Tag Archives: Jim McElwain

Making Death Threats Is Not A Part Of Being A Sports Fan

As their team sits at 3-3 and in 2nd-place in the SEC East, fans of the Florida Gators thought their season would be going better than it has up to this point. There was the season-opening 33-17 loss to a disappointing Michigan team. And they lost frustrating games to LSU and Texas A&M. None of these losses were bad losses but those games against LSU and Texas A&M should have been wins.

I’m here to tell fans of the Gators that it’s just a game. It’s. Just. A. Game.

But for a vocal, impulsive minority portion of the fanbase, it’s more than just a game. This is SEC football and everyone should dominate the way Nick Saban and Alabama do. So naturally (?) some Florida fans have resorted to making death threats against both Jim McElwain and some of the players.

If you’re a fan of the Gators, there are bigger things in life than the record of the football team. If you’re a fan of any team, there should be bigger things in your life. But this is SEC football. Remember? “It Just Means More.”

Except it doesn’t.

The success or lack thereof of your favorite sports team should not mean more. It shouldn’t mean more than your well-being, the well-being of your family, or the strength of your relationships with others. Most of us understand this. But sadly many don’t.

Your happiness and reason d’etre shouldn’t hinge on the success of a sports team. And when your mental sanity is tethered to the record of a sports team, you only appear more delusional when it’s a college team your psyche is tied to. If you’re a grown ass man or woman, stop worshipping 17-21 year old kids and go find a life. It’s a big world out there and Jim McElwain shouldn’t be the captain of your ship.

This attitude is nothing new, particularly in the SEC.

I’m not a fan of NCAA basketball referee John Higgins. When I say that, what I really mean is that I’m not a fan of Higgins as referee. He may very well be a great guy and great businessman. When the Kentucky basketball team lost to North Carolina in the 2017 NCAA tournament, some Wildcat fans blamed Higgins. And you guessed it, there were even threats made against his life.

These aren’t the only examples of fans going off the deep end but these are two of the most reason examples in the SEC.

Watch your team on television. Go to the games. Be an armchair quarterback on message boards. Have fun being a fan. But remember this. It’s all about fun for you. Your livelihood doesn’t depend on the success of your favorite team and neither should your happiness.

If you find a need to harass and threaten the lives of coaches and players then being a fan of a team isn’t for you. You need to put on yourself on probation for lack of institutional control and come back to sports when you’re mature enough to handle it.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] 

Photo: Pixabay

How Many Games Will the SEC Lose This Weekend?

The SEC has plenty of all-but-guaranteed wins in the first week of the 2017 college football season. But, the SEC also has multiple games that are toss-ups and some that look like likely losses.

As a lover of all things SEC football, I’ve been contemplating what kind of record the SEC will emerge from this opening weekend of games with.

Last year, the ACC proved to be stronger than many anticipated (even though I made an early call on that one). But with three at least decent ACC opponents scheduled for SEC teams this first weekend, should the SEC be worried?

There’s also that Michigan-Florida rematch from about a year and a half ago when the Wolverines annihilated the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Should we go ahead and give this one to Michigan, too?

What about Texas A&M and UCLA? Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. Will he be able to get his second-straight win over the Bruins and ease the pressure down in College Station a bit?

Unfortunately, I am not Brandon Stark and I do not have “the sight.” I cannot give you a completely confident answer for any of those questions I just posed. I can, however, give you a few game predictions along with my reasoning for my picks.

The NC State Wolfpack and South Carolina Gamecocks face off on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. This game poses an interesting offense-defense matchup for the teams. NC State has a powerful defensive line but will be lacking in the secondary. South Carolina may be lacking on the offensive line, but boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season in Jake Bentley. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives NC State a 62.7% chance of winning this game. After seeing how the ACC fared last season and considering the intriguing matchup, I give a slight edge to the Wolfpack here as well. Regardless of the outcome, I expect this to be a close contest.

