As the Gators begin putting on their game face today in anticipation of Saturday’s season opener with Idaho of the Sun Belt Conference, perhaps the most difficult job for Will Muschamp will be keeping his troops focused on the notion that the visiting Vandals are to be taken seriously. These guys have seen the tape. They know what happened the last time Idaho visited the state of Florida. That was last November 23 when Florida State covered a 57-point spread with an 80-14 beatdown. The Seminoles led 35-0 in the second quarter before the Vandals got on the board and it just got worse from there.
Phil Steele calls Idaho one of the most improved teams in the Sun Belt Conference this year but unless Florida is seriously overconfident and makes a bundle of unforced errors, this one should go ugly early. It’s probably safe to say there isn’t a single player on the Idaho roster that would have gotten a Florida scholarship offer coming out of high school so the talent gap is going to be substantial. Of course, that’s what we thought last year when Georgia Southern came to town, but there are huge differences. Georgia Southern ran a funky option offense that is difficult for any team at any level to prepare for in a week when healthy. The Gators, as we know, weren’t anywhere close to healthy. And, Georgia Southern’s roster was made up of players who are accustomed to winning and winning big at their level. The Vandals have a roster made up of players who have experienced four wins in the last three seasons.
Even if the Gators aren’t totally on their game, it’s hard to imagine a healthy Florida team losing to Idaho, but Muschamp can’t simply settle for a win. He needs the Gators to come into this game, teeth bared and ready to maul whatever stands in their way. If ever a team needed a blowout win – even if it is over one of the catfish in college football that feeds on the bottom – Florida needs one Saturday. The Gators bring a seven-game losing streak into this game, the longest at UF since the 1979 0-10-1 debut season for Charley Pell, so an impressive multi-touchdown win will be exactly what the doctor ordered for the team and for fans still in shock over a team that averaged only 18 points a game last year.
Back before his mind took a one-way trip to Never Never Land, Al Davis made the motto of the Oakland Raiders, “Just Win Baby.” A win is a necessity Saturday, but the Gators need to do more than “just win.” While simply blowing Idaho out won’t prove much since Florida has such a talent advantage to go with the home field, a dominating win in which there are very few missed assignments on both sides of the ball as well as special teams will make a statement to fans and future foes alike.
Jeff Driskel is the comfortable, unchallenged #1 quarterback but beyond that, the situation is rather murky. Skyler Mornhinweg got starting experience at the tail end of last season, but he certainly didn’t look the part of the backup in the open practice sessions earlier in the month. Freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris both showed better arms and there is no question they have better feet. Ideally, Muschamp would redshirt one of the two freshmen, but given Driskel’s history with injuries and Kurt Roper’s track record of playing two quarterbacks, can he afford to hold one of the freshmen back? If Driskel were to go down, having both Grier and Harris ready would seem prudent.
Here is a look at the starting quarterbacks at the other 13 SEC schools:
Alabama: As of Sunday, Nick Saban had yet to name a starting quarterback. In all probability, senior Blake Sims will get the start as a reward against West Virginia as a reward for loyalty, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker (junior) is expected to play and eventually take over as the starter at some point in the future.
Sims career stats: 23-39 passing for 244 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions; 67 carries, 355 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Coker career stats (FSU): 21-41 passing for 295 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception; 10 carries, 15 yards and 1 touchdown.
Arkansas: Junior Brandon Allen is the clearcut starter. His backup will be younger brother, freshman Austin Allen.Brandon Allen career stats: 149-207 passing for 1,738 yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; 37 carries, 26 yards and 1 touchdown.
Auburn: Senior Nick Marshall won’t get the start against Arkansas because of disciplinary action for a marijuana citation during the summer, but he will play in game one and he is the clearcut starter for the rest of the games. Sophomore Jeremy Johnson will get the start in game one.
Marshall career stats: 142-239 passing for 1,976 yards, 14 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; 172 carries for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns
GEORGIA: Senior Hutson Mason is the unchallenged starter. The backups quarterback is a bit fuzzy. It will either be sophomore Faton Bauta or redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey.
Mason career stats: 94-157, 1,324 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 30 carries, -8 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Kentucky: Third-year sophomore Patrick Towles emerged from a pack to earn the starting quarterback job for game one. Whether he will be the starter in game two remains to be seen. Senior Maxwell Smith has starter’s experience (21 touchdown passes in his career) is the likely backup. Will Kentucky be able to redshirt stud freshman QB Drew Barker?
Towles career stats: 19-40 passing for 233 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception; 11 carries, -14 yards rushing.
LSU: The Tigers still haven’t named a starter for game one against Wisconsin and have not ruled out a two-platoon QB system at least until sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris becomes the unquestioned best player at the position. Jennings does have starting experience so he probably will open the game against Wisconsin.
Jennings career stats: 13-29 passing for 181 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception; 19 carries, 18 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Mississippi State: There is no question who will start at quarterback is for the Bulldogs. If junior Dak Prescott stays healthy, he could put up monster numbers out of the spread option offense that has a big, veteran offensive line to lead the way. The backup is sophomore Damian Williams.
