Stunning news about Meyer means a seismic shift in college football

December 27, 2009

Florida head coach Urban Meyer will face a barrage of questions on Sunday about his stunning decision to step down from his job after the Sugar Bowl.

There will be questions about his health, what he will do in the future, whether he is gone from coaching for good, and how he will assist in finding his own replacement.

But the biggest question of course is….what happens next?

The news about Meyer – combined with Bobby Bowden’s departure – is a seismic shift in college football in both the state of Florida and the nation.

Meyer brought the Gators to unprecedented heights and made them the most dominant program in the state. The list of accolades is long, including 2 national titles, an amazing winning percentage and a 15-1 record against the Gators biggest rivals.

Keeping that intact won’t be as easy as some might think regardless of who is picked as a successor. Gainesville-bound recruits will pretty soon hearing whispers in their ears that they should think about going someplace else.

Meyer already had a bit of rebuilding job ahead of him in 2010 thanks to the departure of Gators legend Tim Tebow. And the Gators earlier this month lost defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. So while there will be a lot of blather about how this is one of the most attractive jobs in the nation the truth is that the next coach for the Gators will have tremendous challenges when he walks through that door.

The biggest challenge will be the immediate pressure on the next UF coach to match the recent successes of the Gators. That could be a tall order given that Meyer is leaving while the Gators are at their peak. I don’t think next season would have been a down year for the team, but it’s hard to imagine the Gators would have been as good as they have been the last three years.

This change, in many ways, may be a Christmas gift for Lane Kiffin at Tennessee, Mark Richt at Georgia….and even Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. (Just as an aside – it’s interesting how Spurrier is not viewed right now as a top contender for the opening. Um, hey Gator Nation, he’s the one that made the job so attractive to Meyer in the first place….)

But this decision could result in more than just a realignment of the SEC.

For three decades the programs in the state of Florida – University of Miami, Florida State and UF – have dominated college football in a way that no other state can rival. To have 3 schools from the same state battle it out for national championships is truly unprecedented. The fact that the three schools have combined for 11 national titles in the last 26 years is astounding.

The end of the Bowden era, and now the end of the Meyer era, could wind up as the demarcation point of a new period in college football where the Big 3 Florida schools no longer dominate the national scene like they once did. Other schools have already begun poaching players from Florida high schools and this could just accelerate it. This could also be the opening that programs at the University of South Florida and University of Central Florida need.

Or maybe even worse to FSU and UF fans – this could mark the starting point of a new time of dominance for the U.

While Miami’s season was a disappointment, the team is still playing in a bowl and Jacory Harris is an extremely talented quarterback who will probably get a lot better. And there is hope that the defense – which was Miami’s biggest weakness – will become a dominant unit next season.

It’s too early to tell of course just how all this will play out, but it’s a gamechanger all the way around.


A No. 1 ranking means next to nothing right now

September 25, 2009

If there was anything to be learned from South Carolina’s dominating win over No. 4 ranked Ole Miss on Thursday night, it’s that once again poll rankings in the month of September mean next to nothing.

Oh, I know that the Gators fans will soon be frothing at the mouth. That doesn’t mean that UF doesn’t deserve any respect as the defending national champion. Any team that returns all defensive starters and its star quarterback should automatically be seen as the frontrunner at the start of the season. (Although I still think UF could lose in the next two weeks.)

But the Rebels loss is just another reminder that current poll rankings are based on nothing more than smoke and mirrors and that any fan – or alumnus  – should not get their hopes up based on what some silly poll says.

For as great as FSU’s win over Brigham Young was, the fact that BYU was a No. 7 team was meaningless. Let’s see where the Cougars are in December before declaring this a victory over a substantial foe. Likewise, I’m not sure Miami’s win over Georgia Tech  is as big a deal as some might think it is. (What made it a good win for UM is that Tech rolled over them a year previously and Jacory Harris looked spectacular ripping apart the Yellow Jackets secondary.)

