The Florida Gators are in the AP poll’s Top Ten so they must be pretty good.
Why, then, is there the feeling that our state just isn’t all that special in college football anymore?
I attribute it the following chart, which demonstrates better than any deep analysis of roster strengths or coaching credentials why Florida, FSU and Miami aren’t really scaring anybody to death this Halloween, and why the South Florida Bulls deserves a spot in any discussion of the best programs in our state.
Team Best 2016 win Last win over ranked team
Florida (6-1) Kentucky, 45-7 No. 3 Ole Miss (10-3-15)
FSU (5-3) South Florida, 55-35 No. 11 Ole Miss (9-5-16)
USF (7-2) Navy, 52-45 No. 22 Navy (10-28-16)
Miami (4-4) Ga Tech, 35-21 No. 22 Duke (10-31-15)
UCF (4-4) East Carolina, 47-29 No. 6 Baylor (1-1-14)
What’s the best win of 2016 overall for this bunch? Call if FSU over South Florida. The Seminoles don’t get brownie points for beating Ole Miss in the season opener now that the Rebels are 3-5 and 1-4 in the SEC.
Miami and Central Florida are going to have to scramble to qualify for bowl games.
Florida could win the SEC East or stumble badly down the stretch for the second consecutive season. Flip of the coin.
FSU lost 63-20 to Louisville, which would be more easily forgotten if Louisville were going to the ACC title game or the College Football Playoff. Neither is true.
Any way you slice it, we’ve clearly forfeited some of the old bragging rights from championship seasons past.
Right now you’d have to say Alabama is the state-of-the-art state in college football, with the Crimson Tide at No.1 and Auburn No. 11.
Michigan comes in second (Wolverines No. 2 and Western Michigan No. 17).
Incredibly, Washington and Florida are too close to call in third. The Huskies are all the way up to No. 4 with Washington State at No. 25. If you want to argue the No. 10 Gators and No. 19 Seminoles outweigh that combination, go ahead. Look back to that chart above, though. Nothing much has been proved on the field yet.
Mike Pouncey’s got it about right in his ribbing of the media.
“A lot of people counted us out, gave up on us,” the Dolphins center said after Sunday’s 28-25 win over Buffalo got Miami back to 3-4 for the season. “I’ve seen all you guys’ predictions. Ya’ll didn’t believe in us, either.”
Full disclosure, I’ve been consistently wrong in both directions. Predicted the Dolphins beating Tennessee (wrong), the Steelers beating Miami (wrong) and Buffalo having an easy time of it at Hard Rock last Sunday (what a nasty man).
Hey, it’s not like this is easy.
Jay Ajayi had no career game with more than 48 yards rushing before the rattled off a couple of 200-yarders in a row.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times by the Titans but the Steelers and Bills barely laid a mitt on him.
On top of all that, the Dolphins had to go to overtime to beat the Browns, still the NFL’s only winless team, so what was there to suggest a renaissance against Pittsburgh, a regular playoff contender, and Buffalo, a team on a four-game win streak?
Maybe you’re much better at reading the trends. Maybe you just get a kick out of waiting until the games are played and jumping off the top rope on anyone who guessed wrong.
Either way, we’ve been here many times with the Dolphins in recent years, toggling back and forth between solid performances and real stinkers.
Miami has started out 3-4 in five of the last 12 seasons, including this one. In eight of the last 12 they have been either 3-4 or 4-3. This treadmill has led to the playoffs only once during that period, but there are some encouraging parallels.
The 2008 Dolphins had a first-time Pro Bowl running back in Ronnie Brown, a first-time NFL head coach in Tony Sparano, a sturdy and serviceable quarterback in Chad Pennington and a defense that was fairly stingy on giving up points.
The result was a surge from 3-4 to 11-5 and the AFC East title, with a first-round playoff loss to Baltimore to follow.
Of course, Tom Brady was injured that season, which opened the door to the division title, and it seems he has already had his break for 2016. We’re not talking about glory for the Dolphins here, though, just a good run to a winning record.
