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Why I'm Rooting for Florida State

Nov 26, 2014 -- 10:22am

In today’s media the commentators don’t try to hide their alliances. To the contrary, they scream their loyalties for all to hear. Publicly, they bask in their teams victories and suffer in their defeats.

I’m old school. I was taught you never ever show your bias.

It isn’t about right and wrong; about good or bad. It’s the way it was and the way it is.

I bring this up because Gators have always accused me of being a Seminole and Seminoles have always accused me of being a Gator. I wear the label like a badge of honor.

And I bring it up now because this is FSU-UF week. As always I privately pull for the team that can most benefit by a victory. That means this week I’m pulling for FSU – in spite of an earlier rant this week when I said I don’t think the Noles are a top-4 team.

Regardless of my opinion, unbeaten FSU is clearly in the national championship hunt. The Gators are just trying to finish a season and start planning for 2015.

This week’s predictions come early because of Thanksgiving:

Florida (6-4) at FSU (11-0), 3:30 P.M. – The Gators can win this game. They’ve proven they can run the ball and play defense (think Georgia). The Gators probably will lose this game. They’ve proven they can stink (think Missouri) and can kill themselves (think South Carolina).  As for the Seminoles it’s time to accept the fact they keep winning close games for two reasons: 1. they aren’t as strong as their record would indicate; 2. Jameis “The Brat” Winston is Mr. Clutch. He deserves this year’s Heisman more than the one he won last year. The oddsmakers expect it to be close and so do I. FSU, favored by 7½, wins 28-23.

Giants (3-8) at Jaguars (1-10), 1 p.m. – At least one of these teams will have an unusual experience this Sunday: a victory. After a decent start the Giant have lost six straight (albeit against quality teams). Their offensive line can’t protect quarterback Eli Manning and only five teams have given up more points than the Giants. Sadly for the hometown fans, one of those five is Jacksonville. The Jaguars are reeling from their worst offensive performance with quarterback Blake Bortles. It may become a case of who stinks the least. From here the Giants smell slightly better. New York, favored by 2, wins 24-21.    

FSU No Longer in My "Top Four"

Nov 24, 2014 -- 10:21am

If it was my decision to make -- and I had to make it right now -- I wouldn’t include Florida State in college football’s four “playoff” teams.

The task is to identify the “best four teams” in the nation and I don’t think FSU is one of them. Of course I’m know the Seminoles are 11-0 and the only unbeaten team in one of the five power conferences, but week after week I see a team that barely outperforms average to slightly above average opponents. I’ve finally come to the conclusion FSU is a very good team that, at best, deserves consideration to be among the top 4 but is far from a slam dunk pick.

I hear you Seminoles supporters screaming: It’s all about winning. Well, no it isn’t. If we had a true playoff – meaning teams earned their way in by winning – there wouldn’t be a debate. But college football’s so-called playoff is still a beauty contest and from my vantage point the Seminoles simply aren’t pretty enough.

All season I’ve been waiting for the Noles to flex their muscles. I’ve been waiting to see the team I thought it would be. But week after week I see a team with glaring weaknesses: Stopping the run, consistently running the ball well, committing turnovers, undisciplined defensive players and too many dropped passes.

The best teams have off days, but they don’t continue to make the same mistakes. I kept thinking the Noles were simply too cocky and toyed with opponents before revving up the engine, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion what we’ve seen from FSU is what FSU is: I very good team with an outstanding quarterback  in Jameis Winston who is at his best at crunch time. Fortunately for FSU it has played a soft schedule made softer because none of its more respected opponents is having a stellar season.

If FSU is a top 4 team how in hell has Boston College lost five times? . . . How can Virginia beat Miami? . . . How can Northwestern beat Notre Dame? . . . you get picture.

The bottom line is who would you pick to win if FSU played Alabama? Oregon? Mississippi State? TCU? Baylor? Ohio State? Georgia? Michigan State? UCLA?

My eye test tells me FSU is not a top-4 team. The good news for FSU is I don’t make the decision. Even better news for the Seminoles is they have two more opportunities to convince everyone they are, indeed, better than they’ve been playing.

