Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Bobby made FSU seem like a dream destination and Jimbo? Not so much

Of all the major college programs to find their football coaching position turned into a revolving door, Florida State is the last one you would expect.

The Seminoles finally reeled in Willie Taggart on Tuesday, completing their first full-scale coach search since Bobby Bowden came aboard in January of 1976. I know that sounds like a long time ago but you really want to know how long?

Bobby’s first FSU salary was $37,500 a year.

Former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden celebrates after defeating Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl’s 1993 national championship game. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

Jimbo Fisher, of course, was designated as the head-coach-in-waiting while serving on Bobby’s staff, making for an automatic transition in 2010 without a messy search. Now he’s gone to Texas A&M, calling the decision “a no-brainer.”

No wonder Bobby is so adored in Tallahassee, with a stained-glass image at the stadium and a statue out front. He built a lasting connection to FSU, one that couldn’t be severed despite many tempting offers to coach elsewhere.

In 1990 Alabama made an offer to Bowden but, after a few days of chewing on it, he declined.

“By that time, I felt like FSU was my school,” Bowden said in his book “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith and Football.”

“No matter what I could have done as Alabama’s coach, it still would have been Coach (Bear) Bryant’s program. I could never have topped his accomplishment there.”

There’s a strong element of loyalty in there, but a bit of anxiety and humility, too. Other coaches positively burn with ambition, believing themselves capable of accomplishing anything, anywhere. Nick Saban, for instance, wasn’t afraid to take on the Bear’s legacy at Alabama. Jimbo didn’t shy away from following Bobby at FSU, either.

In his book Bobby also says he passed on offers from LSU and Auburn and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons through the years. He formally interviewed at Alabama in 1987, too, and was disappointed not to get an offer that time. Probably would have gone if he did.

There is no good way and no good time for a coach to leave one school for another, at least in the eyes of his former employer. Now Taggart is getting ripped at Oregon, where he coached for one season after upgrading from South Florida. If he ever left FSU for another job, we’d have a true gypsy, a modern-day Lou Saban, on our hands.

I’m thinking in all of this there will be a new wave of nostalgia for good ol’ Bobby.

Nobody cares now about the reasons that he stayed at FSU for 34 years, or about the close calls that almost took him away.

All that matters is that he stayed, and he never made it seem like some kind of sacrifice on his part.

In today’s climate, that is at once wonderful and weird.

[History says Dolphins can’t make playoffs from 5-7)

[Sean McVay overtakes Adam Gase as NFL’s Next Big Thing]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Greg Schiano]

 

Seminoles and Gators could sure use those canceled games now

No biggie when it happened.

Canceling a list of September cupcake games in the approach of a hurricane that ended up tracking through our state from bottom to top? That was just common sense for the athletic directors at Florida State and Florida, and for all kinds of legitimate reasons.

Florida State’s head coach Jimbo Fisher, second from right, talks to his staff on the sideline in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. Louisville won 31-28. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Now, however, the Seminoles and Gators would love to have those games back, the better to inch toward the bowl-eligible requirement of six wins in a season.

FSU has a 35-year streak of bowl participation on the line, but with a 2-4 record Jimbo Fisher has little room for error. Things would feel so much safer if that early game with Louisiana-Monroe had been played and another victory was in the bank.

Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference is 3-4 and just last week gave up 670 yards of total offense in a loss to South Alabama.

The Gators, meanwhile, are 3-3 and headed to Jacksonville for a game with the unbeaten Georgia Bulldogs, No. 3 in the AP poll. The game Florida lost to Hurricane Irma was Northern Colorado, a Big Sky team bumping along right now at 2-4.

Can’t easily reschedule this stuff without common open dates on the schedule, and all the schools announced long ago that they wouldn’t bother trying.

Were other state schools involved in the spate of hurricane-related cancellations? Of course, but the Miami Hurricanes, a Top-10 team, doesn’t need any other wins to get where they want to go. Same goes for South Florida and Central Florida, both of them undefeated and bound for the bowls.

Matter of fact, UCF may have gotten a break because their canceled game was Georgia Tech, a real pain to play.

Would they still be unbeaten if that game was played as originally scheduled? Would a

Florida head coach Jim McElwain reacts as time runs out in an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. Texas A&M won 19-17. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

victory over Georgia Tech have gotten the Knights a better ranking in the upcoming release of the first College Football Playoff committee rankings? These are questions without answers.

South Florida, meanwhile, was able to wrangle the schedule around to play Connecticut, a fellow member of the American Athletic Conference, in November rather than September. In the process the Bulls canceled a game with Massachusetts, a 1-6 independent, but no harm there.

Bottom line, the Florida-FSU game at the Swamp on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend may put one team in a bowl and knock the other one out.

Biggie.

