By David Parker
When UF demolished FSU last week, I was on a plane to Los Angeles, and only ESPN channels were available on in-flight TV, so I watched the game on replay on my phone in a hotel room that night. As such, I didn’t get the normal depth of how the game really went down. Tiny screen, unmanageable progress bar, totally inadequate mini-bar. After returning home and watching it on the big screen with full use of pause and rewind, a number of things jumped out at me about this game that I hadn’t been able to see the first time. So let’s dive in…
Okay, first off, the flag flap after the game. This is something for which nobody needed replay or close-ups to see. Is it possible for Tom Luginbill, Greg McElroy and the third banana to have any less integrity in condescending to our players and shaming them as classless for trying to plant the Gator flag on the FSU logo? Or are they really all completely ignorant of FSU history before this game kicked off?
Yeah, you know what I’m about to say. FSU plants its ugly school flag on the midfield logo of EVERY team they’ve beat on the road, since long before any of the kids touching the Florida flag were even born. And what’s more, they usually stab the host opponent’s midfield logo at some point with that flaming chicken skewer. And to top it all off, they deface the school’s property by digging out a chunk of the turf as a souvenir.
But it’s Florida’s players who need a lesson in class? Okay. Thanks for schooling us, fellahs. Historians of the game, you are not.
Ball Park Franks
Upon further review, Feleipe Franks had an even better game against FSU than I thought. His mistakes on the first few drives lessened my memory of his performance, but after a second closer look, he played pretty well in the first half. Yes he made some bad choices, left points on the field, but on at least two of the stalled drives in the red zone, FSU changed coverages and rush schemes to ones I don’t think they’ve used this year (at least I didn’t see them, and I watched most of their games). Whether Franks had in fact prepared for those looks and coverages or not, I have to credit their defense for doing a good job of blowing up the plays, and not blame Franks for failing to make the plays.
And that’s significant because he didn’t let that happen again most of the day, and when FSU did blow up a play or two, Franks converted a number of 3rd downs on some really nifty throws. He owned the huddle, he made good reads, he directed receivers on broken plays. He was a field general. If that term sounds unfamiliar, it’s because it hasn’t been used in description of a Gator quarterback since 2009.
A Grass ‘Cruits Campaign
That’s what we’ve seen in Dan Mullen’s first full recruiting cycle: a full-on grass roots campaign to build relationships the right way, support the sales pitch with exciting and constantly improving play on the field and a lot of big signature wins to boost the Gator brand. And the results are popping out since the season ended.
In the stretch runs of the last two regimes, there were usually many players “listening” to Florida and having them in their final 2. Sometimes we’d get them, more often we wouldn’t. But we seldom had as many blue chips looking strongly our way as we had spots to fill at their positions. Almost never did we have more. But this staff is different. Just look around and see. The numbers game is not only stacked in our favor at this juncture, it’s towering and overflowing the spots we have remaining. As important as how many prospects we have committing to us, flipping to us and visiting us, is the fact that they are all highly regarded, nationally coveted targets, many of them truly elite players. Instead of lining up visits lists with names from the recruiting hinterlands as backups if our real targets say “no,” we are facing the prospect of adjusting our current commitment list to accommodate better players.
Remember when this was the annual ritual when the Gators were elite? Welcome the new normal. Once again.
Playoffs Expansion: Hard Pass
‘Tis the season for fans of jilted teams and talking heads of all makes and models to start whining about how badly we need to expand the playoff system. Uh…no. Hard pass. Because in practice, the playoffs are already expanded. We don’t need to expand to an 8-team playoff system because we already have a 3-month set of qualifying rounds (the regular season), and a quarter-finals round (the Power 5 conference championship games). That’s as close to a 64-team field as it gets. At the very least, as long as we have the conference title games, they are de facto playoff games, or if you will, a tournament play-in round.
The thing that irks me about the playoff expansion talk is that it has nothing to do with determining the best team, a true champion. For that, you’d need a long and meaningful regular season, where Week 1 counts the same as Week 12 (even though we know it doesn’t, it’s relatively the same). This is where teams not only prove they are the 4 best, but they also must earn their tickets to the playoffs. If we only take the 4 best at the end of the year, it’s just a 4-team version of the old wire service poll beauty contest national championship nonsense that we left behind to get to this point. The spots must be earned. Everyone knows the criteria, so there can be no whining or excuses at the end of the season unless the Playoff Committee goes completely off script and against their precedent to get certain teams in or leave certain ones out. That shockingly hasn’t happened, so I say the system is as legit as one can be. The questionable choices made early in the playoff era have been repeated consistently since, and that’s all we can ask.
