Monday, September 01, 2014

Week One, Take Two

Well, that was disappointing. I guess the Mother Nature didn't think that the Gators had been humbled enough by the 328 days between victories, so she decided we needed another week to simmer. I'm going to try hard not to see the incredibly rare, three hour evening August rain storm that struck God's Country on Saturday as a bad omen. On the bright side, nobody got hurt and the Eastern Michigan game will actually be very interesting rather than a second helping of cupcakes before the conference schedule begins. Plus, our kickoff return team looked great. The obvious down side is that we missed a great opportunity to get this new offense and our new starters some reps. I have no idea if we'll play Idaho or not. If given a vote I'd rather see us preserve the off weekend leading into the Georgia game but I guess we'll know soon enough whether we'll see the Vandals in Gainesville this year or not.

Rather than spending any more time on a game that didn't take place, here's what I learned from the opening weekend of football:

- Texas A&M's head coach is the best offensive mind in the conference. Those like me that expected the Aggies to take a step back with the departure of Johnny Football and his best receiver clearly didn't respect how good Kevin Sumlin is as an offensive coach. The West is wide open and with Bama's porous secondary I think the Aggies are firmly in the mix to displace the Tide at the top of that division. If the old saying that teams improve the most between games 1 and 2 is to be believed I look for Kenny Hill to throw for 1,000 yards this Saturday against Lamar.

- No lead is safe with Les Miles on the other sideline. Wisconsin had the Tigahs right where they wanted them until LSU came roaring back and scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. They're young everywhere on except the O line but should still be undefeated until their October 4th date with Auburn.

- South Carolina is a very average ball club without Mike Davis at tailback. Dylan Thompson was a great change of pace quarterback the last few years for Spurrier, but he lacks the dual threat talent and toughness of Connor Shaw. The Cocks better bounce back quick with Eastern Carolina coming to town and Georgia sitting in Athens with a bye week waiting to visit Columbia on September 13. If that defense can't stop looking like they are running in mud, an 0-3 start is not out of the question.

- Speaking of Georgia, if Todd Gurley stays healthy all year there is no sense inviting any other nominees to the Heisman ceremony this December in New York. Their depth at tailback is sickening to a lifelong Dawg hater like me. If you didn't watch the Clemson game, the score was a little misleading. They were only up 24-21 going into the fourth quarter, but Clemson managed just 15 yards of offense and one first down in the entire second half and the gassed Clemson defense was no match to a fresh Todd Gurley come quarter four.

- Tennessee is a lot better on defense than I thought, but their running game and O line are still extremely suspect. They'll win big again this weekend over Arky State, but I expect a major dose of reality to set in when they visit Coach Stoops in Norman in week 3.

- With Miami and Louisville still to play, it has been a rough weekend so far for the ACC. Jameis Winston struggled in his first test without his two best receivers from a year ago and without their defensive coordinator who now resides in Athens. Clemson again disappeared against top competition. Syracuse needed double OT to beat Villanova in what would have been a marquis matchup of basketball powers. NC State had to come behind late to beat Georgia Southern (insert jealous Gator fan comment here). And Georgia Southern had some trouble getting past Wofford. Their best showing was probably Virginia, who gave UCLA all they wanted.

- James Franklin had a great weekend. Not only did his former team, Vandy, completely implode in his absence, but he had a good last second win over UCF in Ireland. Going forward I think there should be a mandatory 8:30 AM game on all Saturdays, it was a perfect way to start the day. He also had the quote of the weekend in his post game interview when he said that he didn't know what the FAA regulations were but Penn State would be partying on the whole flight back to the US. That guy would have looked great in Orange and Blue, I'm just saying...

Of course, you don't want to draw too many conclusions after a single week of games. You simply need more scale in order to compare teams. Given this weekend's slate of games, obtaining that scale is going to take a while as it is largely soft serve scheduling on tap for Week 2.

Speaking of soft serve, I'll turn to our friends from Eastern Michigan. The Eagles were 2-10 last year but started their season off with a fourth quarter win over Morgan State, 31-28. If you've not seen the embarrassing video of the Eagles' entry onto the field this past Saturday I invite you to take a minute to enjoy-

My guess is that was supposed to come off way cooler than it did. Sledgehammer dysfunction notwithstanding, the Eagles should present a similar defensive challenge to what the Vandals were bringing to the table. They gave up more than 50 points in 6 of their 10 losses last year and only return 4 starters on defense. Barring another storm, pestilence, famine or a swarm of locusts descending on The Swamp this Saturday I predict a one sided affair- Gators 45, Eagles 9.