And in case anybody is wondering, the last time both the Seminoles and Gators failed to qualify for a bowl was 1978, when Bobby Bowden was in his third FSU season and Doug Dickey was about to get the boot at Florida.

[Injured Jay Cutler once came back in Chicago despite replacement’s success]

[Hoping for churn at top of NBA and not another Cavs-Warriors rematch]

[Even UM’s greatest teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

Here are the trap games that should worry Seminoles, Gators and Hurricanes, but unfortunately won’t

With Florida State opening against Alabama, Florida opening against Michigan and the ACC media picking Miami to finally win the Coastal Division, it’s chest-thumping time in the Sunshine State.

Here is the only summertime reminder you are likely to get that the season is long and the stumbling blocks are many.

Mark Richt gestures during Miami s Oct. 29, 2016 game at Notre Dame. (Getty Images)

Yes, we are talking about the trap games on everybody’s schedule. The potential for a little humiliation to go with all that hubris. The loss nobody saw coming, except maybe for the head coach, who worries too much anyway.

Here are my choices for that watch-your-step moment with each program. See if you agree.

Florida State – The Seminoles have a seven-game win streak against Boston College and they crushed the Eagles 45-7 last year so no problem, right?

Well, actually there are a few reasons to sweat this Oct. 27 test.

First, Boston College immediately follows Louisville on FSU’s schedule. It was Louisville that crushed FSU 63-20 last season at a time when the Seminoles were No. 2 in the polls, so the rematch is kind of a big deal.

Second, the BC game is on a Friday night, which is as flukey as it gets, and on the road, where there never, ever is a cruise-control setting.

Third, the Seminoles’ last trip to Alumni Stadium was a bruising, 14-0 FSU victory on a Friday night in 2015, and the score was a much scarier 7-0 until a fourth-quarter fumble return for a touchdown.

FSU should beat Boston College every time but there are no absolutes in college football, except maybe that Jimbo Fisher will always have a good quarterback.

Florida – The Gators have won 30 in a row over Kentucky, and that’s the longest active streak in major college football. Problem is, some of those recent wins have been real squeakers.

Like 14-9 in Jim McElwain’s first trip to Lexington in 2015. Like a wild, triple-overtime escape for the Gators at the Swamp in 2014.

Florida should beat Kentucky on Sept. 23 at what they’re calling Kroger Field up there now, but there are no absolutes in college football, except maybe that until and unless the Gators develop a quarterback, they could lose a game anywhere to anybody.

Miami – I’m looking at Toledo on Sept. 23 at Hard Rock Stadium for the simple reason that no one else is.

Everybody’s staring straight at FSU the previous Saturday and maybe investing a little early-season anxiety in that Sept. 9 trip to Arkansas State, with its cute 30,000-seat stadium and the utterly insane opportunity for a Sun Belt team to build an instant reputation by testing or upsetting Miami.

Well, let it be known that Toledo beat Arkansas State 31-10 last season in that same little stadium. And that Toledo played great in a game at BYU last year before losing 55-53 on a field goal as time expired. And that the Rockets’ Logan Woodside led the nation in touchdown passes last year, including five in that BYU game. And that Nick Saban once was the head coach at Toledo, which surely counts for something.

Miami should beat Toledo every time, but there are no absolutes in college football, except maybe that teams with FSU and Notre Dame on their schedule are going to have a milder reaction to a MAC matchup.

That’s all for now, but I’m reserving the right to freak out over more potential trap games as the season rolls along.

[Jeffrey Loria says there is no deal on Marlins sale so stop talking about it]

[Astros and Nats might bring World Series buzz back to WPB next spring]

[A dream travel itinerary to see Sunshine State’s top college football games]

 

 

How to lavishly spend the 2017 college football season on the road and in the doghouse

 

With unlimited funds and unlimited time, wouldn’t it be fun to attend as many games involving Florida’s college football teams as possible?

Something to think about on a lazy summer day, with a preferred list of 2017 games to follow.

New South Florida head coach Charlie Strong  (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Don’t think about it too long, however. My guess is that merely committing to watch each and every one of these games on the man cave’s big screen would be the end to most marriages.

 

Saturday, Aug. 26 – South Florida at San Jose State (Charlie Strong’s USF debut)

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Florida International at Central Florida (Butch Davis’ FIU debut)

Friday, Sept. 1 – Navy at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin’s FAU debut)

Saturday, Sept. 2 – Florida State vs. Alabama at Atlanta (Why, oh why, does Florida-Michigan have to be on the same day?)