The plain fact is that just like the BCS is a fraud, so are these polls. They are based on the votes of people, coaches and sportswriters, who look at a box score, see a 15-second highlight, and spend maybe a nanosecond thinking about their pick. Maybe that explains why FSU – after obliterating the Cougars – is still ranked five spots BEHIND BYU in the latest coaches poll.

If polls remain a necessary evil – and as long as the Bowl Championship Series continues to legitimize them – they should not be done until at least the first four games of the season are done and over. It was a travesty that Tommy Bowden got run out of Clemson last year based on some erroneous pollster decision that the Tigers were suddenly a Top 5 team.

It is of course great to see all 3 Florida teams ranked in the Top 25 – but it won’t mean a thing if FSU loses to USF, UF loses to Kentucky and Miami loses to Virginia Tech. It will mean that this week’s poll rankings were nothing but an illusion and a tease to the fans of all three schools.

Maybe Tim Tebow isn’t the best quarterback in the Sunshine State

September 18, 2009

C’mon admit it.

After Miami Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris torched Florida State for nearly 400 yards, your first inclination was to think ‘Wow, FSU’s defense is really, really bad.’

Well it’s beginning to look that may not be the whole story. Harris – with the help of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple – showed to a national audience that Tim Tebow may have another Heisman Trophy contender to worry about this year.

He was just about flawless against Georgia Tech, going 20 for 25 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He hit 9 different receivers — nine!

Against the Noles Harris light up the night sky for 386 yards and two touchdowns. In both games, he threw up arching passes of beauty that weren’t just routine lobs, but at all times appeared to be going exactly where he wanted them.

Meanwhile, the Florida Gators have been playing what amounts to a pre-season schedule, putting in blowout wins over Charleston Southern and Troy.

Tebow gets his first serious test this weekend against the Tennessee Volunteers. Now I know that there are some Gators fans who are convinced they are going to smack the Vols around. But I wouldn’t go anywhere near that 28 1/2 point spread. That’s because it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Tebow struggles against a Monte Kiffin-designed defense. According to this little tidbit in USA Today, Kiffin has been “drawing on napkins” since the spring about ways to shut down the Gators.

And while Tebow may be the chosen one, he didn’t look great against Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game, which was really his last serious test.

Meanwhile, Harris is now 2-0 halfway through a brutal schedule that takes the Canes to Virginia Tech followed by a home game against Oklahoma.

Think about this: If Tebow struggles against Vols, or even worse yet, loses against LSU, that would open the door to Harris. If the young man knocks off four quality opponents in four straight games, then suddenly the Heisman contender from Florida will be wearing orange and green, and not orange and blue.

It may sound like some sort of travesty to Gator Nation but the best quarterback in the state of Florida may no longer live in Gainesville.

Fearless bowl predictions

December 20, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

While I have a lot of reservations about the fact that we can have 34 bowls that feature teams that barely made it to a .500 record, it is still a fairly remarkable feat that five college teams from Florida made it to the postseason. It’s another reminder that Florida remains a state rich in football talent, a fact which helped all these programs succeed this season.

But getting to a bowl game isn’t the same as winning. Here’s my fearless bowl predictions for the next three weeks of college football madness.

BCS National Championship Game (Florida vs. Oklahoma): The worst thing about the college post-season is the long layoff. There’s always a small concern that a team that has been playing with such forceful momentum will get out of sync. But since October I said time and time again that the Gators have been playing some of the best college football I have ever seen. The Gators offense can keep pace with the Sooners offense in what could be a high-scoring game. But I continue to think that people have overlooked the UF defense. I think it is good enough to put the brakes on the Oklahoma high-wire act and I bet Coach Urban Meyer will put in a game plan that will emphasize long, time-consuming drives to keep the Sooners off the field. Florida 35, Oklahoma 24

Emerald Bowl (Miami vs. California): So is having your inconsistent starting quarterback suspended for the game a blessing or a curse? Well, we’ll soon find out as the Canes have to play the Golden Bears without QB Robert Marve. But even though this is close to a home game for California, the Canes have enough talent to win this game provided the defense shows up. This could be the game that sets the stage for Miami’s return next year as a national contender. Miami 34, California 27