That would be refreshing, and Cam Wake goes so far as to say a solid second half to the season is predictable.
“From top to bottom, it was a team win,” Wake said Sunday after picking up 1.5 of the Dolphins’ four sacks on Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor. “Offense did what they were supposed to do. Defense did what they were supposed to do.
“No one can beat us when we’re playing that way.”
Of course, there’s another way to look at this thing. With the Dolphins, there always is.
Last year another 3-4 start accurately predicted what was to come with some accuracy. Miami ended up 6-10, despite Dan Campbell’s best efforts to squeeze the softness out of the team.
Well, it’s finally on, a World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, and somebody’s guaranteed to get the victory parade of the century out of this thing.
I thought it might be fun to look back on the American sports scene in the years that these two franchise last won a World Series. That would be 1948 for the Indians and 1908 for the Cubs.
We’ll start with 1948.
Don Shula, a son of Northeast Ohio, was a freshman on the John Carroll University football team in Cleveland. Did pretty well for himself, too, with a 175-yard rushing performance and two touchdowns against the Penguins of Youngstown State.
The Cleveland Browns were not a joke that year. They won the 1948 championship of the All-America Football Conference, an NFL rival, by crushing the Buffalo Bills 49-7 to complete a 15-0 season. Imagine, the Browns and the Indians winning championships in the same year, just as the Indians will try to join the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
There was no NBA franchise in Cleveland in 1948, but the league had teams in Rochester and Providence and Fort Wayne.
In 1948 Babe Ruth died and NASCAR was born.
Larry Doby and Satchel Paige became the first African-American players to win a World Series with the Indians of 1948. It was only one year earlier that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line.
The 1948 World Series between Cleveland and the Boston Braves was the first to be televised on any kind of national network, but it took some doing. A retrofitted B-29 bomber had to fly a continuous pattern over Pennsylvania to help transmit the signal between Eastern and Midwestern cities.
Now on to 1908.
Trains got major league baseball teams from one city to another. That’s because Henry Ford’s Model T automobile first rolled off the assembly line in 1908 with a price tag of $825. Meanwhile, the Wright brothers were still hustling to convince the U.S. military or anybody else that the flying machine they built would work and it would make sense to place some orders.
Sports results got to Americans slowly, perhaps weeks after the fact depending on location. Ninety percent of U.S. homes lacked electricity in 1908 and there was no commercial radio, much less TV.
Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack, born during the Civil War, had yet to win a World Series in 1908. He eventually won five and managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years, retiring at the age of 87.
Wrigley Field did not exist in 1908. The Cubs played their home games at West Side Park, a wooden structure on a rectangular lot that required a 560-foot drive to clear the fence in center field.
The 1908 World Series between the Cubs and Detroit Tigers was played on five consecutive days with games usually lasting about 90 minutes. Attendance for the final game in Detroit was 6,210, still a record low.
Jim Thorpe was just beginning his athletic career at Carlisle Indian School in 1908. Years later, after he gained fame as an Olympic champion and a professional star in football and baseball, Thorpe was voted the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century in an ABC Sports fan poll.
If women had wanted to vote for president in 1908, however, forget it. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was still more than a decade away.
I did a deeper dig on Jay Ajayi’s consecutive 200-yard games. You already know that O.J. Simpson, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell are the only other players to do it, but here are some of the other highlights.
No one has ever rushed for 200 yards in three consecutive games.
O.J. came the closest, going for 171 yards in a 58-20 loss to the Baltimore Colts after topping 200 twice in a row. Campbell also gave it a shot, carrying 36 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-16 win over Denver. Ricky’s follow-up wasn’t bad, either, with 101 yards in a 23-17 win over Oakland.
If Ajayi is going to be the first to top 200 yards for three games in a row, he’s going to have to earn it.
The New York Jets are next up for Miami on Nov. 6. As of Sunday’s games, the Jets ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at 74.1 yards per game. Only one rusher has gotten to 100 yards against the Jets through seven games. David Johnson of Arizona went for 111 yards and three touchdowns on an average of 5.0 yards per carry two weeks ago. Nobody else has topped 75.
