Sunday, January 04, 2015

End of Season Addendum

Happy New Year, Gators. I know I said in my previous Report that I was done for the year, but spending a long holiday break with my household full of females leaves me in need of an outlet to talk football. You are that outlet, you lucky devils.

So, before I truly shut it down for good I had a few items I thought worth mentioning-

- What a great week it was for the Big 10. No, they didn't swap names with the Big 12 to provide more numerical honesty, but it was still a great week. First, Michigan immediately regained relevance by hiring Jim Harbaugh, unfortunately leaving the rest of us who just hired coaches envious. Not to say that Coach Mac won't be great, he's a solid 8. But Harbaugh is a 10. And while I thought it would shape up to be an awful week for Meyer (first having a real coaching rival at Michigan and then getting beaten by Saban again), all that guy did was show once again that he's in a different class among his peers. If we're honest, the majority of our anger against Urban stems from the fact that he's winning somewhere else while we've been getting roughed up behind the gym by the other big kids in school. I think I'm over that now, Gators, and am willing to admit that we were lucky to have him in Gainesville while we did (I'm still rooting for the Ducks though). As an honorable mention, Michigan State's unlikely comeback over a very good Baylor team added to the Big 10's haul for the week. Think about how much better this league is than 2 years ago with the addition of Franklin at PSU and Harbaugh at UM and both MSU and OSU finishing in the top 5.

- If the Big 10 had a great week, the Big 12's week was the polar opposite. Sure, TCU hammered Ole Miss and has a legitimate beef in terms of being left out of the Final Four. But the rest of the conference went just 1-5 and their pedigreed programs, Oklahoma and Texas, were embarrassed.

- Our friends in the ACC had a tough bowl season as well, amassing a 4-7 record. Clearly, the one everyone will remember is Oregon's dismantling of the Noles. Every fan in America other than those who pull for FSU were thrilled with the end of the streak. I was amazed by the story about the FSU players' cars that were vandalized after the loss. The bad news for those impacted is that the Tallahassee PD is on the case. Not exactly a group known for their crime solving abilities. A lot was made of FSU players not sticking around after the game to shake hands. I thought the Noles were unfairly called out by Herbstreit on this point. This isn't little league, and players don't line up and give each other high-fives and say "good game" on this level. I rarely see a majority of players hanging out and congratulating the other team so let's all ease up on calling the Noles "classless" for the aftermath of the Rose Bowl. This is college football. Classy left town a long time ago. If you don't believe me, follow Clay Travis on Twitter for about an hour and see the reactions he gets from fans across the country.

- The SEC tied its own record with 7 bowl wins, matching the totals from 2007 and 2013, with the SEC East improbably going a perfect 5-0 while the West managed just two victories. Some have used this to make the argument that the SEC's run as the pre-eminent conference in the country is over. To that I say, Really?  Alabama stockpiles talent like no team in the country. Auburn was a play away from a national title last year and just hired the best defensive coordinator in the country. LSU was the youngest they've ever been under Les Miles in 2014. Georgia wins 10 games even when they suck. Arky has finally figured out how to win and has it going in the right direction again. Both Mississippi teams were relevant this year for the first time since segregation. Tennessee played over 20 true freshmen and has a top 10 recruiting class coming in to follow up two prior top 10 classes. Steve Spurrier still is calling ball plays in Columbia. And Florida has come out of its four year hiatus of refusing to play offense. While we may not run off seven consecutive national titles again like we did from 2006-12, there's still no conference with the same facilities, pseduo-religious zealot fan base, and consistent regional high school talent like the SEC. If anything, now that other conferences are catching up and will have more than one dominant team with a soft in conference schedule, I like our chances even more going forward.

Speaking of our Gators, a hearty "Thank You" should go out to D.J. Durkin and the rest of the staff for the effort they got out of our guys Saturday. Leaders like Dante Fowler and Max Garcia should be lauded for pulling this locker room together. I never thought we'd win that game, and we truthfully did our best to find a way to lose it.  We scored our last points with over 11 minutes left in the third quarter and hung on for dear life on defense after Treon went out and it became obvious that we weren't scoring any more points on offense. If you read the Report this year you saw multiple mentions of Adam Lane based on his performance in the last Orange and Blue game. The kid got 8 carries all year but then was our best offensive player in the bowl game. I wish Matt Jones luck on the next level, but I'm really excited about the prospect of seeing more of that bowling ball that wears #22 in 2015.

I also wish Jeff Driskel luck at wherever he ends up. That kid was snakebit from day one in Gainesville but never said or did anything wrong off of the field. I hope he finds the right opportunity to finish his career on the right note, but I did think it was funny in the fourth quarter when the ESPN announcer mistakenly referred to him as Brantley. The similarities between the two are striking.  I don't know that Treon Harris can get us to Atlanta unless he improves as a passer, but like with Adam Lane I'm looking forward to seeing someone other than #6 take the first snap in 2015.