Which brings us to the only question: can a 4-team playoff possibly leave the best team out in the cold at #5? Sure. But it hasn’t thus far (as far as we know), and it is not likely that it ever will. And if it ever does, that is the time to talk about this expansion stuff. Until then, zip it!
But nobody zips it. Because as I said, for the expansion advocates, it’s not about determining the true legitimate champion. It’s about giving other conferences and programs on the fringe of elite a chance to get involved. It’s about wanting to see March Madness-type Cinderella upsets. It’s even just about wanting to squeeze as many additional competitive football games into the season. And while those may all be great selfish reasons, none of them have any credence in the determination of a true national champion.
And that’s a higher level reason I never want the playoffs expanded: because the SEC is more important than the entire rest of the college football world. That’s right, it is more important that 2 deserving SEC teams get into a 4-game playoff (heck, it’s more important that 2 deserving SEC teams get into the old 1-game title game format) than any other school from any other conference to get into the playoffs on the chance they might win a game. Sorry rest of the country, but college football IS the SEC, and the rest is just window dressing. And it is unfair for the SEC champion to have to play additional games against undeserving playoff qualifiers just to give the little guys a chance or just to entertain Johnny Hook’em Buck-husky-trojan-seed.
Deal with it, not-SEC. You don’t like it? Then get better. A LOT better. Knock us off and then we’ll talk about lowering the bar for you.
The Urban Curse
For the second year in a row, Ohio State has won the Big 10 conference with only one loss on their tally, but been frozen out of the playoffs. They have whined and cried about it both years, but they have nobody to blame but themselves. Maybe not themselves, per se, but the generous gift they received from the playoff committee in 2016. That is the year that they decided to put Ohio State into the playoffs at the #4 spot as a non-conference winner (in fact they didn’t even win their division), while leaving the Big 10 conference champion Penn State outside looking in. What’s more, Penn State beat Ohio State head-to-head that year. The rationale was that they had the better overall resume, Penn State having 2 losses to OSU’s 1, and most importantly, because Penn State got blown out by Michigan in Week 4 by 39 points.
That year set a few precedents that went in OSU’s favor. Firstly the Committee’s commitment to disregard a conference champion for a more deserving at-large team. That’s what they did last year when they put Alabama in at #4, despite their not winning their conference or their division (hello, 2016 OSU), over the Big Ten champ Buckeyes, and that’s what they did this year when they put in Notre Dame at #3, despite their not winning anything but a bunch of games mostly against a pathetic ACC schedule and a couple PAC-12 teams that were unexpectedly lousy this year. The second precedent was the blowout factor. The other 2016 playoff teams were Clemson (1 loss by 1 point), Alabama (undefeated), and Washington (1 loss by 13). This year’s playoff teams are Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame (undefeated), and Oklahoma (1 loss by 3, a loss they avenged in the Big 12 title game). The 2017 playoff participants were Clemson (1 loss by 3), Oklahoma (1 loss by 7), Alabama (1 loss by 12), and Georgia (1 loss by 23). So not a single blowout until that loud record-scratch with UGA getting slashed by 3 touchdowns and change. However we know what happened there. That loss was mitigated by the fact that Auburn then upset undefeated #1 Alabama and was headed had a playoff spot locked up themselves until Georgia – like Oklahoma this year – avenged their only loss in the conference title game. That was also a year with no undefeated teams, so 1 loss, even a blowout, was considered differently.
In 2017, Ohio State was crushed like a grape by unranked Iowa by 31. This year, they were eviscerated by unranked Purdue by 29. The Playoff Committee had set a precedent that if there are any other options, you don’t get in when you get blown out of the building by an unranked team. They set a precedent of prioritizing the team with the better resume and no league title over the team with a lesser resume and a conference belt.
If you gladly accepted it when you were dealt in by these rules in 2016, you can’t cry the next two years when those same rules dealt you out.
As much crying as Ohio State players and fans have done, nobody has cried and whined to the media about being omitted from the playoffs this year than Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart. He was already whining immediately after choking away the SEC title game, the day before the playoff seeding even came out.