The Florida State Seminoles and Alabama Crimson Tide also face off in an ACC-SEC matchup on Saturday in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’ll never be one to bet against Nick Saban and Alabama, but if I were going to bet against him, I would be considering this game. ESPN’s FPI may give the Tide a 59%-41% advantage over the Seminoles, but the computers don’t know everything. Alabama returns numerous important pieces of its puzzle, and so does Florida State. Florida State seems to have the advantage on offense while Alabama has the defensive advantage. At the end of the day, this will probably come down to coaching. And in that scenario, I’ll take Nick Saban.

The Tennessee Volunteers play another ACC opponent next Monday, when they also visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A few weeks ago, I would’ve said Tennessee was likely in trouble in this game. After the Yellow Jackets dismissed top returning running back Dedrick Mills from the team, Tennessee’s chances to win this game surged. After a rough 2016 season defensively, the Vols might have had trouble defending such a dynamic offense. But the loss of Mills will be insurmountable for the Yellow Jackets at this point in the season, giving Tennessee a good shot at winning this game. And for what it’s worth, ESPN’s FPI also gives the Vols a good shot here with a 68.1%-31.9% advantage.

The Michigan Wolverines take on The Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Due to a 41-7 Michigan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl the concluded the teams’ 2015 seasons, there is doubt that Florida can even put up a good fight. Michigan returns almost nobody noteworthy from that 2015 team. So, I find that bowl victory to be irrelevant. Florida returns multiple starters, boasts a very talented receiving corps, and has very capable young defensive players to fill gaps left by last year’s departures. Michigan returns talent and has young players stepping up as well, make no mistake. But because of Florida Coach Jim McElwain, I’m leaning toward the Gators for this huge matchup. ESPN’s FPI isn’t any help here, being a near-toss-up at Michigan 50.5%, Florida 49.5%.

The Texas A&M Aggies travel to Pasadena, CA, this weekend to take on the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two teams kicked off the season in College Station, TX, with an overtime thriller. The Aggies finished the 2016 regular season at 8-4 while the Bruins finished at 4-8. The Aggies lost countless starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Their season is as unpredictable as ever under Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. The Bruins finished 4-8 last season, only winning one game after losing starting QB Josh Rosen to a season-ending injury. With Rosen back, the Bruins could be poised to bounce back with a vengeance this season. Because of Rosen and Texas A&M’s departures, I have to give the edge to UCLA here. ESPN’s FPI will back me up on this one, giving the Bruins a 68.4% chance of winning this game.

The question I posed remains. How many losses will the SEC endure in its first week of play this season? If you go by my answers here, it’s only two. But with a couple of my SEC wins being close calls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four losses from the SEC this weekend.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Two Losers and Two Winners from National Signing Day

Well, that’s all she wrote, folks. Another National Signing Day has come and gone, so now there is only one thing left to do: judge the programs commitment hauls before the players even take the field. We will be taking a look at the two biggest respective winners and losers from NSD, and what the future may hold for each.

Loser: The Texas Longhorns

What a start to the Tom Herman era at UT, huh? The Longhorns found themselves outside the top 10 in the 24/7 rankings for the first time since 2014. However, signing day was much worse than that. Texas wound up finishing ranked No. 26, far from where the boosters hope the team to be under the coach they fought so hard to get. Texas lost out on several top targets on NSD, including 5 star K’Lavon Chaisson amongst others. This is a tough start for the Herman era, one not too unfamiliar for Texas fans, as they went through a similar experience with Charlie Strong.

 Winner: The Florida Gators

The Gators, as little as a week ago, were ranked No. 31 in 24/7 Sports‘ recruitment ranking. However, the man who “cannot close”, Jim McElwain, shocked everybody by running the table of Signing Day. The Gators held on to the players that had been leaning its way, like top recruit Tedarrell Slaton, but also had some surprising landings as well. Brian Edwards decision to attend Florida over Miami of Florida wasn’t the biggest news of the day, but it was a player the staff was happily surprised to have fall their way. However, the biggest shock (at least in my mind) of National Signing Day came around 3:30 eastern, when it was announced that James Robinson out of Lakeland, Florida would be signing with the Gators. Robinson recently had his dreams seemingly derailed after an “incident” during his official visit to Ohio State caused many teams, including the Gators to rescind their scholarship offers. Even moments before the signing was announced it seemed as if Robinson would have to wait to sign (and most likely with a smaller school), but McElwain pulled a rabbit out of his hat by somehow convincing the administration to take a chance on Robinson. Florida was by far the biggest riser on National Signing Day.