Turning to next year, the coaching staff seems to be coming together nicely and hopefully they'll hit the ground running when the recruiting dead period ends in ten days. We need offensive linemen and lots of them, and have the fewest commitments of any SEC school at this point. It would be huge if guys like Bullard and Morrison return for another year, but either way I like this staff's chances of hauling in a Top 20 class with the promise of early playing time in a prospect laden state like Florida. Going forward I think we'll see recruiting classes returning to perennial top 10 rankings.

I already mentioned that I like our running backs for next year. Our secondary will be the best in the country. Seriously, I'll take Vernon over every corner in the country, and the depth around him is staggering. Our receivers will be the best we've had in 4 years and I finally think we'll have a head coach who is willing to use them which will, in turn, make it easier to lure more to campus. The big questions will be our offensive line depth and the front seven on defense. But obviously you can lose a bunch of ballgames if you're not stout on both lines of scrimmage in this league. The schedule will be brutal again in 2015, but we can worry about that next Fall.

Enjoy the offseason, Gators. We're 1-0 in 2015 so we're already starting off better than last year!


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

End of Season Report

Hello, Gators. I know I say it all the time, but these football seasons seem to go by faster every year. We certainly had an interesting season. Going from what I'd hoped would be the "Season of Fun", Muschamp instead found it to be the "Season of Done" (see what I did there?). As in most setbacks in life, there are certainly lessons to be learned here. There are two major takeaways for me:

1. You can indefinitely suck at offense if nobody really tries to change anything;

2. Defense no longer wins championships.

I won't dwell on Coach Muschamp anymore, I feel like I did that in the last Report to the best of my ability, but the college game has definitely changed. When Bama is winning the Iron Bowl 55-44 you know that a premium has been put on offense and a team relying on ball control offense coupled with a stout defense is no longer going to win a championship. Take a look at the Final Four in terms of Total Offense: Oregon is 2nd, Ohio State is 4th, Bama is 8th and FSU is 26th (notably, Baylor is ranked 4th and TCU is 6th). By contrast, Oregon is the only Final Four member ranked in the Top 10 of total defenses (7th) while Bama is 42nd (Nick Saban has to be pissed deep down inside at this miserable showing), Ohio State 46th and FSU is 57th. So you can't be awful on defense, but if you can't score points in bunches you don't stand a chance.

In case you're wondering, Colorado State has the 17th ranked offense in terms of yardage in 2014 which is why Jim McElwain (heretofore to be deemed Coach Mac in the Report) is now residing in Gainesville. Now what remains to be seen is how quickly he can turn it around. This is an awfully tough league. Add in LSU as your annual West matchup and FSU as an every year opponent and Coach Mac has his work cut out for him. But I've got no issues with the hire, I just hope Gator fans give him time before they start booing him in games. To me, there are only two elite, slam dunk coaches in college football: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Sorry Gator fans, I know we have our issues with the Ohio State coach, but if you needed any further proof of his talent have a look at what he did on a neutral site against a good Wisconsin team with only a week to coach up his third string quarterback. Dude is a stud.

Job One for Coach Mac is getting recruiting back on track. Why a quarterback who had originally committed to Boom de-commits the day after Coach Mac is hired is beyond me, but I'm not worried about a QB that shows that type of decision making prowess. I don't think there's any chance he can land a top 5 class with the time he has remaining and the eventual coaching turnover we'll see in the next few weeks, but we can't afford a putrid year recruiting. Dante Fowler, Matt Jones, Antonio Morrison are headed to the NFL and may be joined by a few others before it is all said and done. We've got to get a quick infusion of talent to replace them.

Just as significantly, Coach Mac needs to put together a great staff. Having just paid the highest buyout in college football history, I have no doubt that Jeremy Foley will provide him with the resources he needs to make the hires he needs. I think we'll see 3 or 4 current coaches retained, but that's pure speculation. I also think you'll see an upgrade in facilities in the next few years to try and keep up with the arms race elsewhere in the conference. With a $110Million budget, there's no excuse for us to fall far behind.

Judging by his press conference and the reaction I've seen from fans, I think he'll have no trouble building excitement over the off season among the fan base which has been starved for offensive action for the last five years. But from there, next season is anyone's guess. The schedule doesn't get easier, with a tough early out of conference matchup against Eastern Carolina, Western opponents LSU and Ole Miss, and an improved SEC East. I also wonder if you can really topple Nick Saban and Alabama using one of his former coordinators. We tried it once with a defensive guy and we all saw the results. And make no mistake- If you can't beat Alabama, you can't win a national title. That said, we've got a long ways to go before that's our realistic goal. I'd settle for seeing Atlanta again in early December by the 2016 season.

In terms of our bowl game, I'll be shocked if we come out with much emotion at noon on January 3rd in Birmingham. East Carolina has the 7th ranked offense in the country, which ought to scare every Gator fan off the bat. The record of interim coaches in bowl games for Florida isn't impressive, so you've got to hope that the kids who will be playing in Gainesville next year for Coach Mac use the game as an opportunity to solidify starting spots for 2015. But I wouldn't hold my breath. It is a lot to ask for a bunch of coaches who are looking for work elsewhere to rally a team that knows that they'll be coached by a majority of other guys next year (particularly when many of your team leaders are also exiting).