Marcedes Lewis Not the Answer to Jaguars' Problems

Nov 20, 2014 -- 3:00pm

In the NFL the tight end is the new running back. Other than the quarterback, perhaps no player is more important in today’s most successful offensive schemes.

The most obvious example is New England’s Rob Gronkowski. New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham is a close second. But there are plenty of other tight ends who are major go-to guys throughout the league. Among the better teams, name one that doesn’t have an impact player at the position.

Perhaps that’s why the Jaguars seem so excited to have Marcedes Lewis back in uniform. But are they really excited or is it just talk to excite the fans? Is he the piece the offense – in other words, quarterback Blake Bortles – has been missing?

He should be, but while Lewis is paid like a star he has seldom played like one. He’s praised for his blocking, but that’s become the role of backup tight ends, not stars. Even when he’s been healthy the Jaguars seldom make him their main target. Why?

I think it has more to do with his lack of ability as a pass receiver than the Jaguars care to admit. It’s better to have Lewis than not have him, but don’t expect him to make a major difference for a bad team.

This week’s predictions:

Jaguars (1-9) at Colts (6-4), 1 p.m. – If Colts quarterback Andrew Luck played against the Jaguars every week he’d already be in the Hall of Fame. He not only owns the Jaguars, he has dominated them. The question is: Can the Jaguars outscore the Colts? Place that in the highly doubtful category. It will be interesting to see if Bortles makes Lewis his go-to receiver. The Colts, favored by 13½, win 37-17.

Boston College (6-4) at FSU (10-0), 3:30 p.m. – BC was the only team last year to give the Seminoles a scare during the regular season. This season nearly every team has created anxious moments for FSU. I keep expecting the Noles to have a breakout game and blow out an opponent. FSU has plenty of motivation because the playoff committee hasn’t been overly impressed with the Noles. The Seminoles, favored by 19, win 48-14.

Eastern Kentucky (9-2) at Florida (5-4), noon – This should be an easy victory for the Gators. Didn’t we say the same thing last year before Georgia Southern went to Gainesville? That was then. Departing Coach Will Muschamp gets one last victory. There’s no line on the game but the Gators win 21-13.

Dumb and Dumber

Nov 19, 2014 -- 10:07am

Quick hits from around the sports world . . .

  • This isn’t a knock of the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton -- and it really isn’t about the money ($325 million) either – but giving any athlete a 13-year contract is just plain dumb.
  • What worries me about Jaguars wide receiver Marquis Lee’s struggles is that most of his problems are mental. Is he mentally lazy and just not smart?
  • Keep in mind the best two head football coaching hires in Gators history came from Duke and Utah, neither exactly what you’d call a football factory.
  • I can’t help but wonder if TV will play a role in the final four teams selected for a college football playoff. FSU, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State would produce better ratings than FSU, Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State. Just wondering.
  • I assume the soon-to-be published book about Little League World Series star Mo’ne Davis will be short.
  • UNF point guard Dallas Moore is the real deal. The big schools missed on him.
  • NASCAR’s reformatted “Chase for the Championship” was a big hit with me.
  • Rebuilding doesn’t come close to describing what’s going on with JU’s basketball team. There are so many new faces, including Coach Tony Jasick, that the players have to repeatedly introduce themselves to each other.
  • A Gator nightmare: Fired Coach Will Muschamp is hired by his buddy, Jimbo Fisher, as FSU’s defensive coordinator and the Seminoles continue to widen the gap between the two schools.
  • A golf fan’s dream: Tiger Woods regains his old form and he and Rory McIlroy wage epic head-to-head battles in major championships for the next five years.

Looking for Another Steve Spurrier

Nov 17, 2014 -- 1:49pm

There’s one thing everyone needs to understand about whoever coaches the Gators’ football team: Anyone who knows the difference between a football and a pumpkin ought to win 7-8 games a year.

An occasional hiccup season is understandable, but most years the Gators should be serious contenders for the SEC title -- and that means often being a contender for the national title contender.

The Gators have an abundance of resources, starting with a large, passionate and generous fan base and including an incredible amount of homegrown talent. It is one of the top 10 jobs in all of football.