Champs Sports Bowl (Florida State vs. Wisconsin): There are so many reasons I should pick against FSU. Inconsistent quarterback play. The collapse of the defense in the final weeks of the regular season. The weekly reconfiguration of the playbook by FSU head coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher. But here’s what I will say about Fisher and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. I think both of them have had enough time before this game to probably come up with a game plan that will work. The Badgers themselves have had loads of problems with their quarterbacks and the team had to go into overtime to beat a Division 1-AA team. (Sorry, I can’t go along with that nonsense that changed their classification to Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision.) Florida State 24, Wisconsin 14.

Motor City Bowl (Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan):I know that Coach Howard Schnellenberger has never lost a bowl game in his storied career. But then again, I’m not sure he ever took a 6-6 team into a bowl game that is essentially played in the opponent’s back yard. I just don’t think FAU even belongs in a bowl. Central Michigan 28, FAU 10.

magicjack St. Petersburg Bowl (University of South Florida vs. Memphis):This is of course not where the Bulls wanted to end up but that’ s what happens when you lose five out of your last seven games.  I’m also trying to figure out who thought it was a great idea to play a football game at Tropicana Field. Memphis does have a solid running attack. But I don’t think USF is going to play poorly in what is essentially a home game against a team that just made it to .500. USF 28, Memphis 17 

Does ACC stand for awfully confused conference?

November 22, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Well, a funny thing happened during the Miami Hurricanes march to the Atlantic Coast Championship game in Tampa. They got spanked on Thursday night by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, which used its triple option offensive attack to rack up nearly 500 yards on the ground against the Canes.

So once again the ACC is mired into mediocrity and there’s the distinct likelihood that the the Orange Bowl bound ACC champion will have AT LEAST three losses. That’s pathetic. And another reminder why the current BCS system is a joke because it has all these conference tie-ins for bowl games.

Nobody would really care, if say potential ACC champion Maryland, lost in the opening round of a playoff. But instead the eventual ACC champion will get a prime-time spot against somebody like USC or even better, a team like Utah. Hoo boy. Utah vs. Maryland in the Orange Bowl. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Tell me why that’s good for college football you BCS apologists.

Of course I would love to see Miami or FSU in the Orange Bowl, but right now I’m not holding my breath that it will happen. Even if FSU lucked out in some algebraic combination of losses by Boston College and Wake Forest then the Noles would likely have a rematch with Tech, which also ran all over FSU earlier this season. (That’s the reason FSU lost – not the fumble by Marcus Sims.)

So with the college football season almost over, here’s how I would rank the conferences:

1. Southeastern Conference. The SEC has the best team in the country right now – yes, it’s still the Florida Gators – as well as an undefeated Alabama squad. Then there’s the fact that the SEC is the nation’s toughest defensive conference and that it has eight teams that are already bowl eligible. And on and on. You get the picture.

2. Big 12 Conference. This is sort of by default. I give kudos to the Big 12 because at least the conference has a championship game. But despite all the hype surrounding the Big 12 teams and its vaunted quarterbacks, my mind keeps flashing back to the Oklahoma-Boise State Fiesta Bowl. Why? Because I just don’t think Texas, Texas Tech or even Oklahoma are as good as everyone on ESPN keeps trying to tell me. I’ll even go out on a limb and predict that two of those three teams will lose their bowl games. But for now, Big 12 beats out the Pac-10, Big 10 and of course, the ACC.

3. Pac 10 Conference. This is largely because USC is still a dominating team despite the Trojans loss to Oregon State. But the second best team, the Beavers, got routed by Penn State and lost to Utah.  So there’s obviously a steep dropoff in this conference.

4. Mountain West Conference. Yeah, I said it. But take a close look and you might be surprised. Three teams with two losses or less. Utah is undefeated. BYU has two wins over Pac-10 teams. The Cougars lone loss came at the hands of Texas Christian. The Horned Frogs have lost to just Utah and Oklahoma.