I'm 7-3 in picks so far with Miami left to go, and it is tough to find conference games worth picking this week. Nonetheless-

Kentucky v. Ohio- The Bobcats managed a close win in week 1 while the Cats hammered hapless Tennessee-Martin. I was impressed by Kentucky, however, and think they've made a big jump in talent compared to last year. Cats 42-Bobcats 17.

Ole Miss v. Vanderbilt- As predicted, Ole Miss's quarterback was atrocious early before they pulled away from Boise State. Vandy, on the other hand, was atrocious the entire game and was embarrassed by a Temple team that was terrible in 2013. I don't know how Vandy recovers as the Anchor is most certainly not down in 2014. Rebs 38-Dores 10.

Toledo v. Missouri- Memo to the Tigers' Athletic Director- SEC teams don't go on the road to play MAC opponents. Look it up. Tigers 45-Rockets 17.

South Carolina v. East Carolina- It is gut check time early in Columbia. The Pirates were 10-3 last year but return only 11 starters. Still, there's enough talent there to have the HBC worried about laying an egg in his second home game, particularly if Mike Davis can't go. If anyone on USC spends a moment thinking about Georgia instead of worrying about the Pirates this could be a disastrous start for the Cocks. Still, it is Spurrier... Cocks 27-Pirates 20.

Notre Dame v. Michigan- Both teams rolled in week 1 against lesser opponents. Michigan's Brady Hoke is just 1-11 in his first 3 years on the road against strong opponents. Yuck. Domers 20-Wolverines 16.

Michigan State v. Oregon- This is probably an early knock out game in terms of the Final 4 playoff and both teams are conference favorites. It doesn't get much better in terms of an early season cross-country match-up. Ducks 27-Spartans 24.

Ohio State v. Virginia Tech- The Buckeyes looked anemic on offense against Navy in week 1 while the Hokies efficiently handled William & Mary. I think the talent edge is definitely on OSU's side and I can't pick against them in a home opener. This isn't the Va Tech of a decade ago. Bucks 30-Hokies 16.

I'm looking forward to finally getting this season underway in Gainesville. We've waited too long to get back in the win column and another week seems like an eternity.

Go Gators!


Friday, August 22, 2014

2014- The Season of Fun

Hello, Gators. I come to you from a very quiet Report household. The Mrs. is away at the beach celebrating her last weekend as a 30-something with some girlfriends, and Little Timmy and Percy have mercifully fallen asleep. The peacefulness that surrounds me is akin to the sleeping 2014 football season. But just like Little Timmy and Percy, the season is just hours away from thundering awake. Yes friends, it is that most blessed time of the year. Football season is upon us once more. And for Gator fans, it can't get here soon enough.

I hope you're like me and have buried the miserable 2013 season where it belongs, deep underground, never to be spoken of again. We shan't speak of it here, but I did re-read my opening Report from last year just to briefly reflect. I'm happy to say that, like last year, I'm optimistic once again. I'll not offer any caveats for injuries or other calamities which befell us in the past, I think we're due for some luck and this year will be characterized by a simple word that we haven't used to describe Florida football in quite some time: Fun.

I can't remember a season where expectations nationally were so low for the Mighty Gators. We've not had the luxury in over twenty years to come in to the season armed with the hungry power of the underdog, wearing a huge chip on our shoulders. We're unranked, unloved, and all but forgotten. Getting back to relevance is going to be fun.

Like I said this time last year, the success of the offense depends on Jeff Driskel. I honestly don't know if he's good enough to get it done, but I'm extremely encouraged by the positive attitude and scheme of Kurt Roper and think Driskel has his best opportunity yet to succeed in a system that's seemingly tailored to his athleticism. We are loaded at running back. The starting combo of Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor could start for most teams and bruisers like Adam Lane and Mack Brown can get us the short yards in goal line situations. We have two healthy tackles and a new offensive line coach with exceptional credentials. We have a legitimate pass catching tight end for the first time since 2012 in transfer Jake McGee. And we finally have some depth at receiver and legitimate hope that one or more of them could break out as deep threats, and again, a coach that might actually call a deep ball. We don't have to be a top 10 offense to win games, if we could just get to average we'd be immensely better off than the last three years. I think we take a huge step forward on offense this year.