Prescott career stats: 174-296 passing for 2,134 yards, 14 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; 166 carries for 947 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Missouri: Third-year sophomore Maty Mauk, who got four starts last season when James Franklin was sidelined with an injury, takes over as the starting quarterback. The backup is junior Corbin Berkstresser, who got some starts two years ago when Franklin was injured.
Mauk career stats: 68-133 passing for 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; 41 carries, 229 yards and 1 touchdown.
Ole Miss: Senior Bo Wallace is 100% healthy for the first time in his Ole Miss career, so there is optimism and expectation for a monster season. Redshirt freshman DeVante Kincaid is expected to be the backup.
Wallace career stats: 518-805 passing for 6,340 yards, 40 touchdowns, 27 interceptions; 274 carries for 745 yards and 14 touchdowns.
South Carolina: Senior Dylan Thompson, who got some starts the last couple of years when Connor Shaw was injured, finally gets his chance to be the man at South Carolina. There is no clear cut winner of the backup job between redshirt freshman Connor Mitch and sophomore Perry Orth.
Thompson career stats: 120-218 for 1,827 yards, 14 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; 55 carries, 66 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Tennessee: Senior Justin Worley emerged from a four-man battle to claim the starting quarterback job for the Vols. Sophomore Josh Dobbs, who threw for 695 yards last year, is expected to be the backup.
Worley career stats: 172-306 passing for 1,977 yards, 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions; 26 carries for 34 yards.
Texas A&M: Sophomore Kenny Hill won a highly contested battle for the starting quarterback job with true freshman Kyle Allen. Don’t be surprised if Allen plays a lot the first few games and eventually takes over as the starter.
Hill career stats: 16-22 passing for 181 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions; 7 carries for 34 yards.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores named sophomore Patton Robinette, who played a lot and got a couple of starts last year, as the starter over LSU transfer Stephen Rivers and freshman Johnny McCrary. Of the three, McCrary has the greatest upside because of his running ability.
Robinette career stats: 46-88 passing for 642 yards, 4 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; 71 carries, 642 yards, 5 touchdowns.
Former Gator quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy have gone their separate ways since leaving Gainesville but they remain closest of friends. Brissett will be the starting quarterback at North Carolina State when the Wolfpack open their season with Georgia Southern next Saturday while Murphy will be the starter for Boston College, which opens against UMass. Both insist they have put Florida in the rearview mirror, but Brissett made it clear in an interview with ESPN.com that perhaps there is still a teensy bit of resentment. Said Brissett, “You want to show them why you transferred and show them you could play at the highest level. Whatever they said you couldn’t do, you go out there and do it. All it takes I the right person, the right situation and the right coach to say, ‘You’re my guy.’ And I’m pretty sure Murphy’s thinking the same thing. It’s not worrying about Florida. It’s worrying about ourselves.”
Michael Sam, who was passed over what seemed like a zillion times when the NFL drafted back in May, is making a point with his play in the NFL preseason. He got a sack last week against the Green Bay Packers, then sacked Johnny Football twice Saturday night when the St. Louis Rams knocked off the Cleveland Browns. After the first sack, Sam mimicked Johnny Football’s show me the money gesture. The NFL’s first openly gay player, Sam seems to be letting everyone know that his sexual orientation has nothing at all to do with what he can do on the field. You would think that his productivity in the Southeastern Conference, where he was the defensive player of the year last year, might have been a clue that he can play the game at the highest level.
Dorial Green-Beckham’s appeal for a waiver that would allow him to play immediately for Oklahoma has been denied by the NCAA. Green-Beckham has four choices: Sit out the entire season and play next year for Oklahoma; Go to a Division I-AA or Division II school to play immediately; sit out the entire season and wait for next May’s NFL Draft or go play in Canada. Because of his troubled past, Green-Beckham might be smart to take either the lower division college or Canadian Football League route ... Former Heisman Trophy winner and Oklahoma All-American Sam Bradford tore his ACL in the St. Louis Rams’ exhibition win over X and is done for the season ... Former Gator Frankie Hammond Jr. has been the Kansas City Chiefs’ most consistent receiver in training camp ... True freshman Brad Kaaya has beaten out former BYU and Kansas starter Jake Heaps for the starting QB job at Miami ... Baylor’s new state of the art stadium has 16 premium boat slips along the Brazos River that go for $3,000 a year ... Has any quarterback looked consistently worse than former FSU QB E.J. Manuel (Buffalo Bills) during this NFL preseason? Manuel’s inability to hit open receivers might have something to do with the Bills being ranked #29 (among 32 teams) in The Sporting News power rankings.
Do you think Florida fans will be satisfied with anything less than a blowout win Saturday against Idaho?
While in high school, Carole King dated Neil Sedaka and formed a band with Paul Simon, which might somewhat explain how she became such a prolific songwriter. Before she ever recorded a solo album, King had already written such hits as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for the Shirelles; “The Loco Motion” for Little Eva, who was her babysitter in the 1960s; “Up On the Roof” for The Drifters; “Chains,” which The Beatles turned into a hit; “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for The Monkees” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin. King’s 1971 “Tapestry” album remains one of the best selling albums of all-time including “So Far Away” which reached #1 on the singles charts and
“You’ve Got a Friend” which James Taylor turned into a #1. We’ll start out Songwriter’s Week with a version “You’ve Got a Friend” performed by James Taylor with Carole King on the piano.