Ajayi is only halfway to matching the NFL record for 200-yard rushing games in a single season.
Campbell went over 200 in four games in 1980. O.J. (1973) and Tiki Barber (2005) did it three times in a season. Included on the list of 17 players who have done it twice in a season are some real heavyweights – Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Eric Dickerson and more.
If Ajayi has more of this greatness in him, he is young enough at 23 to do some serious climbing.
The NFL record for most 200-yard games in a career is six, shared by O.J. and Adrian Peterson.
Matter of fact, Ajayi is the youngest player to top 200 rushing yards in consecutive games.
Ricky and Earl were 25 when they did it. O.J. was 26 and 29. Peterson’s most recent came at the age of 30.
Teams with 200-yard rushers in consecutive games haven’t been particularly great through history.
Campbell’s 1980 Oilers were the only one to make the playoffs, losing in the first round as a wild-card entrant. O.J.’s 1976 Bills went 2-12.
It would be a crushing disappointment if Miami doesn’t find a way to win the ACC Coastal title.
Sure, I should be past all of this now that the Hurricanes are 1-2 in conference play, but none of this adds up.
North Carolina, after all, is the only team in the division that is ranked in the AP Top 25, and that’s at No. 22. We’re talking two spots below Western Michigan and two above Navy.
For that matter, Florida State is the only other ranked team on Miami’s 2016 schedule. The Hurricanes have the benefit of missing out on Clemson and Louisville this time around. If you’re wondering how important that is, the last time Miami played those two teams it didn’t turn out so well, with Clemson winning 58-0 and Louisville winning 31-13.
What’s more, Thursday night’s showdown at Virginia Tech really shouldn’t be the nightmare that everyone’s making it out to be. Miami has a two-game win streak going against the Hokies, and each time the Hurricanes scored 30 points.
Is there no way for all this to work itself out so that Mark Richt, the most reliable head coach since the national championship years, can win the ACC’s weaker division?
The best route would be for North Carolina and Virginia Tech, each 2-1 in the conference, to lose a few more games each. It’s not inconceivable, regardless of the competition. Already the Tar Heels have lost to Georgia, which it turns out is no great shakes, and the Hokies have lost to Syracuse, a team that yielded 50 points to Notre Dame and 45 to South Florida.
Miami also could beat the Hokies, meaning that the two-loss teams on top of the division could be caught in some kind of tiebreaker merry-go-round. The Tar Heels might not come out so well in that once their 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech gets factored in.
All right, so I don’t know all the tiebreaker rules. You got me there.
The best thing is just to play it all out, figuring that the worst of Miami’s schedule is over. That may seem like quite a reach with a Blacksburg Thursday night coming up, but you Can’t give up on something illogical happening in favor of the Hurricanes, since what already has happened makes no sense to me at all.
What would the Miami Dolphins lose if Reshad Jones has a torn rotator cuff or some other injury serious enough to cost him the season, a possibility reported by the NFL Network on Monday afternoon?
Measure it this way. The time is coming when the veteran safety will seem more deserving of a spot than Brent Grimes on the Miami Dolphins’ 50 greatest players of all time list.
That list came out last December in conjunction with the franchise’s golden anniversary celebration. Grimes, a feisty cornerback with great instincts, was nearing the end of his time with the Dolphins. He was 32 and not staying up as well with the NFL’s tallest and fastest receivers like he once did. Still, 13 interceptions in just three years with the team is a very i
mpressive total and it earned him a spot.
After Sunday’s 30-15 win over the Steelers, however, I noticed that Reshad is up to 16 picks in his Dolphins career. He’s had more years, six-plus, to reach that total, but only seven players are ahead of him on the franchise interception list.
Jake Scott (35), Dick Anderson (34), Sam Madison (31), Glenn Blackwood (29), Patrick Surtain (29), Louis Oliver (24) and Brock Marion (20).
Reshad denied that he intentionally took a substance not approved by the league, but took full responsibility for using something a former college trainer gave him without being sure.