Loser: Jarez Parks

You hate seeing this happen, and it seems to every year. A young recruit announces his signing only to have his “dream school” tell him that he either doesn’t have a scholarship offer or that they don’t have the space for him. This year’s train wreck was especially hard to watch. Parks, through an elaborate video, filmed in Paris, that he put on twitter, announced his signing to Alabama fairly early in the day. However, turned out that the Crimson Tide didn’t have the “space” for the top 60 prospect, so he was forced to go in front of his school and, instead of signing his letter of intent, tell everyone that his decision was being delayed. It hurt to watch. Parks ended up signing as a grayshirt with ‘Bama, but to see a day that should be the best of someone’s life fall apart like it did for Parks is terrible.

Winner: Kobe Buffalomeat

The biggest signing of the day went to Illinois State. That’s right, I said Illinois State, an FCS team. However, it was unsurprising to see why it was the best signing of the day, as the recruit they got was named Kobe Buffalomeat. Social media (namely Twittergot in on the action, and by the end of the day the commitment had shaken the college football world. Eat your heart out, Hingle McCringleberry.

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.
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Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

A Coach’s Guide to Keeping SEC Fans Happy

It seems like there are always coaching rumors out there. Between angry fan bases tired of their current coaches and fan bases hoping to hire a top candidate, coaches are always a hot topic. But what can coaches do in their current jobs to keep fans happy? More specifically, how can SEC coaches keep their fans happy?

We’ve said goodbye to a couple long-time coaches over the past year, Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles. Now, fans in the SEC East are displeased with a couple of coaches that really haven’t done anything except be pretty darn successful. The two coaches that come to mind are Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Florida’s Jim McElwain.

Using these four coaches, I’m going to set forth some simple guidelines that should help keep these finicky SEC fans happy.

1. Get top recruiting classes.

Butch Jones has done well recruiting while at Tennessee, with fans (like my dad) excited over many of the players he’s brought in. Jim McElwain has only brought in two classes, but has gained a name amongst fans because of all the three-star recruits he brings. Both Georgia and LSU averaged top ten classes over the past five years, but both Richt and Miles were fired. Okay, so maybe recruiting won’t save your job. But as McElwain knows, not recruiting the best players will make people mad at you even if you are successful.

2. Hire and/or fire the right coaches.

This one is big. McElwain brought in Doug Nussmeier to be his offensive coordinator at Florida. This hire has drawn all sorts of criticism from Gator fans since the Gator offense still looks pretty miserable. Even many of those who want to keep McElwain (and fans should want to keep him) are calling for him to get rid of Nussmeier. Jones, who is also drawing criticism from the fans, is getting heat for some of his coaching hires. After the way the defense has played this season, it seems like Bob Shoop as defensive coordinator may not have been the best hire for Jones even though he was touted as a “great get” for the Vols.

3. Keep your players out of trouble.

In some instances, this may not actually be a priority. Just look at all the Baylor fans that want former coach Art Briles back. But overall, keeping players out of trouble is important. If your team is making headlines because of the crimes the players commit off the field, then nobody is going to be able to pay attention to what the team does on the field. Keeping these young men out of trouble also gives them a much better shot of succeeding at the next level. As we’ve all seen with Johnny Manziel, bad behavior in college can turn into bad behavior once you’re a professional. And if things get bad enough, you can lose your job.

4. Don’t just win your division.

This is where I’m really looking at you, Gator fans. Jim McElwain came in to a pretty decent program with a solid defense but an abysmal offense. In both of his first two years at Florida, he has managed to navigate the Gators to the SEC Championship Game as the East Division Champions. In his first year, the Gators actually swept SEC East play. But apparently for some spoiled and/or delusional fans, just winning the division isn’t enough. And maybe it isn’t enough in the grand scheme of things, but in the first two years that kind of success is unprecedented. Literally.