From a personnel standpoint, this is Muschamp's most unproven group since his arrival. We've got an all world defensive end in Dante Fowler and good depth on the other side. The interior line is the biggest question mark up front, but there should be enough bulk there to keep offenses from being able to run it all day long. The linebackers have something to prove. I said last year that Morrison would be an outstanding middle linebacker, but once Easley went down the air seemed to go out of the entire defense. #3 definitely has something to prove this year. Sophomore Jarrad Davis showed flashes of great promise last year and I like the experience of guys like Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball, but there isn't much depth behind them. We may have the best corner in the country in Vernon Hargreaves and we've recruited well in the secondary as a whole. With Muschamp as the coach, the last position group I worry about is the secondary. I'm not sure we'll be as good as we were starting the year last year, but I think this group is good enough to be a top 4 defense in the league.

Special Teams
This was a complete disaster last year. Punter Kyle Christy went into the tank and only time will tell if he can get his 2012 form back. Austin Hardin and Frankie Velez are still battling for the starting job, but I think it is safe to assume that place kicking will not be a team strength. In the return game, sixth year senior Andre Debose ensures that many of us will be in our seats early come Saturday in the event he gets to receive the first kick. The guy is a weapon if he's healthy and we'd all like to see him go out on the right foot.

I think the over-under on the year is 8-4. I think you have to assume losses at Bama and in Jameis's last home game in Tallahassee (though I'm not conceding either game). But I'm taking the over in a big way and calling for a shocking turnaround and a 10-2 season for our Gators. Like I said before, I think this team comes in hungry and stays that way throughout. None of these guys came to Florida to go 4-8 and you know this coaching staff is aware of what is on the line this year.

Of course, you can't win 10 games until you win the first one, and that starts next Saturday night against the Vandals of Idaho. Idaho was terrible last year, winning just one game (over Temple 26-24) with the most memorable loss being an 80-14 drubbing at the hands of FSU last November.  They return 6 starters on offense, 6 on defense, and have a Second Team All American kicker. Their defense allowed nearly 47 points per game last year and averaged giving up 7 yards per play. If ever there was an opponent that might give a new offense some early confidence, I give you the Idaho Vandals. Florida 45-Hos 9.

Before I get to the more entertaining games in the opening weekend slate, here are my picks for the SEC and 4 Team Playoff-

SEC East- Florida. Yeah I said it.

SEC West- Bama. I've never seen their QB play and they have Lane Kiffin on their staff now, but they've out-recruited everybody the last 5 years, Auburn can't be nearly as lucky as last year, LSU is even younger than Bama on offense, A&M won't be able to outscore people without Johnny Football, Arky still sucks, and I spent all of my crazy picking Florida in the East and don't have any left to pick a Mississippi team.

Final Four- Oklahoma, Oregon, Alabama, FSU

Moving on to the opening weekend slate of picks-

South Carolina v. Texas A&M (Thursday)- South Carolina is at home with a proven quarterback and Coach Spurrier. A&M's defense was atrocious last year. That's all you need to know. Cocks 35-Aggies 24.

Ole Miss v. Boise State (Thursday, Atlanta)- We'll see how BSU fares now that their coach has left for greener pastures (and field turf). I think Ole Miss's QB is a major spaz, but they've got way more talent than the Broncos. Hoddy Toddy 28-Broncos 16.

Vandy v. Temple (Thursday)- Temple lost to Idaho. Vandy 28-Temple 13.

FSU v. Oklahoma State (Dallas)- Unless Jameis gets popped by Dallas PD in a crab claw sting on Friday night, the Noles are going to start the season with a bang. Noles 42-Cowboys 20.

Bama v. West Virginia (Atlanta)- If WVU's quarterback has time to get a pass off, the much maligned Bama secondary could have an early test, but there's no way the Mountaineers can withstand the beef up front on both sides of the ball against the Tide for four quarters. Tide 33-West By God Virginia 17.

Auburn v. Arkansas- Arky was winless in the conference last year. That doesn't get better on the Plains. Tigers 35-Hogs 14.