Nobody on the Miami defense is more productive on a consistent basis. Matter of fact, I figure Reshad is the best fifth-round pick the Dolphins have made in the last 20 years.
If you go back to 1996 you find Zach Thomas, and in earlier eras guys like Jim Kiick and Don Strock came to Miami in the fifth round, too, but Reshad really stands out for the Dolphins fans of today, and in so many ways.
Reshad’s interception of Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday was no surprise. It came in the second quarter, with the Steelers leading 8-6. Reshad’s pick led to a field goal and Miami never trailed again.
Here’s another note from Miami’s all-time records. Zach is the only Dolphin with more touchdown interceptions for returns (4) than Reshad. Jones is tied at 3 with Dick Anderson, Terrell Buckley and Jason Taylor.
Because Reshad is so reliable in covering his area of the field and a little bit more, we all had to check the videotape twice to make sure he was the Dolphin who missed so badly on Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 60-yard touchdown. The Pittsburgh receiver went flying on an end-around, eluded Jones around the 50-yard line and made two or three more Miami defenders look bad as he pulled away from the pack.
“It’s just part of the game,” Reshad said. “I’m not going to make every tackle. I try to. I pride myself on tackling but I went with my shoulder and missed it. You have to put that behind you. As a DB, there’ soing to be some good plays and some bad plays. I had to put that play behind me and just keep on fighting.”
The few bad plays stand out because there are so many good ones. That’s why Reshad was one of the Dolphins’ team captains at Sunday’s game, and why he really comes off like more of a general for Vance Joseph’s defensive unit.
None of this is meant as a knock on Grimes, who was a solid performer for Miami and a leader in the locker room. He’s starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, which means he’s still got it.
It’s that Reshad may wind up meaning more to the Dolphins over time due to the longevity of his service, and the opportunity he has to add to all those great numbers, providing his health allows it.
When Adam Gase stood at the postgame interview Sunday, never even cracking a smile over the Miami Dolphins’ stunningly smooth 30-15 winner over Pittsburgh, he offered a dose of perspective that did nothing for a roomful of media members who were eager to let loose with the kind of high-five hyperbole they’ve been saving up for weeks.
“The thing that today proved to a lot of our guys, and a lot of our coaches, is what you possibly could be,” Gase said in quiet tones that had the TV guys in the back of the room turning up their audio. “But this league’s week-to-week. What we do today has no merit on what we’re going to do next Sunday. Nobody will care. Once we hit next Sunday, no one’s going to care what we did this week.
“So we have to go back to work. We’re 0-0 again on Monday, and then we’re going to get ready for the next game.”
Blah-blah-blah, that’s how it sounded. Not what anyone wanted. Dan Campbell fireworks, that’s what seemed more appropriate, what expressed the relief of a 1-4 dog of a team finally having its day. Gase continued to wear his game face, however. His serious Gase face.
And that’s good because, again, he’s right.
Think back to last October and a rousing bounceback game at Tennessee. Joe Philbin had just been fired after a 1-3 start and replaced on an interim basis by the fiery Campbell. The attitudinal difference was immediate, racing throughout the organization, and a 38-10 road win over the Titans validated the notion that the Dolphins could be good again, could be great even.
That game looked and felt a lot like Sunday’s upset of the Steelers. Ryan Tannehill was solid, completing 22 of 29 passes for 266 yards and a couple of touchdowns against the Titans. Lamar Miller had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. The Miami defense also flexed its muscles, limiting Tennessee to 2-of-10 on third down conversions and knocking quarterback Marcus Mariota out of the game.
There even was a follow-up punch as the Dolphins pounded Houston 44-26 the next week. Tannehill completed three touchdowns passes of more than 50 yards in that one. Whatever tonic Campbell was selling at that point, everybody in the league wanted some of it.
New England, naturally, was the end of that. A 36-7 loss at Foxboro turned the dial back in the opposite direction, triggering a 3-7 finish to Miami’s season and a landing spot at the bottom of the AFC East.