Will Muschamp needed to go. As much as last Saturday’s loss at South Carolina hurt Gator Nation it was a blessing in disguise. Muschamp failed miserably. A victory over the Gamecocks might have saved Muschamp’s job.

That Muschamp failed wasn’t totally his fault. He should never have been hired in the first place. Not everyone is cut out to be a CEO. There’s no shame in that.

Muschamp was doomed from the start, being a wild-eyed throwback of a coach who existed in the 21st Century but lived in the 20th Century.

The next Gator coach will have a great job and even greater expectations. The odds are Florida will hire a coach who will vastly improve on the job Muschamp did. But will Athletic Director Jeremy Foley find that one special coach who can push the Gators back to greatness. Is there another Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer out there?

I don’t know who that is and neither does Foley. There’s a bit of luck involved.

I can offer Foley some advice, the first being don’t be afraid of being told no. Foley needs to identify who he thinks are the top coaches, regardless of their current employment, and go after them. Could that be Eagles Coach Chip Kelly? TCU’s Gary Patterson?

My second piece of advice is go after someone who’s a proven head coach, a guy who’s been there, done that. No more on-the-job training candidates.

Finally, don’t worry about whether the guy is an offensive or defensive coach. Outstanding head coaches can do both.

Weekend Predictions

Nov 13, 2014 -- 3:22pm
  • This week’s predictions:

Florida State (9-0) at Miami (6-3), 8 p.m. – The Hurricanes have won three straight. They are improving, but they aren’t the Canes of old. The question is: Are the Seminoles as good as their record and No. 3 ranking suggest? Jameis Winston has been incredible under pressure. Until he proves he has a cracking point, I’m sticking with the FSU quarterback. FSU, favored by 1½, wins 42-28.

South Carolina (4-5) at Florida (5-3), noon – The Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, limps home, his Gamecocks’ high expectations already down the toilet. The Crazy-Eyed Coach, Will Muschamp, returns home trying the save his job, something that appeared hopeless less than two weeks ago. Who imagined this scenario in August? South Carolina can’t stop anybody, allowing 39 points a game in SEC play. Florida’s new found offense remains suspect. Moveable Object vs. Resistible Force? Instead of this game helping determine the SEC East, it will have more to do with the future of the head coaches. At 69, Spurrier, the greatest Gator, could be thinking retirement with another loss. Muschamp could be unemployed with another loss. The Gators, favored by 7, win 28-27.

  • On Veterans Day as I thought about the men and women, past and present, who have served in our nation’s military, I recalled one of my favorite stories, one which involved the military and sports.

The scene was the 1978 NCAA Final Four in St. Louis. Notre Dame’s Coach Digger Phelps was holding his daily press conference and ranting about the absurdity of allowing freshmen to play varsity sports.

“It just isn’t fair to ask an 18-year-old freshman to face the pressure of playing for a national championship,” Phelps bellowed. He went to talk about the cruelty of sending a freshman to the free throw line with the game on the line.

I was standing in the back of the room alongside a veteran coach, Abe Lemons, known as much for his wit as his coaching.

“Yeah,” Abe said in his Texas drawl to no one in particular, “I can see an 18-year-old in a foxhole in Nam with bullets flying over his head thinking, ‘Thank God I ain’t got to be playing college basketball.’”

Call it a lesson in perspective.

  • I had a “relearning” lesson last weekend. NFL injury reports are as much fiction as fact.

Years ago the NFL mandated teams put out injury reports each week. The league said it was about keeping its fans better informed. What went unsaid was the NFL was talking about fans who like to bet. Why should the bookies with their inside sources have such a big advantage?

Over the years most NFL coaches have learned to manipulate the injury reports. Unless a player is listed as “out” there is nothing carved in stone as to the difference between doubtful, questionable and probable. The type and seriousness of the injuries are often unclear.

To my point: Cowboys QB Tony Romo reportedly has a “broken back”. His playing status for the Jaguars game remained in doubt until game day – when he not only played but had a Pro Bowl-type game.

I didn’t expect Romo to play. I was duped. Some people simply said Romo “toughed it out”. Others credited great pain medicine. I simply felt I relearned some “broken backs” (wink, wink) are a lot worse than others.

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