5. Beat your rivals.

I cannot say this enough. Beating your rivals is possibly the most important goal to keep in mind as a head coach, aside from those big rings. But we’ll get to those. One thing Les Miles was struggling with lately was beating LSU’s biggest SEC West rival, Alabama. And maybe there isn’t a coach out there who could really beat Nick Saban. But fans were willing to try to find one. On the other hand, Jones finally beat two of Tennessee’s three biggest rivals this year. The Vols claimed their first victory over the Gators since 2004. The Vols also beat the Bulldogs for the second year in a row. So even with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, Jones did accomplish some goals this season. Beating Florida and Georgia may not have gotten them the SEC East Championship, but it did get the fans some bragging rights. And that is really Coach Jones’ saving grace after an otherwise disappointing season.

6. Win rings.

Miles and Richt are great examples of why this guideline matters. In his entire time at Georgia, Richt only had less than eight wins in one season. He won the SEC East and the SEC multiple times. But one big thing Richt could never do was taking home a big championship. As I’ve previously said of him, he’s always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Close but no cigar. Miles did bring a National Championship home to Baton Rouge once. And I’m sure Tiger fans will always be grateful for that. But he struggled to make it back to the big game once Saban emerged as the best coach in all of college football. And for the LSU football program, this was unforgivable. Miles was a consistently good coach, but the school let him go to try to find a coach great enough to give Saban a run for his money. Then LSU hired Ed Orgeron… Interesting choice given exactly why Miles was let go, but that’s another story for another day.

7. Don’t use clichés as staples in your pressers.

This last one is something that may not seem important to everyone, but the way a coach presents himself and represents the program at press conferences is extremely important. Most recently, Jones completely violated this guideline. And consequently, #VolTwitter exploded. Talking about his team a little over a week ago he said, “They’ve won the biggest championship—and that’s the championship of life.” Is he a motivational speaker or a head football coach? I get it—the young men did well for themselves. Amen! But you can’t use lines like this to avoid taking ownership of the fact that you have failed to bring a National Championship, SEC Championship or even SEC East Championship to the program. If you don’t accomplish your goals, acknowledge it instead of sugar-coating it. Show the players, fans and recruits that you still want to win actual championships.

 

Bonus: Beat Nick Saban.

This one needs no explanation. Just beat Nick Saban. Somebody, please do it.

 

This list is obviously not comprehensive, but in using two former and two current SEC coaches as examples, I would like to think I’ve pin-pointed some important guidelines for keeping fans happy. Some fans (Hi, Gators) may never be satisfied, but that doesn’t mean a coach can’t do everything in his power to try to appease them. Coaches Miles and Richt: I’m sorry the fans gave up on you because good wasn’t good enough. Coaches Jones and McElwain: I’m rooting for you. We’re all rooting for you.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Sean Davis, Flickr

Butch Jones is Winning the Championship of Life

When Butch Jones was hired in 2013 to be the head coach of the University of Tennesse football team, he brought with him all of the hopes and dreams that accompany all new coaches. Jones was going to restore the greatness of the Volunteer football program that hadn’t been seen since Phil Fulmer was leading the program to conference and national championship games.

But hopes and dreams don’t always turn out as planned.

Since arriving in Knoxville, Jones has collected an impressive array of talent. There have been high-profile recruits all over the field for Jones. Nevermind that much of that talent didn’t stick around Knoxville. Even with this level of attrition, there was still enough talent left that fans and the media began expecting and anticipating championship caliber years.

The fact-of-the-matter is that none of the championship expectations ever materialized. Since taking over the Volunteer program, Jones has lost the SEC East to Missouri and Florida. Both Missouri and Florida have each won the East twice. It’s far easier for Volunteer fans to accept losing the division to Florida as opposed to Missouri. Missouri is the team that Tennessee fans like to beat up on. But Missouri has had far more recent success than Tennessee. That has to be tough to swallow.

So what does Jones have to hang his hat on during his tenure on the Tennessee sideline? Life. In his recent press conference, Jones said that his team may not have ever won the SEC East, but in his mind, his team has won the championship of life.