But Kirby has nobody to blame but himself. All other expanded playoff theories aside, the SEC title game is, and has always been, a de facto playoff game or a playoff play-in game, however you want to regard it. The SEC champ will always be in the playoffs, period. Heck, a 2-loss SEC team got into a 2-team playoff, and 2 SEC teams got into a 2-team playoff, so they are never getting left out of a 4-spot format. Ever.
In other words, you had your shot, Kirby, and you blew it. You blew it when you were beaten to a pulp by a 3-loss LSU team that Florida beat. You blew it when you had the SEC title game/playoff play-in game in your pocket and you tried to sneak your backup quarterback into 4thdown punt formation as the up-back, thinking somehow that the entire Alabama team and coaching staff wouldn’t see you experimenting with Justin Fields as the personal protector and not think something was amiss. Of course, Alabama left its regular defense on the field anyway, expecting a fake punt, and said after the game that you saw that the only receiver in the scheme was covered at the line of scrimmage, and with over 10 seconds of play clock ticking away for you to think it over, you still inexplicably just ran it anyway.
You really think the Playoff Committee want this kind of buffoonery to go down in their showcase bowls?
And Gator fans who are rejoicing over UGA being left out of the playoffs can send a rare thank you note to Notre Dame, too. They robbed us of a trip to play Alabama in the BCS title game in 2012, when their home-cooked officiating crew ignored 12 men on the field on the winning field goal in a late season game, so they at least owed us this. Because their presence in the playoffs this year made it impossible to even consider a second team from the SEC. Can you imagine the explosion of dissent among not just the fans but the conference commissioners if the Playoff Committee put two SEC teams in, including a 2-loss team that did not win the conference title, and ignored the 1-loss conference champions of the Big 10, Big 12 and the champ of the PAC as well? It could never happen.
Thing is, it is pretty significant that the Dawgs have had their shot two years in a row and choked it away. They are not Alabama – nobody is. Not even Alabama is Alabama. What Saban is doing is insane. It’s not going to happen at UGA, too.
That is, UGA isn’t going to play for a natty every year. They’re not going to just keep landing in the SEC or national title game every single year and get chance after chance to win it all. They will fall back, rise back up again, fall back, etc. Maybe just the difference of a game or two a year, up or down. That’s how it works for even the best programs, which UGA is not. They are just riding some really top notch rosters the last two years.
They have a small window of opportunity before Dan Mullen gets UF rolling again and maybe even some other SEC teams like Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU, and even South Carolina and Tennessee could become at least competitive again. Things will NEVERagain be as easy for UGA as it was this year and last year. And they blew it. Twice.
Historically speaking, very few programs, very few head coaches in college football get more than a few shots in a career, let alone in a succession of years, to win it all. You have to win it when you get there. Steve Spurrier got the SEC title game 7 times and win it 5. He reached the national title game twice and won it once. Urban Meyer got to the SEC and national title games at Florida 2 times each and won all 4 games. He’s 1-for-1 in national title games at OSU, too, and only lost once in the Big 10 title tilt. Saban has been to the SEC title game 9 times (2 with LSU, 7 with Bama), and won 8 of them; he’s been to the national title game 7 times and won it 6 times. When you get there, the great coaches, the great programs win it.
Between the SEC and national title games, Kirby and Georgia are 1-for-3 with a goose egg 0-1 in the biggie. The clock is ticking.
On a closing note, this is the time of year when recruiting season is full tilt and Gator fans start to worry about a few Florida targets each year getting caught up in the hype of the FSU Champions Dinner, their annual celebration of the year’s accomplishments in front of their prized recruits. Well they held this year’s event early, and it was short, as I’m told the only champions they were able to honor were the punter and Deondre Francois’s orthopedist.
Tip your waitresses.
Chomps from the GC Staff & Columnists —
Dan Mullen has really had the momentum pick up in recruiting since the FSU win and things are just getting started as we get closer to the December 19th early signing day.
FSU DE commit Derick Hunter is a guy that Mullen has really hit it off with and the Gators are in great shape here. In fact I’ll be shocked if Florida isn’t the pick for him.
Florida will finally get defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on campus this weekend. While Florida is trailing Oregon by a good bit, Thibodeaux really likes Todd Grantham so the Gators still have a chance.