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Miami at Arkansas State (Red Wolves crushed UCF in bowl game last year)

Friday, Sept. 15 – Illinois at USF (Illini went 3-9 last year but beating Big Ten team has certain cachet)

Saturday, Sept. 16 – Miami at FSU (Catch first half of Tennessee at Florida on the way to Tallahassee)

Thursday, Sept. 21 – Temple at USF (Weeknight games good for Bulls’ exposure)

Saturday, Sept. 23 – North Carolina State at FSU (Seminoles needed late rally for 24-20 win last year)

Friday, Sept. 29 – Miami at Duke (Division rival and often a pain in the ACC for Miami)

Saturday, Sept. 30 – Florida State at Wake Forest (End-zone interception secured close win on Seminoles’ last trip there)

Saturday, Oct. 7 – LSU at Florida (Goal-line stand against Tigers clinched SEC East for Gators in 2016)

Thursday, Oct. 12 – Georgia Tech at Miami (2nd straight week on ESPN national telecast for Mark Richt)

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Texas A&M at Florida (First trip to Swamp for Aggies, who joined SEC in 2012)

Saturday, Oct. 21 – Louisville at FSU (Cardinals put 63 points on Seminoles behind Heisman winner Lamar Jackson last year)

Friday, Oct. 27 – FSU at Boston College (Short week after Louisville showdown)

Saturday, Oct. 28 – Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville (Sooner or later Bulldogs are going to be good)

Saturday, Nov. 4 – Virginia Tech at Miami (If Miami ever wins the Coastal, it will be a game like this that does it)

Saturday, Nov. 11 – FSU at Clemson (Tigers are defending national champions)

Thursday, Nov. 16 – Tulsa at USF (Will Charlie Strong have the Bulls in the Top Ten by this point?)

Saturday, Nov. 18 – FIU at FAU (Butch vs. Kiffin in battle for major recruiting coup)

Friday, Nov. 24 – Miami at Pittsburgh (Stop grumbling about Thanksgiving travel and get to the airport)

Saturday, Nov. 25 – FSU at Florida (Would be nice to see this game mean a lot to both teams again)

 

That’s all of the schedule we know right now. The conference champions follow in December and then the College Football Playoff and the bowls.

Would you be sick of college football after traveling to all of those games? No problem. Just switch to the NFL in 2018.

 

 

 

Malik Zaire is what the Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win the starting QB job

Barring a last-minute snag with the university’s academic guidelines, Malik Zaire will begin taking practice snaps with Florida this summer.

He’s got one season of eligibility left as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, which means that Jim McElwain has about six months to ride this train before the Gators resume their mysterious game of “Pick a quarterback, any quarterback.”

In this Sept. 5, 2015, file photo, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire looks to a pass against Texas, in South Bend, Ind. The Southeastern Conference tweaked its graduate transfer policy Friday, June 2, 2017, making changes that would allow former Notre Dame quarterback Zaire to land at Florida. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this picture, of course, unless you are Feleipe Franks, the top 2016 recruit who has yet to play a game at Florida.

The Gators, who have been stuck in the primordial ooze offensively, gain a dual-threat passer who was the MVP of a bowl win over LSU in 2014. Zaire earned that Music City Bowl start by taking the job from Everett Golson, another eventual grad-student transfer from Notre Dame who chose Florida State among many options for his final year of eligibility and immediately earned Jimbo Fisher’s trust as the Seminoles’ starter in 2015.

McElwain clearly is in win-now mode this year, just like every year. He’ll go with Zaire if he appears to be better than Franks or Luke Del Rio, who was barely adequate as a starter last year and is coming off surgery on his throwing shoulder.

To imagine, however, that Zaire will transform the Gators from two-time SEC East champions to national title contenders is fairly silly. That kind of transformation takes time, and time is what you don’t get with graduate transfers.

Far better, whenever possible, to develop a quarterback within the system with two or three years of good production in sight, the way McElwain did with Garrett Grayson in his first head coaching stop at Colorado State.

On top of that, Florida is just three months removed from the 2017 season opener against Michigan. If Zaire is the starter, McElwain will be banking on immediate spotlight production from a quarterback who couldn’t win the starting job on Notre Dame’s 4-8 team last year and because of injuries, academics and spotty play threw just six touchdown passes in three seasons with the Irish.

If that really does turn out to be the best option, then Franks isn’t much of an option at all, whether it’s this year or any other. There is more than quarterback depth in question here. The position is all about dynamics, too, and a plan for showing future recruits that they won’t be drawn in just to be pushed to the back of the treadmill.

Here is what Bobby Bowden said when Jimbo was working on bringing Golson to FSU, and remember that Golson got Notre Dame all the way to the BCS national championship game earlier in his career.

“If you’re bringing him in, you’re showing no confidence in your other quarterbacks,” said Bobby, who in fairness often toggled back and forth between a couple of passers during his great FSU coaching career.