This sounds ridiculous. Jones attempted to detract from his team’s on-field performance by talking about how mature his players are.  No, coach Jones, the perceived maturity of your players doesn’t balance the scales when weighed against the lack of high-level success.

Jones talked about this year’s senior class bringing Tennessee back. But Tennessee really isn’t back. The Vols haven’t won a divisional SEC East championship since 2007 and haven’t won the SEC championship since 1998. Tennessee isn’t back.

The graduation rate was also referenced by Jones. Yes, a high percentage of his players have and will graduate. We all know about the academic prowess of Joshua Dobbs. But the graduation rate of his players isn’t going to pacify the fans. As the years tick by, Tennessee fans won’t accept Missouri winning divisional titles even with the high graduation rate of Jones’ program.

Speaking of Dobbs, he had his coach’s back and defended the championship of life comment.

Dobbs should be commended for sticking up for his coach, but it doesn’t make Jones’ comment any less absurd. And in defending Jones the way that Dobbs did, Dobbs came off sounding just as ignorant as Jones. When Dobbs and his teammates look back on their time in Knoxville, wins and losses will matter. Dobbs’ record is what will define his Tennessee legacy. Not the relationships that he built or how he affected the people he came in contact with. And what will matter least in defining his legacy will be how much he enjoyed his experience at Tennessee. Dobbs will leave Tennessee with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Great. The fact remains that Tennessee never won as much as a divisional championship with Dobbs as the full-time starting quarterback.

Jones has to be savvier than this. He has to know that he can’t minimize the lack of championships being won in Knoxville. Especially this year. Tennessee should have run away with the East. The Vols had talent and depth and Jones should have been considered the gold standard of coaches in the East. Remember, Barry Odom and Kirby Smart have never been head coaches before this year and Will Muschamp is in his first year at South Carolina. Jim McElwain is a fine enough coach, but his Florida team doesn’t have an offense that anyone trusts. This is what Jones and Tennessee lost the division too. Jones continues to be unable to win a division that is often times referred to as “hot garbage.”

Jones seems content to take a We Are The World attitude as his team wins championships of life. He needs to acknowledge the reality of the situation. His teams haven’t been good enough to beat “hot garbage.”

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Florida Gators Will Beat Mizzou and Prove They Aren’t Afraid of Tigers

Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion lately, the Florida Gators are not scared of Tigers. They are not scared of the LSU Tigers and are definitely not scared of the Missouri Tigers.

Due to Mother Nature having a mind of her own, the Gators were not able to host the LSU Tigers last weekend. Because conspiracy theorists are everywhere nowadays, a hurricane postponement somehow morphed into the storyline of Florida being scared to play a football game. Ha. The internet trolls must’ve been incredibly bored last week.

The Florida Gators are in the AP Top 25. They have no reason to be scared of anybody.

Apparently losing one road game in an SEC East rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers means that the Gators are just going to be scared from now on. Not only do the Vols get credit for being a top 10 team, this was also the first time they had beaten Florida since 2004. For some reason, I don’t think that all adds up to mean the Gators should be frightened by the remainder of their opponents. That moonshine up in Tennessee must be great, because countless Vol fans would disagree.

So, now that we know the Gators have no reason to be scared of the LSU Tigers, let’s talk about why they also have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be scared of the Missouri Tigers.

Last year Florida marched into Columbia, Missouri, and beat the Tigers 21-3. This year’s team seems pretty similar to last year’s except with far more potential on offense, especially now that Luke Del Rio is back at quarterback. This Florida team also now has a great kicker in social media sensation Eddy Pineiro.

The Tigers have been all over the place this season. They started out with a 15-point loss on the road to the West Virginia Mountaineers. The next week they hosted the Eastern Michigan Eagles and beat them by a whopping 40 points. After that, they hosted the Georgia Bulldogs and eventually lost that game by only a point. Not surprisingly, the Tigers then beat up on the Delaware State Hornets the next week, winning that one 79-0. Two weeks ago, the Tigers traveled to Baton Rouge and lost to some other “scary” Tigers, 42-7.

That puts the Missouri Tigers at 2-3 overall. Meanwhile, the Florida Gators are 4-1, even though they’ve been missing some of their defensive line as well as their starting quarterback for the last two games.