Georgia v. Clemson- I think this is the most interesting matchup of the weekend, with both teams having a lot to prove after losing so much talent and leadership from last year. Georgia's getting a lot of pre-season love, but those QB's they trotted out after Aaron Murray went down last season looked awful to me. Clemson 27-Dawgs 23.

LSU v. Wisconsin (Houston)- LSU is starting a new quarterback and lost a bunch of talent again to the NFL draft. Too bad for Wisconsin that they replace that talent so efficiently. Tigahs 30-Badgers 18.

Tennessee v. Utah State (Sunday)- Don't sleep on the Aggies. They won 9 games last year and went to a bowl, something the Vols haven't accomplished in years. Utah State lost 22 seniors, but the Vols are having to replace their entire lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I'll give Rockytop the lean, but only because they're playing at home. Vols 24-Aggies 21.

Louisville v. Miami (Monday)- This is a major ACC matchup early for the Canes, who are looking to put all of the NCAA mess behind them finally and start ascending back to national prominence. I have no idea what Louisville will look like in the post-Charlie Strong era, so I'm going with the Canes. The U 27-The Ville 20.

College football is roaring back with an outstanding opening weekend, but everything outside of The Swamp is solely for entertainment purposes. Come next Saturday, it will have been 328 days since our Gators last won a ball game. Let's have some fun.

Go Gators!


Monday, December 02, 2013

The Merciful End

Well Gators, in spite of what I said a few weeks ago I figured it was time to come back to try and put a bow on the season that shall going forward simply be known as "Yuck". As I write this, it was announced about 2 hours ago that Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease and Offensive Line Coach Tim Davis were fired. Based on the comments I've seen so far in cyberspace, some Gators are rejoicing at these firings, others wish that all of the coaches were let go. I'm hopeful that our offense gets better, but I'm not going to celebrate people getting fired.

Before writing today I read the first Report of this season. In it, I said that this year's offense was wholly dependent on the growth of Jeff Driskel. We all know what happened there. God bless Skyler Mornhinweg and all of the offensive linemen who played the latter half of this season, but I don't care if we had Steve Spurrier or any other offensive genius calling plays, those cats just aren't prime time players. Our offensive game plan for FSU apparently relied on Trey Burton taking roughly half the snaps. I thought our entire year was appropriately encapsulated by the fact that he got hurt on our best play from scrimmage all day.  

On defense, I said that the linebacker corps was paper thin and that any injuries there or along the front line would be catastrophic. Again, this was the worst year I can remember in terms of injuries. On special teams, I said Kyle Christy was an outstanding punter (in my defense, he was in 2012) but that I expected a significant step back at placekicker. I had no idea we'd actually struggle punting AND miss 10 field goals while auditioning three separate kickers. In short, everything that could go wrong this year did and the result was predictable.  If you didn't see the stat in Sunday's Gainesville Sun I think it is worth sharing again- Against FSU only 6 of the starting 22 players from the Sugar Bowl were available on Saturday. Unfreakingbelievable.

All that being said, there was no excuse for us to get embarrassed by Vandy. No matter who was injured, there is no excuse for Florida to ever lose to Georgia Southern. We didn't show up to play in either game and I lay that entirely at the feet of the coaching staff and the seniors. Going forward, that leaves a very big question in my mind about how successful we can be in 2014 and beyond. I think there are 5 major steps we have to take between now and the August 30 debut against Idaho-

1. Hire an offensive coordinator quickly. My vote is for Kerwin Bell. The Throwin Mayoin has been successful everywhere he's been and I think it is high time to bring Kerwin home. We simply have to start throwing the ball down field again and there is no excuse for the University of Florida to have an offense ranked in the 100's.  I believe completely in Muschamp's ability to put an elite defense on the field and I give him credit for our effort against an outstanding FSU offense on Saturday. If we could manage the 50th best offense in the country I think we win 9 games next year and possibly more. But we've got to get someone in place soon so we can have a great offensive recruiting class. 

2. Land an elite recruiting class. I don't care about rankings, I just want to see us sign the QB of the future and skill players to help him out. It also appears that we need to go find ourselves a placekicker. The coaches should have no trouble out-hustling the competition in the time they have remaining in December while the other staffs are preparing for bowl games. We MUST sign and develop some quality receiver talent, something I've been saying for 3 years now. I think Jameis Winston is an amazing quarterback, but he is greatly improved by having the luxury of throwing to guys like Kelvin Benjamin, who hopefully elects to leave early for the NFL. Based on what I saw Saturday, that kid is ready to play on Sundays.