Not saying it will happen again just that way. Gase understands, however, that it could. He knows it could because it does happen to plenty of teams every year. This is a brutal league, and it needs a coach who comprehends the brutal truth.
Dropped touchdown passes like those by Miami on Sunday won’t always be excused. Neither will dopey illegal formation penalties like the one that wiped out a Tannehill touchdown pass to Dominique Jones, or blown tackles like Reshad Jones’ whiff on Darrius Heyward-Bey. That last one resulted in a 60-yard touchdown run and an early 8-3 Pittsburgh lead.
Gase is only 38, but he’s got the maturity to teach all of this, and the authority to back it up.
What I’m saying is that it’s a good thing the Dolphins have a tough guy and a smart guy and a thoroughly organized guy in charge at this moment, with the celebration of a wild victory still underway across South Florida.
Previous coaches have had some of those qualities but not all. Gase is still learning how to do this job and mistakes will be made along the way, but on Sunday he didn’t lose focus.
Got to get a grip on Buffalo, which beat Miami twice last year and by humbling scores of 41-14 and 33-17.
Got to raise the standards higher, because highlights alone won’t remake this franchise.
Raise a toast to Gase, then, in keeping with the party mood now raging. He’s doing the dirty work of making that win over Pittsburgh really count for something. At a time like this, there is nothing more difficult or important to do.
[UPDATE- The Dolphins’ Andrew Franks had another blocked kick in the Oct. 16 Pittsburgh game, this time from 24 yards. Didn’t cost a game this time, but a very troubling trend]
What do the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes have in common this season?
Each team has lost a game on a blocked kick, and a short one at that.
Of course, everyone is up to speed on the Hurricanes, who were all set to go into overtime with Florida State last Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium until the Seminoles’ DeMarcus Walker broke through the line to block an extra-point try. Final score: FSU 20-19.
That memory is going to stick with Miami fans for a long time, but an earlier breakdown by the Dolphins special-teams has been lost in a flurry of mistakes. That’s how it goes when a team is 1-4.
Think back to the season opener at Seattle on Sept. 11. Neither team was doing much offensively but a fumble by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gave Miami a golden opportunity early in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 6-3, the Dolphins moved close enough for a field goal to potentially tie the score. The kick should have been a snap, coming from just 27 yards. That’s closer than an NFL extra point.
Seattle’s Cassius Marsh batted it down, however. Sloppy blocking and a kick that probably didn’t get up quick enough, but no big deal right? After all, Ryan Tannehill led a quick touchdown drive moments later to give Miami a 10-6 lead with 4:08 to play.
Problem is, Seattle wasn’t finished. A 75-yard touchdown drive put the Seahawks in front with 35 seconds to go.
Once again, a kick got blocked, this time Seattle’s PAT try, by Miami’s Jason Jones. That made the final score 12-10, which means that Franks’ chip shot earlier in the quarter could have provided the winning margin.
It’s all part of the game, and it’s not a simple part, either.
Getting that kick up and through, from any distance, is a coordinated effort by 11 players taking each of their jobs very seriously.
Botch it and the consequences are serious, too.
In the case of the Dolphins, that blocked field goal cost Adam Gase some vital momentum in his first game as an NFL head coach. For the Hurricanes, missing an extra point has extended their losing streak to seven games against the Seminoles.
It’s like the old golf adage. Drive for show, putt for dough. Touchdowns and kicks are kind of the same way. If fans in our market had forgotten that, this early fragment of the 2016 season has been a tough reminder.
Want some good news on the 1-4 Miami Dolphins? Only one thing comes to me right quick, and it’s somebody right quick.
Rookie Jakeem Grant, 5-feet-7 and 172 pounds, is close to matching the franchise record for punt return touchdowns.
OK, so the record is two, shared by Freddie Solomon, Tommy Vigorito and O.J. McDuffie, but Grant made it look so easy bringing a punt back for 74 yards and a score against Tennessee that it makes you think he’s only getting started.
There have only been three longer punt returns than Grant’s in the NFL this season – 85 yards and a score for Jamison Crowder of Washington and Andre Roberts of Detroit plus a 79-yarder for Marcus Sherels of Minnesota.