When you look at it that way, the Gators have absolutely nothing to be afraid of this weekend. There are a lot of other ways you can look at it that will support that same Gator confidence.

Missouri’s biggest strength is its passing game. Florida’s biggest strength is probably its group of defensive backs led by likely first-round draft picks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor. No SEC team has more interceptions so far this season than the Gators. Georgia also has eight interceptions but has played one more game than Florida has. Only one SEC team has more sacks than Florida and unsurprisingly that team is Alabama. Texas A&M also has 19 sacks but, again, they have played an extra game comparatively.

By the way, as far as yardage goes, Florida has the fourth-best passing defense in the country. Do I hear a “DBU” chant starting?

Even though Missouri’s rushing attack hasn’t been its biggest strength, Florida is also ranked in the top ten in rushing defense. And even beyond that, Florida has only allowed an average of 11.6 points per game this season. With a defense like that, the Gators have nothing to be scared of when it comes to this Missouri team.

The Missouri defense, on the other hand, has been shaky at best. The Florida offense has performed similarly. But, now that Luke Del Rio will be starting again, I expect Florida’s offensive production to improve at least marginally.

Florida’s special teams? Well, kick returning hasn’t been great. Like I said before, Florida finally has a solid kicker in Pineiro. Florida also has a great punter in Johnny Townsend, who has averaged 50.2 yards per punt this season.

Basically, no matter which way you look at it, Missouri is the team that should be (and probably is) scared. I know that the last time Missouri came to town for homecoming, things didn’t go so well for Florida. But that was the Muschamp era and this is the McElwain era. Coach Muschamp is currently 2-4 at South Carolina, if you really needed any explanation on why the difference in head coaches is significant.

So, after a week off and a week of ridicule from LSU Tigers and Tennessee Vols fans alike, the Gators are going to remind everyone just why we aren’t scared of anybody. Championship teams often have one loss anyway, so you can’t count out the Gators just yet.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo of student ticket from Kristen Botica.

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Tennessee and Florida: the Evolution of an SEC East Rivalry

This month, I was given the task of writing an article about “my” team’s biggest rivalry. This obviously posed an interesting question for me…which team would I be considering my own? If I were to stick with my Tennessee roots, then I would surely be writing about years of Tennessee-Florida matchups. But if I were to decide that Florida is “my” team for this purpose, then there would be no mention of Tennessee and it would be all about Florida playing Florida State. Funny how that works out! I, of course, decided to choose the option that allowed me the chance to talk about both of my teams in discussing Tennessee’s history of losses and their recent rivalry woes against the Florida Gators.

When the Rivalry Really Began

Those woes started about eleven years ago, now. But the real reason this qualifies as a rivalry is because of what happened in the 1990s. Though the teams did play before then, it was in 1992 that the SEC divisions made their matchup a permanent one. Any competitor that stands in your way of the division title is automatically going to be a rival. In the 1990s, the division title wasn’t the only one both teams seemed to be constantly chasing. Between the Vols and the Gators, they took eight out of ten SEC Championship titles during the decade. Not only that, but they also accounted for two National Championship victories during that same time period. It was safe to say that this game always had major implications for SEC football and possibly even NCAA football, as a whole.

If you ask most Gator fans which team is their biggest rival, they won’t say Tennessee. If you ask who their second-biggest rival is, they probably still won’t mention the Volunteers. But if you ask any Vol fan who their biggest rival is, they will easily mention the Gators. I know it; I grew up as a self-proclaimed “Gator hater” in East Tennessee. The only other rivalry that seems to come close is that with Alabama. But the Gators are still public enemy number one. So how did this disparity come to be?

The 1990s, the decade of VolGator SEC dominance, Florida managed to amass a 7-3 record over Tennessee. In the 2000s, they also had a 7-3 record over the Volunteers. And in the 2010s, they’re undefeated thus far and will therefore have the majority of wins in this rivalry regardless of the outcome of the next four games. Obviously, Gator fans aren’t particularly worried about the Tennessee game each year. But because Tennessee has managed to lose to them the majority of the time, and often in close fashion, Vol fans loathe the Gators. Two games come to mind when thinking about why exactly I would hate the Gators so much if I were still only a Vol fan. Their worst loss in recent memory came last year in Gainesville, and their “best” loss (if there is such a thing) came in the 2000s in Knoxville.