3. Re-connect with the fan base. This includes opening practices, making an effort to do a few more booster events and generally being more accessible to the fans. From the fans' perspective, we need to get over 4-8 immediately and collectively remove our heads from our asses. I distinctly remember last year in Tallahassee where several FSU fans told me they didn't think Jimbo Fisher was the right guy in Tallahassee, which is just another validation of the fact that fans for the most part are idiots (me included). It was disgusting to see the amount of FSU fans sitting in the Florida sections of The Swamp. That should never happen. Going back in history, we ran Spurrier off when he thought that 10 wins a year wasn't appreciated anymore. We almost killed Urban Meyer after he won two national titles for us. Bottom line, maybe we need to ease up as a fan base a bit. And if Jeremy Foley says he believes in Muschamp's ability to turn this around, then we need to support that as well. Believe it or not, I don't think we're that far away assuming we can at least have an average offensive unit.

4. Get healthy and stay eligible. We need a very clean off season in terms of rehabilitation of injured players, new injuries, and staying out of legal trouble. We have to get healthy across the offensive front if we have any chance of getting back to respectability on offense next year.

5. Restore Discipline. Next to injuries, I thought stupid penalties were the biggest reason this team didn't win more games this year. That starts with discipline. We also need a new set of leaders to emerge. Easley is gone and we had no offensive leadership after Driskel went down. Due to the limited amount of interaction with the team in the off season, coaches are pretty limited as to the impact they can have in this arena. Guys have to step up and take ownership of this program if we're going to get better quickly.

Assuming all of the above take place, I honestly think the over-under next year on wins should be 9. I'm writing off the trips to Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee (presuming Jameis is exonerated from his current legal issues). Georgia will be rebuilding at QB, we get South Carolina, Mizzou and LSU at home, and I'd be surprised if James Franklin is still coaching at Vandy. We should be 3-1 heading into the bye week before Tennessee and if we can win at Knoxville I like our chances to be 6-1 or 5-2 at worst going into Georgia. Georgia is THE litmus test (big surprise) for me next year. If Boom drops another one to the Doggies I think he's going to lose me forever.  But if we can get it done there, Atlanta is not out of the question and then all this noise in the system will be behind us.  So stay positive, Gators, I truly think we have better days ahead.

Before signing off for the year, I did want to mention a few other happenings in the world of college football-

Heisman Trophy- Again, assuming that Jameis isn't charged in the next 2 weeks, I think he wins the Heisman. The guy is crazy accurate and I love the aggressive way he attacks down field. I think AJ McCarron was his only serious competitor and the loss at Auburn torpedoed his chances completely.

Stetson- The Hatters finished 2-9. Word out of DeLand is they have no plans of firing anyone and expect big things for 2014. Their opener at Warner is going to be a tough one. Mrs. Report and I were married less than 3 miles from that stadium and can tell you that you just don't roll into Crooked Lake and easily emerge a winner.

National Title- The SEC's run of national titles comes to an end the only way it could, by our not having a representative in the title game. I think Auburn beats Mizzou even though Mizzou is probably the better team. After the Georgia and Bama finishes, you just can't pick against the War Eagle Tigers this year. In spite of that, I don't see any way they jump either FSU or Ohio State assuming both win their conference championship games (and I don't think the Noles will have trouble against the Dukies). Unfortunately for the SEC, the 4 team playoff format is coming one year too late. Neither FSU or Ohio State played anybody all year (and yes, I'm counting Clemson). That said, if Ohio State gave up 41 to Michigan, I think the Noles could score 60. FSU 52-Ohio State 27.

Bama- How would you like to be the poor bastards who draw Bama as a bowl matchup? It won't be pretty. That said, what fan base is more devastated than Bama's right now? They went from being discussed as the greatest dynasty ever to being a footnote on the 2013 season. And to have lost in the manner that they did to their hated in-state rivals I bet it is a long off season in Tusky. 

Well, that's about it Gators. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and an enjoyable off season. I know 2013 was a bitter run, but it is only made worse by the knowledge that we have 9 whole months to wait for things to turn in the right direction. Here's hoping they do.

Go Gators!