You'll note that I got 3 out of the Final 4 correct (Bama, FSU and Oregon), missing badly on Oklahoma. I think TCU and Baylor got a raw deal, but they can blame their conference in my opinion, as the Big 12 spent millions branding the phrase "One True Champion" only to chicken out and name co-champions even though Baylor beat TCU on the field. I'd be shocked if a Texas or Oklahoma would have been passed over like Baylor and TCU were, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Big 12 got back into recruiting mode so that they could re-establish a championship game in the near future.

I'm going to take Bama over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Urban is a great big game coach, but he couldn't beat Saban with Tim Tebow at quarterback, so I don't give him much of a chance of getting past Nicky and his high octane offense with a third string QB starting for the Bucks. Bama 38-Buckeyes 24.

I'll take Oregon to finally beat the Noles even though the Ducks have not done well against legit out of conference opposition. The Noles penchant for slow starts is a killer against an Oregon squad who does nothing slow. Still, the Noles will make this one close before the Ducks pull it out. Ducks 42-Noles 35.

In Dallas, I'm picking the Tide even though Blake Sims will go down as the worst quarterback to win a championship for Alabama. I just think the Tide's depth on the D line is the perfect remedy for Oregon's hurry up offense and while Bama doesn't go to the ground and pound often anymore, they still have some bruisers in the backfield and will win the day with a balanced attack. Alabama 31-Oregon 28.

Here's to better days ahead, Gator fans. I hope you all have a great holiday and I look forward to checking back in after a long spring and summer respite from football.

Go Gators!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

End of the Boom Era

I can't say I was surprised when the news came today that Coach Muschamp had been fired. The miraculous win over Georgia and subsequent handling of Vandy stemmed the tide for a while, but he needed to win out at home to save his job. The team that played with so much fire and emotion on November 1 in Jacksonville to save their coach found a way to choke away a loss Saturday afternoon against a bad South Carolina football team. The great irony was that the Gamecocks had spent their conference season finding ways to lose games in the fourth quarter, but ran up against a team Saturday that was more determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If I'm a special teams player for Florida right now I'd have a hard time looking Boom in the eye today.

That said, Saturday's loss was less about late game special teams breakdowns and more about playing not to lose on offense. And while I think Will Muschamp is an incredible defensive coach, probably the best we've had or maybe ever will have at Florida, he lost his job today for the same reason he lost the game Saturday: We play scared on offense.

Fans like points and you can't win without them. But for four years we've played like we're scared to throw it and would rather try and eke out just enough points on the ground to win a close one thanks to an exceptional defense and error free special teams. To Will's credit, he's such a good defensive coach that this actually worked more often than it didn't. But when things broke down on special teams, we turned it over on offense, or the other team managed to pull away on the scoreboard, we simply had no chance to fight back on offense because we never made more than a cursory effort to be proficient throwing the ball downfield. Further, because we worried so little about passing, we stuck with a quarterback for too long who never demonstrated himself capable of passing the ball on this level or developing receivers who could help him. We completed 5 passes, attempted 11, and accumulated 60 yards in the air Saturday and none of us were surprised at the game plan. That bullheaded commitment to conservative offense is why we'll have a new head coach next year.

All that being said, I think a good number of Gator fans owe Will an apology. While he didn't win enough games, he is clearly a genius when it comes to defense. As a result, I think Will Muschamp will have his pick of defensive coordinator jobs and will make a pile of money for as long as he wants to coach. Hell, I bet Steve Spurrier is already thinking of bringing him up to Columbia. More importantly, unlike our friends in Tallahassee and our prior coach, he was admirably committed to having a clean program off the field, recruiting high quality individuals, and gave no quarter to those players who placed their own needs ahead of the team's. Those things matter to me and I'm grateful for all of his efforts in that regard. I just hope that if Will gets another chance to be a head coach in the future he remembers that championship teams scare you on both sides of the ball, not just on defense.

I'm not going to opine on who our next coach will be. I think we have the greatest Athletic Director in the country and trust that he'll make a great hire. I think that the team will play hard for Will and the rest of the staff for our last two games as well as in whatever bowl matchup in which we find ourselves. I think we win Saturday and hope the fans make a good showing in The Swamp to thank our seniors, departing coaches, as well as any juniors who are likely playing their last home game. I think we'll play the Noles tough for three quarters like seemingly everyone else does, but that their defensive front and down field passing attack will eventually overwhelm us.

Going forward, like the rest of us I'll wait and see what transpires with the coaching search and will do an end of season Report and bowl picks when the regular season ends. Until then, I say Go Gators and Good Luck to all of our coaches and their families who won't be in Gainesville next year.

Go Gators!