Tennessee’s “Best” Loss

In 2006, Urban Meyer was eager to prove himself as the new head coach for the Gators. He came into Neyland Stadium and did just that. But for the Volunteers, this was their best loss in this series. One highlight of this game was that defensive tackle Justin Harrell played his last game even though he had just injured his arm the week before. They also brought everything they had to the field, including a trick play touchdown pass and a great kicking performance. The Vols had the lead for much of the game and they didn’t blow it because of some horrible coaching decisions (I’ll get to that). They blew it because of simple mistakes in execution. To end Tennessee’s chances of possibly mounting a comeback after the Gators had taken a 21-20 lead in the closing minutes of the game, the Gators needed a big play. That’s just what they got when Reggie Nelson got an interception, allowing the Gators to eventually run out the clock.

The fact that they played such a close game with the eventual national champions is not something shameful. Think about how different things would have been that season if the Vols had been able to win on a last-minute field goal. The Gators would’ve been 6-2 in SEC play and the Vols would’ve been 6-2 as well. Since the Vols beat the Gators, they would’ve been the team representing the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game and would’ve gotten another shot at Arkansas (one of their two SEC losses). If the Vols had beaten Arkansas this time, then who knows how the season would’ve ended. Not to mention, Urban Meyer wouldn’t have gotten the same momentum over the Vols and the current win streak for the Gators would only be at a maximum of eight games, not eleven. There was another loss more recently that I would consider their “worst” loss in this rivalry, though.

Tennessee’s Worst Loss

Last year the Volunteers came into the season surrounded by more hype than they had seen in years. When Tennessee traveled to Gainesville, FL to play the Gators, many people knew that this game could possibly decide who took the SEC East title. Those people were right. Tennessee seemed to be clicking on all cylinders and the game was all but over. But then, the Gators managed to mount a stunning comeback. Butch Jones only helped the Gators in their comeback quest by calling timeouts at moments when Florida Coach Jim McElwain could really use those timeouts to his team’s advantage. The Gators capitalized on the opportunities they were given and were leading 28-27 with very little time left. The Vols were able to get in field goal range and missed not one, but two tries at what would’ve been the game-winning field goal. That is just the epitome of a terrible loss.

Again, think about how differently the season would’ve panned out if the Vols hadn’t choked in this game. Once again the Gators would’ve been 6-2 in SEC play and the Vols would’ve finished at the same mark with the tiebreaker. They would’ve headed to the SEC Championship Game for a rematch against Alabama, a team they played very tough just a few weeks prior. Tennessee could’ve beaten Alabama and the end result of their season would’ve been entirely different. The Vols did manage to run over Northwestern in their bowl game, but imagine if they had been able to squeak into the New Year’s Six instead. All of that opportunity was lost because of poor timeout usage by Jones and some pretty pitiful kicking.

Twelve in a Row?

This year, the rivalry may prove to be relevant to the NCAA as a whole again. But that only holds true if Tennessee can make this a true rivalry again by winning a game for the first time eleven years. While Florida seems to still be somewhat of an unknown with a new QB and the loss of some defensive starters, Tennessee has everything it could possibly need to make a great run in the SEC East. Once again, this game is likely to be the one that decides the SEC East champion. That fact alone automatically makes this a fantastic rivalry to witness. And if the Vols want the Gators to respect this rivalry the way they do, then they’ll need to bring everything they have for an entire four quarters of football this season. This journey back in time proves that just one bad quarter in this rivalry can ruin a whole season.

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ogkristenb.