This weekend is a huge weekend for visits as Florida will host 15 guys on campus with six of them being uncommitted guys who will sign early.
NICK DE LA TORRE
Let’s talk should they stay or should they go.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was the first, and as of writing this, the only player that has declared for the NFL Draft. I’ll break everything down here by age/class then what I’m hearing.
List of players that are eligible to leave
RB Jordan Scarlett
WR Van Jefferson
LB Kylan Johnson
LB Rayshad Jackson
OL Noah Banks
OL T.J. McCoy
OL Nick Buchanan
DL Jabari Zuniga
DL Luke Ancrum
P Tommy Townsend
From this list I expect Jordan Scarlett to leave. Everyone I have spoken with believes he will declare for the draft. The main things here are that Scarlett plays a position that isn’t highly valued in the NFL. With the way the collective bargaining system is set up and how first contracts are structured it’s important to get to your second contract. Scarlett has played varsity football since his eighth grade season. He has a lot of miles on his legs and he’s already 21 years old. He’ll be 22 before his first season and 23 if he waits another year. He would also be coming back to another loaded backfield, even more so than in 2018. He’s set to graduate this year so coming back means he would also need to enroll in graduate school.
Jabari Zuniga is truly 50-50 right now. The talented pass rusher has told people in the program that he hasn’t made a decision yet. I would not be surprised to see him declare, as he’s a player that will do well in interview and at the combine and help his draft stock.
Those are the only two players from this first group that I expect to leave.
WR Josh Hammond
WR Freddie Swain
WR Tyrie Cleveland
RB Lamical Perine
OL Jawaan Taylor
DL Antonneous Clayton
DL Jachai Polite
LB Vosean Joseph
LB David Reese
DB Jeawon Taylor
I would be shocked if Jachai Polite returned to school for his senior season. He’s a fringe first round pick (from what I’ve been told) and could solidify first round status with a good combine/pro day.
I expect Jawaan Taylor to also declare for the draft. Personally I think he would benefit from coming back for his senior season and playing on the left side of the line but from what I’ve been told he is planning on declaring.
If you listened to our podcast then you heard Andrew and I put to bed the rumors about Lamical Perine declaring. We’re being told that they simply aren’t true. Perine will be the Gators No. 1 back and getting a degree is important to him and his family. He believes he will graduate next December and that he will help his draft stock by returning.
Those are the only players from the above list I would expect to declare. Antonneous Clayton is on transfer watch as of now, but he might stay if both Polite and Zuniga declare, with the thought that he would get more playing time.
There is a long list of redshirt sophomores but none of those players are expected to declare.
This year may be the first year that Florida has made a New Year’s Six game under the College Football Playoff system, but it’s not Dan Mullen’s first such trip. His Mississippi State Bulldogs were No. 1 in the first ever CFP rankings released in 2014, and that team got a bid to the Orange Bowl. The game ended up a shootout with Georgia Tech winning 49-34. MSU outgained the Jackets 605 to 577, with Dak Prescott throwing for 453 yards and GT’s triple option running for 452 yards.
As a head coach, Mullen is 1-1 against Big Ten teams in the postseason. Both games came in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. He destroyed Michigan 52-14 on New Year’s Day 2011 in Rich Rodriguez’s last game as a Wolverine. On the same day two years later, his Bulldogs fell 34-20 to Northwestern. Both contests matched a ranked team against an unranked team, and both times the ranked team won.
The best part of the week!
I know my insider tidbits have been pretty injury report-heavy but that seems to be most of the talk around the team as they try to get some healthy bodies in the frontcourt and Chase Johnson should be ready to go soon if there’s no setbacks, which could be a good thing if you believe some of the rumours swirling around… there is talk that he and his camp are unhappy with the way he’s been kept out and might feel as though it’s an excuse to play him less minutes. I for one think if he’s totally healthy they’d be happy to play him a ton, so I’m hoping the rumours of his discontentment are untrue. Mike Okauru is another guy whose decreased minutes from last year to now has raised some eyebrows but he has played well defensively in spurts and should warrant some more looks. Some think he is another player with his eye on a possible transfer, but I hope he sticks around for the long run.
That’s all, folks!
We’ll send you off with our photo of the week below. Until then, see you in your inbox next Wednesday. : )
All the best,
Your friends at Gator Country…where it’s GREAT to be a FLORIDA GATOR!