By: Thomas Lamm
Each week during the football season I’m going to tell you who’ll win games involving the Jaguars, the Seminoles and the Gators. To be sporty, I’ll give you the final scores, for entertainment purposes only, of course.
FSU vs. Oklahoma State, Dallas – Look for the Seminoles to flex their muscles. It’s good that the Noles begin defense of their national title with a major opponent. The Cowboys will provide a reasonable test and attract plenty of attention to test the Seminoles’ egos. But in the end this Indians-Cowboys contest will be as one-sided as The Battle of the Little Big Horn. FSU, favored by 19, wins 49-13.
Idaho at Florida – The Gators have much to prove and they’ll take out much of their frustration from last season on the visiting Vandals, who stink of defense. Still, there will be enough hiccups to worry Gator Nation, but for the moment The Swamp will be rocking as the Gators snap a 7-game losing streak. Florida, favored by 36½ wins 35-13.
Clemson at Georgia – I don’t have a good feeling about the Bulldogs. The offseason issues with young men behaving badly and starting a new quarterback, 5th-year senior Hudson Mason, give bad vibes. Clemson may be rebuilding on offense, but defensive end Vic Beasley and his mates will make it a long afternoon between the hedges. The Tigers, 8-point underdogs, pull off the upset, 24-20.
Miami at Louisville (Monday) – QB Teddy Bridgewater’s exit over rides Coach Bob Petrino’s return. The Hurricanes are getting better on the lines of scrimmage and that’s the key to this game. Miami, a 3-point underdog, wins 21-13.
Here’s another bonus -- Overall thoughts about the Seminoles:
FSU may be a better team this season than last year, and that’s a mouthful considering the Seminoles were unbeaten national champions in 2013.
That, by the way, doesn’t mean they’ll win another national title. In fact, I’m predicting they won’t repeat. Repeating is obviously difficult because it happens so seldom.
I’ll admit I’m playing the odds here because there are lots of reasons to rate FSU as the favorite. You can start with talent, throw in experience, add a returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and include a reasonably soft schedule.
They may actually have too much experience and talent. They’ll start nine seniors on offense, and that group doesn’t include their QB, Jameis Winston. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s most important jobs will be keeping his players focused on the next game, not the NFL and wannabe agents. That’s more challenging than game planning for Oklahoma State, Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame and Florida.
Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley is right not to put a number of what it will take to save the job of his beleaguered football coach, Will Muschamp.
Muschamp should be judged more on which teams the Gators defeat and lose to than their overall record.
If I was coaching the Gators they should win five games (Idaho, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky). If Bear Bryant was coaching the Gators they’d likely lose to Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State.
That means the season and Muschamp’s job comes down to a three-week stretch in October when the Gators play at Tennessee and then host LSU and Missouri.
Win those three games for an 8-4 record and Muschamp’s job should be safe. Anything less and he deserves to be fired.
The No. 1 key game is LSU. The Tigers likely will be favored in Gainesville. But Muschamp’s Gators must win at least one game as underdogs, particularly at home, to prove they are headed in the right direction.
I realize, of course, there are lots of variations of my simplistic outline of the season, where an 8-4 record wouldn’t be enough, in my opinion, to save Muschamp’s job. For one, he simply can’t afford to lose one of the five teams listed as “sure” victories – even if Florida upsets Georgia or South Carolina.
It’s possible, of course, the Gators could pull off several upsets. No one would argue the Gators have more than their share of elite athletes. Are they being properly prepared and motivated? Are they being put in the best positions for success? That’s coaching.
Another factor will be the style of football the Gators play. Muschamp has been a defensive-minded coach who believed in a grind-it-out offense to eat clock and avoid taking risks. Will the Gators continue to be so conservative on offense or will Muschamp allow new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to run his up-tempo offense?
What’s worse than losing? Losing and being boring.
I don’t think Muschamp should have been hired 3½ years ago. It quickly became obvious to me he was in over his head as a head coach at an elite program. Is it possible he has learned enough with on-the-job training to be successful at Florida?
Yes, that’s possible. We’ll find out in October.
I’m more confused than ever.
Based on what I’ve seen, Chad Henne has looked like a solid veteran journeyman NFL quarterback who has the talent to salvage a team’s season in an emergency. His preseason performances have been solid.
Based on what I’ve seen, Blake Bortles has looked even better than his lofty third overall draft selection would indicate. His preseason performances have been outstanding.
So why is Coach Gus Bradley so adamant that Henne is the starter and there’s no quarterback competition?
Listen, I know Bradley knows far more about football than I do. But that doesn’t mean he’s always right.
I also understand not rushing a rookie -- any rookie but especially a quarterback -- into the action too soon is smart. But Bortles seemingly has passed every test thrown his way. He appears more ready than advertised.
Many thought the Jaguars drafted Bortles too high. While everyone saw the potential – great size, athletic, tireless worker, relentless competitor – most thought he needed major work on his mechanics, things such as footwork; learning to read defenses; and playing more from the pocket.