The SEC’s Best Football Games of 2016

Breathe easy SEC fans. After what must have felt like an eternity, one of your schools finally claimed the national championship. Alabama’s one loss came in a classic game against the Ole Miss Rebels. With Ole Miss set up to be a top fifteen team again, their matchup with the Crimson Tide is surely one of the best games of the SEC season in 2016. What about the other nine best? With some big-time non-conference games for the SEC, ranking the top ten SEC games was a near impossible task. Here’s what I came up with:

10. Arkansas vs. LSU (Saturday, November 12)

Bret Bielema has some momentum going at Arkansas, but they’ve still only won 13 regular season games combined the last two years. One team the Razorbacks have had consistent success against is LSU, beating them each of the past two years after losing by one score three years ago. Even if pre-season expectations hold, the Tigers could be handed another upset loss here by the Razorbacks’ pounding running game, one week after a physical match-up with Alabama.

9. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, September 3)

This one looks weird to even type. The SEC doesn’t often have non-conference games like this, especially ones that are basically road games. The Tigers are fortunate that Wisconsin isn’t at the same level it’s been at most of the last five or so years. The mystique of an SEC team playing up north and the game being at Lambeau Field will be fun for a while before LSU’s size and athleticism overpowers Wisconsin (3:30 pm est, ABC).

8. LSU vs. Ole Miss (Saturday, October 22)

The Tigers and Rebels figure to be the biggest challengers to Alabama in the SEC West. Ole Miss will have already had its match-up with the Crimson Tide, but Les Miles will have to make sure his team isn’t looking ahead to its game with the defending champ two weeks from this day. The LSU-Ole Miss winner should have the inside track to Atlanta should Nick Saban’s squad have a couple slip-ups.

7. Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Monday, September 5)

Opening weekend gets capped off with a Labor Day night game (8:00 pm est on ESPN) between two top 15 teams and playoff hopefuls. This game will set the tone for both teams’ season. Whether Ole Miss is actually favored or not, the program is at a point where it expects to win a game like this. If that’s not enough, they’ll get scrutinized by the rest of the SEC for letting an ACC team beat them.

6. Arkansas vs. Ole Miss (Saturday, October 15)

Ole Miss will be the team looking for revenge on October 15. With a win over Alabama under its belt, Ole Miss was in the driver’s seat to make it to the SEC championship and possibly the College Football Playoff. It all came crashing to the ground with a 53-52 OT loss to the Razorbacks that was made possible by an absurd 4th down conversion.

5. Alabama at Ole Miss (Saturday, September 17)

Alabama may have won the championship last year, but they’ll be out for blood in this one (3:30 est, CBS). The Rebels handed the Tide their only loss of the 2015 season, a loss that resulted in many questioning if the Crimson Tide dynasty was coming to an end. On the other side, Ole Miss lost a lot of talent to the draft but has been stock-piling top recruiting classes the past few years. With a two-game win streak over Alabama, the Rebels won’t be intimidated.

4. Florida at Tennessee (Saturday, September 24)

Tennessee plays three conference games before facing the Tide and this is number one. Jim McElwain led the Gators on a surprising run to the conference title game in his first year in Gainesville. This September game could go a long way in determining if he returns there in year two.

3. Alabama at Tennessee (Saturday, October 15)

Tennessee has played Alabama tougher than most teams in the last couple years but have a nine-game losing streak in the series to show for it. They couldn’t fulfill the hype last year and will try to break through again in 2016. Even with a new quarterback, it’s hard to imagine the Tide losing at home, and this is the second of Alabama’s only set of back-to-back road games. If the Vols are going to end their losing streak to Bama, this is the year.

2. Alabama vs. USC (Saturday, September 3)

With all the intriguing match-ups in the SEC, it’s hard for a non-conference game to make noise. It’s also hard to find a match-up between two more storied programs (ABC at 8:00 pm est). USC won’t be expected to win this game, but unlike most teams, they at least have comparable athletes to Alabama’s. USC isn’t anywhere near where Alabama is right now, but it’s rare to see these kinds of non-conference games, so enjoy every minute of it (even if Nick Saban is coaching circles around Clay Helton).

1. Alabama at LSU (Saturday, November 5)

For a few years, the Iron Bowl replaced this game as the one with the most title implications. It looks like Les Miles has his Tigers primed to return to title contention after a couple of “down” years. Both teams could start the year in the top 5 and will hopefully remain there until this contest, where we will likely see another 9-6 type game that determines a playoff spot.

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Amy Meredith