackle who can handle two gaps and force a double team. Do the Gators have a nose tackle who is both big enough and quick enough to get the job done? (2) Will Kurt Roper unleash Valdez Showers? It seemed that every time he touched the ball last year he was electric, even on the plays that didn’t gain a lot of yardage. He is extremely quick and can catch the ball. He could be that hybrid guy who plays both the slot and tailback.
AND THESE QUESTIONS FOR THE REST OF THE SEC
Nobody doubted that Jeremy Hill was as talented as any running back in the SEC last season. Nobody doubted that he was a walking, ticking time bomb, either. It should be calmer in the LSU camp with Hill gone but can freshman Leonard Fournette, the #1 running back prospect in the nation, give the Tigers the tough yards that Hill always seemed to get? Hill was one of those backs who seemed to get stronger as the game moved on. Not many freshmen are prepared to take on that kind of a load in the SEC … Because he took so many plays – and games – off most people don’t think South Carolina will miss Jadeveon Clowney all that much. He really didn’t have many difference-making plays or games last year, that’s for sure. The guy the Gamecocks are going to miss is Kelcy Quarles, who finished with 9.5 sacks from the nose tackle position. Does South Carolina have a nose tackle who can anchor the defensive line like Quarles? If they don’t, then South Carolina’s defense could be a real problem.
GOING FOR A NEW SCHOOL RECORD
A couple of winning streaks are on the line tonight when the 2nd-ranked Gators (23-2, 12-0 SEC) play host to Auburn (12-11, 4-8 SEC) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (7 p.m., Sun Sports/Fox Sports Network). The Gators have won 17 games in a row and a win over Auburn will set a new school record. Florida has also won 29 straight games at the O-Dome, one of the longest streaks in the nation. The O-Dome has a well-deserved reputation as a very difficult place for opponents to play and the UAA has done its part to make it even more intimidating by distributing more student tickets, particularly for midweek games when it’s difficult for season ticket holders from as far away as Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville to get to Gainesville. The midweek games have been selling out and the students tend to stay until the end of the game no matter the score, unlike so many of the boosters and season ticket holders who start heading for the exits at the 8-minute mark if the Gators have a double digit lead.
REVERSING HIS FIELD
Six days after he stated that a proposed rule change that would prevent the ball being snapped until 10 seconds had run off the play clock as a measure to “enhance student-athlete safety,” Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, the chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee is backtracking. Speaking to Yahoo Sports Tuesday, Calhoun said, “The key is this: I think the only way that it can or it should become a rule is if it is indeed a safety concern. And that can’t be something that’s a speculation or a possibility.” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who is a pioneer of spread, no-huddle offenses, says there is only speculation because “There’s absolutely zero documented evidence that is hazardous on the pace of play, only opinions.”
SCORE ONE FOR GUS IN THE PR WAR
In the week since the rules change proposal was made, Alabama coach Nick Saban has taken a couple of torpedoes to the bow. Whether Saban truly believes there are safety concerns for defensive units that are trying to keep up with the hurry-up offenses or is simply trying to disguise his dislike for having to defend them, this has been a total public relations nightmare for a coach who comes across as enormously dislikeable. Saban is coming across as both a bully and frightened by the offenses (those of Auburn and Oklahoma) that handed him consecutive losses after he spent the year ranked #1 while Malzahn is coming across as the skinny guy who isn’t afraid to stand up to the bully and fight back. In this PR war, Saban is getting his butt kicked.
VOL FANS PETITIONING TO BRING BACK BRUCE
Not that it’s going to make much difference, but Tennessee fans are circulating a petition to fire basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and bring back Bruce Pearl. Martin inherited a program that was making the NCAA field with regularity but since he’s been gone, the Vols have made the NIT twice and unless they put it together in their last five games plus make a little hay in the SEC Tournament, that’s where they’re going to be again this year. Pearl’s NCAA show cause ends this summer so he could be coaching next year, but it’s highly doubtful that will happen. The same president (Joe DiPietro) who was in charge when Pearl and Tennessee were slammed by the NCAA is still in power and he’s also the guy who hired Martin. No matter what happens the rest of this season, it seems highly unlikely that Martin will be coaching anywhere but Tennessee next year.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Recently, it was announced at Indiana University that wealthy alum Cindy Simon Skojdt was donating $40 million to help renovate Assembly Hall, which has seen better days. The timing is perfect because Tuesday night’s Iowa-Indiana game at Assembly Hall was postponed when a metal beam came crashing down from the roof a few hours before the game was set to begin. Before deciding to postpone, Indiana considered playing the game with no fans allowed in the building but that was nixed along with a contingency plan to move the game to Indianapolis. Indiana will have 72 hours to reschedule the game.
MARINO, SHANNON SHARPE OUT AT CBS
CBS is shuffling its NFL Today pregame show lineup, adding former Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez to the show while dropping Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe. The new show lineup will include James Brown, Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher in addition to Gonzalez. Last year The NFL Today was hammered in the ratings by Fox NFL Sunday by a whopping 39%. Unless Tony Gonzalez is the second coming of Groucho Marx, the ratings are going to sink even lower. Fox wins with legitimate personalities in Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan to go with studio host Curt Menefee. CBS doesn’t seem to understand that Boomer and Bill Cowher just aren’t that interesting.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The inspiration for the song “Mustang Sally” began when Della Reese wanted a brand new Mustang which led singer/songwriter Mack Rice to write “Mustang Mama,” which was changed to “Mustang Sally” at the suggestion of Aretha Franklin. Rice recorded it in 1965 but it didn’t become a big hit until Wilson Pickett came out with his version in 1966 which featured Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar and Booker T Jones on the organ. Cropper and Dunn were part of the band in “The Blues Brothers” while Booker T Jones continues to record with Booker T and the MGs.