The Gators have been established as 36-point favorites over Idaho in the season opener by the Las Vegas oddsmakers. On the surface, that would seem as if the people who make the point spreads think the Gators will be vastly improved from last year’s team which averaged just 18.8 points per game, but any decent offense from an SEC school should be able to light up the Vandals. Idaho gave up 47 points per game last year, allowing 40 or more in nine games including 80 to Florida State on the road in November. While Idaho does return nine defensive starters, simply being a year older doesn’t necessarily translate to being a year better.
The same could be said about the Gators, who return much of the same personnel that couldn’t put points on the board last year. But, there is reason to feel optimistic that things will be better starting with the simple fact that the walk to the line of scrimmage, milk the clock approach of the last two years has been replaced with Kurt Roper’s up-tempo, no-huddle philosophy that relies heavily on getting the ball quickly out of the hands of quarterback Jeff Driskel into wide receivers and running backs who will be operating more in space. Roper did wonders with Duke’s offense and he didn’t have near the speed or athleticism nor the depth that he has at his disposal now.
Put in proper perspective, the Gators might very well light up Idaho for six or more touchdowns but even if they do, it will be hard to gauge improvement just as it will be difficult to determine any improvement in the offensive scheme in week two when Eastern Michigan comes to town. What can and should happen in these first two games, however, is for confidence to build in what Roper is trying to accomplish and the development of cohesion with the offensive unit.
Still, offensive explosion even against bad teams will be a pleasant diversion after last season. The Gators opened their 2013 season with a 24-6 win over Toledo of the Mid-American Conference and only made it to the 30-point mark twice – a 31-17 win over Tennessee and a 30-10 win over Arkansas. The Gators averaged 25 points per game in their first five games last year (4-1 record) and only 17.3 in the final seven (all losses).
#2 ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide is a 25-1/2 point favorite to beat West Virginia Saturday in Atlanta ... Nick Saban still hasn’t named a starting quarterback between senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Neither quarterback has ever started a collegiate game. This is the first time since he’s been at Alabama that Nick Saban began the season with a quarterback who has never started ... Nick Saban coaching record: 165-57-1 overall, 79-15 at Alabama.
ARKANSAS: The Razorbacks are a 20-1/2 road dog at Auburn ... Quarterback Brandon Allen is 3-9 as a starting quarterback ... Since 1992, the Razorbacks are 33-53-2 on the road ... Bret Bielema coaching record: 71-33 overall; 3-9 at Arkansas.
#6 AUBURN: The Tigers are 20-1/2 point favorites at home over Arkansas ... Jeremy Johnson (2-0 as a starter) will take the first snaps but at some point Nick Marshall (10-2) will take over ... Gus Malzahn coaching record: 21-5 overall; 12-2 at Auburn.
#12 Georgia: The Bulldogs are 7-1/2 point favorites at home against Clemson ... Hutson Mason has a 1-1 record as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback ... Mark Richt coaching record: 126-45 at Georgia.
Kentucky: There are no point spreads posted for Kentucky’s home opener with Tennessee-Martin, a DIAA team from the Ohio Valley Conference ... This will be the first career start for quarterback Patrick Towles. Backup Maxwell Smith has a 3-9 career record ... Mark Stoops coaching record: 2-10 at Kentucky.
#13 LSU: LSU is a 4-1/2 point favorite over Wisconsin in a neutral site game played in Houston ... Anthony Jennings has a 1-1 record as LSU’s starting quarterback ... Les Miles coaching record: 123-45 overall, 95-24 at LSU.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are a 30-1/2 point favorite to beat Southern Miss in Starkville ... Dak Prescott has a 4-4 career record as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback ... Dan Mullen coaching record: 36-28 at Mississippi State.
#24 Missouri: There are no point spreads posted for Missouri’s home opener with South Dakota State of the Division I-AA Missouri Valley Conference ... Sophomore Maty Mauk is 3-1 as Missouri’s starting quarterback ... Gary Pinkel coaching record: 175-100-3 overall; 102-63 at Missouri.
#18 Ole Miss: The Rebels are 10-1/2 point favorites over Boise State of the Mountain West Conference in their Thursday night season opener in Atlanta ... Bo Wallace has a 15-11 record as the Ole Miss starting quarterback ... Hugh Freeze coaching record: 45-18 overall; 15-11 at Ole Miss.
#9 South Carolina: The Gamecocks are 10-1/2 point favorites to beat Texas A&M in their Thursday night season opener in Columbia ... Senior Dylan Thompson is 3-0 in his career starts at South Carolina ... Steve Spurrier coaching record: 219-79-2 overall; 77-39 at South Carolina.
TENNESSEE: Tennessee is only a 6-point favorite to beat Utah State of the Mountain West Conference at Neyland Stadium ... Justin Worley has a 5-5 career record as the Vols’ starting QB ... Butch Jones coaching record: 55-34 overall; 5-7 at Tennessee.
#21 Texas A&M: The Aggies are 10-1/2 point road dogs at South Carolina Thursday night ... Kenny Hill has never started a game at quarterback for the Aggies ... Kevin Sumlin coaching record: 55-23 overall; 20-6 at Texas A&M.
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt is a 14-point favorite over Temple in a Thursday night home opener ... Patton Robinette has a 2-1 record as the starting quarterback ... Derek Mason coaching record: 0-0.
Former Gator Josh Shaw, a starting corner for Southern Cal, won’t be playing for awhile after suffering two high ankle sprains while rescuing his nephew, who was in danger of drowning. Shaw saw his 7-year-old nephew, who can’t swim, struggling to keep his head above the water in a pool. Shaw jumped off a second story balcony onto the concrete below, spraining both ankles. He crawled into the pool and rescued his nephew. Shaw won’t be able to play for awhile while rehabbing two high ankle sprains, but he says if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t hesitate. “I would do it again for whatever kid it was, it didn’t have to be my nephew,” Shaw said in a release by the Southern Cal SID.
Tiger Woods announced on his website that he has parted ways with swing coach Sean Foley. Foley says the split was amicable, but if you buy that then you probably would fall for a sales pitch involving swampland south of Naples. Spin it any way you want but Foley was fired. A lot of analysts who have watched the film of Woods’ swing over the years, note that in the four years that Foley has been Tiger’s coach, his swing has changed in such a way that it puts tremendous strain on his lower back. Woods had back surgery earlier in the year and is now taking a couple of months away from golf after re-aggravating the painful back at several recent events including the PGA. While a lot of Tiger fans are hoping for a reunion with former swing coach Butch Harmon (1997-2002), there isn’t much chance that would happen since Harmon now works with Phil Mickelson, among others.
The US Open tennis tournament has begin in New York. Will you watch only the highlights on Sports Center or will you tune in to actually watch matches being played over the next two weeks?
One of the more prolific songwriters of our time is Paul Simon, who has shown an amazing ability to adapt through the years. Writing for Simon and Garfunkel, his music took us from the folk era and through the protest era with terrific melodies and beautiful lyrics to songs such as “Scarborough Fair” and “Sounds of Silence.” He went through a period in the 1970s when he teamed up with soul gospel legends, The Dixie Hummingbirds, for “Loves Me Like a Rock” and then in the 1980s he went to South Africa where he introduced us to Zulu music and the incredible Ladysmith Black Mambazo along with helping to rebirth the career of Hugh Masakela. Whatever the period, Simon has pretty much stayed one step ahead of the curve as a songwriter. My favorite Simon and Garfunkel song for Songwriter’s Week is “The Boxer.” The harmony and lyrics are masterful.