5. Big 10 Conference. Year in and year out this is the biggest pretend conference in America. And the Big 10 champion usually proves it by losing the Rose Bowl. Ohio State’s championship earlier this decade was of course an outright theft. This year OSU dazzled everyone with a 35-3 loss to USC.

Then there’s the rest…

6. Atlantic Coast Conference.

7. Big East Conference.

8. Conference USA.

9. WAC

10. Mid-American Conference.

11. Sun Belt Conference.

Gator coaches rapped as being whiny

October 3, 2008
Too whiny?

Too whiny?

Well Gator Nation shouldn’t be surprised. Their wonderful friends at Fox Sports have whacked them again. A few weeks ago the sports media giant called their fans among the nation’s most obnoxious. This week they placed their coach Urban Meyer on a list of the 10 whiniest coaches in America. But the Gator bashing didn’t stop there: Two other coaches, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and the ole ball coach, Steve Spurrier, also made the list. And hmmm, where did these two coach at one point?

Commenting on Meyer, the feature asks “Was all that whining in 2006 about getting Florida into the BCS title game an omen of things to come?” Fox also rapped Meyer for complaining about Georgia’s behavior in their matchup last year and for kicking a field goal against Miami with just seconds left in the game. (I’m not sure how kicking a field goal is whiny. Maybe mean, maybe arrogant, but not whiny. This problem with the English language seems to be a recurring problem at Fox Sports.)

The complete list broke out this way:

1. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

2. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

3. Les Miles, LSU

4. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn

5. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

6. Nick Saban, Alabama

7. Mike Stoops, Arizona

8. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

9. Urban Meyer, Florida

10. Rich Brooks, Kentucky

The one thought I have about this list is well, once again, the University of Miami escapes unscathed. Not that I think Randy Shannon is a whiner, but he took a bit of heat for his complaining about that Meyer field goal. Given Fox’s antipathy to the state of Florida, I’m just surprised that the list didn’t have Bobby Bowden. Cause you know he’s a whiner because he says things like “dadgumit.”

Canes Fans are losers

August 29, 2008

So did you get a chance to watch the Thursday night debut of the 2008 Hurricanes squad? Neither did I.

And the reason? Because I don’t have the right “Internet service provider.” And because I’m not willing to suddenly change my provider in order to placate the powerful sports empire that is ESPN.

The problem was that the UM-Charleston Southern game was only available on ESPN360, the online sports programming site run by ESPN. And ESPN360 can only be seen on your computer if your ISP has a contract with the forces at ESPN. If it’s Verizon or AT&T, you’re okay. But if you get it through a cable company like Comcast or you use an air card from Cingular, you might as well as be in the Australian outback, all alone and looking forlornly at the horizon for some sign of life. 

And Canes fans were none too happy about it, judging by some of their comments on the Miami Herald game blog where even if they could get it they were complaining about how it did not have a seamless feed of the game.

When asked about the Canes first game being available only online, Mark Pray, UM assistant athletic director for communications, told that the school had nothing to do with it. He said ESPN has a contract with the Atlantic Coast Conference and it’s their call on where a game will be run.

“It’s not our preference certainly,” said Pray. “They have a contractual agreement with the ACC that allows them to make the decision. I wish it were on ESPN.”

So what was Pray’s suggestion to miffed Canes fans? Make a phone call.

“The first thing I would say is call their Internet service provider and make their Internet service provider aware that they want the service,” said Pray.

This probably won’t be the last time this comes up. ESPN360 is still only available to a small sliver of the market, according to the N.Y. Times, so you can expect at some point the network will either make it easier for everyone to get, OR, they decide to put a high-profile game on the site just to prod those companies that don’t want to cut a deal.

So Canes fans are losers now, but it might be FSU or USF fans down the line. Until something changes it will be like we are all six years old staring at the top shelf in the pantry. We know the cookies are up there, but we just can’t reach them.