On top of that, with a small sample size of seven returns, Grant ranks seventh in the league with an average of 14.7 yards. He’ll need to pop a few more to keep that going or even grow it a bit, but in all of Dolphins history only one player has averaged more than that over an entire season. That was Jeff Ogden on 17.0 yards per return in 2000.
Keeping the kid in one piece may be a problem, of course. He headed back to the locker room in the first half of that 30-17 loss to the Titans but returned in the second half. Coach Adam Gase turned to Jarvis Landry later in the game, as he is prone to do.
“I just got rolled up on my ankle,” Grant said. “I came back in because I felt like if I would have stayed out, I would have been letting my team down. That’s just how I am. I’m going to push through anything I can to help the team out.”
Grant kind of reminds me of Vigorito when it comes to providing a real spark as a newcomer to the team. In 1981, in a Thursday night game at the Orange Bowl, Vigorito made a similar rookie splash by returning a punt 87 yards for a touchdown in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Vigorito wasn’t quite as small as Grant at 5-10 and 193, but who is?
Both were good finds, too. Vigorito was a fifth-round draft pick for the Dolphins. Grant joined the team this year as a sixth-rounder.
Who’s my pick for the most dangerous punt returner in Dolphins history?
How about Solomon, who died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 59? Between 1975 and 1977 the former University of Tampa quarterback scored two touchdowns for the Dolphins on punt returns. Later he scored two more for San Francisco.
Ted Ginn Jr., was more of a one-hit wonder as a punt returner, bringing one back 87 yards for a score at Philadelphia in 2007. His specialty was kickoffs, with two returned for Dolphin touchdowns in 2009 alone.
Here’s the most shocking demonstration of how far Adam Gase has to go in fully implementing his offensive system.
Rather than speeding up the pace with no-huddle pressure and making the defense adjust on the fly, the rookie coach actually slowed things down to a more rudimentary pace in Sunday’s 30-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Only once last year, in another 41-play day against Dallas, did the Dolphins have so few opportunities to establish a consistent scoring threat. In 2015, Miami’s play count never dropped below 55 in a single game.
Gase was supposed to change all this. Instead he has been forced to go into a shell with the presentation of his playcalling, milking every second he can get out of each sluggish possession and buying time for the Dolphins defense to rest. Nothing is working, no matter what Gase tries.
“We’ve just got to figure something out,” he said. “We tried to slow it down today and huddle and we only had 41 plays and eat up 23 minutes.”
Some of the reasons for the more deliberate delivery and execution of each play call were obvious.
Because Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil were game-day scratches, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas were forced into the starting lineup on the left side of the offensive line. Neither of them were up to the task, plus they haven’t been working with the first team in practice, when all that fast-paced preparation gets installed.
More troubling is the fact that no combination of players has worked for long in combination with Ryan Tannehill, who has had a few good moments leading rapid drives at Seattle and New England but for the most part has struggled to keep the chains moving. Sunday was more of the same, 4-for-11 on third down, and if not for a punt return touchdown by Jakeem Grant the Dolphins wouldn’t have been in the game at all.
Throughout a 1-4 start to the season, Gase has been unable to find that passing gear with his offense, and on Sunday he didn’t even try. The frustration ran so deep that Matt Darr got called for unnecessary roughness while running down to cover one of his six punts. Tannehill wasn’t feeling too chipper after getting sacked six times, either, and getting booed by the home fans.
“We’re inept right now,” Gase said.
Yeah, and bordering on inert.
Getting the offensive line healthy can only help in coming weeks, and part of that is Mike Pouncey’s return at center on Sunday for the first time all season. There has to be a different gear for the Miami offense, one that makes Pittsburgh and other upcoming opponents worry about Tannehill quick-counting them and making substitutions difficult.
Gase’s quick-strike offense has turned into a slog through the quicksand, and its taking his famous creativity away. What we’re seeing now isn’t much different than what Joe Philbin showed as Dolphins coach. Makes a man wince a little to type a sentence like that.