I’m not suggesting Bortles is a finished product. There’s no doubt when the real season begins he’ll see things from sophisticated NFL defenses he’s never seen. He’ll make mistakes.
But he clearly he’s ahead of what even the Jaguars expected. NFL analysts are raving about his feel for the position, his mechanics, his poise and his not-so-raw talent. Bradley can’t hide the excitement in his voice when talking about his rookie quarterback.
I understand the value of learning by observation, but few would argue the best way to learn is by doing, not watching. Besides, it isn’t like Bortles is waiting in the wings while a future Hal of Famer plays.
Why wait? At the very least why not consider playing Bortles sooner than later.
Today I’m giving you an NFL pop quiz.
What’s the No. 1 key ingredient to winning in the NFL?
A -- Is it coaching?
B – Is it quarterback play?
C – Is it having outstanding lines of scrimmage?
D – Is it a great defense?
E – Is it luck (as in not getting screwed by the zebras)?
F -- None of the above.
The answer is F, none of the above.
So what is the key ingredient?
It’s staying healthy.
No word is used more often by coaches and players than “injury”. No phrase is uttered more often than “staying healthy”. In football the question isn’t if a player will be injured but when and how badly will he be injured.
Injuries are a part of all sports but nothing like they are in football. They indicate success and failure more than anything a GM, coach or player can do.
That’s why nearly every new rule is about protecting players. Trouble is large, powerful and fast men crashing into one another is the perfect formula for not staying healthy.
I find it more interesting who’s NOT ranked in the preseason top 25 college football polls voted on by the coaches and media than who is.
The polls are almost identical this year, as they are nearly every year, because, really, how many schools truly make the commitment to be a perennial top-25 team?
By my count there are 28 programs that ought to be ranked in the top 25 college football polls every year. They don’t include Penn State because who knows what its future is in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
These are the schools that spend the money to build the facilities and hire the best coaches, have large and passionate fan bases, are often willing to ignore academic and characters flaws in top athletes and have a history of success.
There are 20 of these schools ranked this year. Of the remaining eight there are three that grab your attention. I’m talking about Texas, Michigan and, yes, the Florida Gators. If they’re not ranked that means they have serious problems.
Big-time college football is easily the sport that has the biggest gap between the “haves” and have-nots”. Change in the college football landscape comes slowly.
Every year there are two or three Cinderella teams, teams that burst into the national spotlight for two or three years and then disappear. About every decade a new program joins the list of elite and near-elite programs and perhaps one falls out of those categories. Otherwise, everything remains basically the same. Shuffle the positions but the names remain the same -- like a deck of cards.
Which teams make up my “Power 28”?
By conference (* -- not ranked in preseason top 25):
SEC – Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee*, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida*.
ACC – FSU, Clemson, Virginia Tech*, Notre Dame and Louisville*.
Big Ten – Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan*, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Big 12 – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State* and Texas*.
Pac-12 – Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Arizona State and Arizona*
Among those that are close to joining this power category are Ole Miss, Missouri, Arkansas, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa, Central Florida and Boise State.
That’s a total of 42 schools. So how big a deal is it to make the top 25?
Not many people seem to believe David Caldwell and Gus Bradley when they repeatedly insist they plan to keep Blake Bortles on the bench all season. And with each passing pregame game the list gets longer, particularly among the national pundits.
The most common response of NFL analysts when the topic comes up is the roll their eyes and give a wink-wink like in, “Sure, they’re going to keep Bortles on the bench -- and I’ve got a great price for you to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Some, however, are getting . . . well, ESPN’s Tom Jackson called the Jaguars “disingenuous” when it came to their quarterback plans.
I do believe Caldwell and Bradley are sincere in wanting to give Bortles a year to learn on the sidelines because they know he probably doesn’t have enough help to enjoy much success. But I also believe they know waiting makes no sense if Bortles is ready to play and gives the team the best chance to win.
I believe what the Jaguars’ Dynamic Duo is doing is playing mind games, particularly with Chad Henne, who they insist is their starter for the 2014 season. Henne is an NFL journeyman whose career has been marked by his inconsistency. For every outstanding game he has played he has an equal number of stinkers.
Seldom has he gone into a season listed as the undisputed starter. Will such a show of confidence give him the confidence to consistently play at a higher level? That’s obviously what Caldwell and Bradley are counting on.
To the contrary, they want to protect Bortles from losing his confidence because of a weak supporting cast. Let the new offensive line work on continuity at Henne’s expense. Let the young wide receivers make rookie mistakes for the same reason.
I understand that reasoning but I don’t endorse it.
No one knows, of course, if Bortles will be ready now or ever. But that question won’t be answered with him on the bench. Yes, practice is important but it’s still practice.
Another reason to play Bortles as soon as possible is because . . . well, this is entertainment and an excited fan base is clamoring to see him. Watching Bortles could help partially offset the pain of another losing season.
And let’s be realistic. No one, including those inside Everbank Field, is expecting this to be a playoff team.