It’s a tough call, and not one that McElwain has to make right away, but there isn’t much room for rumination. Michigan is coming off a 10-win season that included a double-overtime loss to Ohio State, one of last year’s College Football Playoff teams.

Golson’s season-opening start at FSU came against Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference.

[Will Trubisky, another lightly-used college QB, match Tannehill’s numbers?]

[A Marlins sale prior to All-Star Game seems too neat and tidy to be true]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces at Detroit]

The best scenario here is for Zaire to push Franks hard, eliciting greater focus and stronger leadership from the kid, but for Franks to win the starting job outright and keep it.

Nobody owes anybody anything in a case like this, but it sure would be nice to see McElwain partner up with a quarterback for a serious stretch and see how far they can go together. It’s the only area where the coach has failed to make consistent progress at Florida, and it’s the missing link for any SEC boss who wants to challenge Alabama for the league championship.

 

 

NCAA football scoring average tops 30 points per game, and Gators don’t come close

 

The only disappointment from Jim McElwain’s first two seasons as coach of the Florida Gators has been a serious lack of scoring punch. Now comes statistical confirmation of their subpar status in that area.

According to final statistics released by the NCAA, the per-game average for Div. I football teams in 2016 was a record 30.04 points. Florida missed that average by nearly a touchdown, coming in at 23.9 to rank 107th of 128 schools.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain reacts to a dropped pass by Iowa during the first half of the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
TAMPA – Florida head coach Jim McElwain reacts to a dropped pass by Iowa during the Gators’ Outback Bowl win over Iowa on Jan. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The problem starts and ends at the quarterback position, an area McElwain has promised to address, though it should be noted that the Gators would be just fine if Will Grier hadn’t selfishly checked out on them with a performance-enhancing substance violation and a transfer to West Virginia.

Imagine, though, how sad the situation would have been without consistently excellent defense at Florida. Takeaways and defensive touchdowns played a major part in the modest scoring that McElwain’s teams have done.

No wonder Florida fans have struggled to fully embrace the new coach in spite of back-to-back SEC East titles under McElwain. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer sometimes had 30 points by halftime as Gator coaches. In 1996, for instance, Spurrier’s national championship team averaged 47 points per game.

I’m thinking it will get fixed. McElwain’s a bright coach with a long-term plan. Meanwhile, it’s a matter of adjusting to what the rest of America is doing and playing a bit of catch-up along the way.

That’s tough to swallow for a Florida team that won nine games, including the Outback Bowl, but it plays into recruiting and ticket sales and everything else that gets tied to coaching.

If you’re looking for the scoring most of all, the South Florida Bulls are a good season-ticket value.

USF averaged 43.8 points last season, fourth in the nation, and scored 46 in a Birmingham Bowl win over South Carolina. Now the Bulls have Charlie Strong for a head coach, which will only boost the talent there. That spells touchdowns, almost by accident, and it will have to be that way in order to compete in the American Athletic Conference, where Tulsa and Navy and Houston and Temple regularly light it up.

FSU and Miami are above the national scoring average at 35.1 and 34.3 points per game, respectively.

Below average are UCF (28.8 points per game), Florida Atlantic (26.4), Florida International (24.0) and, as previously mentioned Florida.

Only two SEC schools ranked lower on the scoring list than the Gators. One of those teams (South Carolina) has Will Muschamp as its head coach and the other, as if you couldn’t guess, is Vanderbilt.

 

 

FSU leads the nation in comprehensive competitiveness

Congratulations to Florida State for nearing a tipping point of achievement that rarely gets noted around here.

The Seminoles are ranked nearly as high in basketball (No. 10 in the latest AP poll) as the FSU football team was in 2016’s final poll (No. 8).

This is fairly amazing stuff, and there’s an opportunity for Leonard Hamilton’s hoops team to climb even higher with No. 15 Notre Dame and No. 12 Louisville coming to Tallahassee this week.

Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

For two-sport domination, no other school comes close at the moment. FSU is the only program with top-10 teams in football and basketball according to the most current polls.

The other contenders are well back.

Louisville is No. 12 in basketball and finished No. 21 in football.

Wisconsin pairs a No. 17 basketball ranking with a No. 9 football finish.

Florida is up to No. 19 in hoops. A little bit more and they’ll catch the Gator football team at No. 14. This has happened before, of course, with back-to-back national titles in basketball during Billy Donovan’s great years, but in a football-crazy state like this one, Mike White deserves more headlines for even coming close.

Miami has the most climbing to do. Unranked in basketball, the Hurricanes finished No. 20 in Mark Richt’s first season as football coach. Jim Larranaga just picked up his 600th career victory, however, and he’s gotten the Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 a couple of times so it’s obvious the school is in good shape across the board.

Here’s another burst of fireworks for FSU. The Seminoles also are No. 7 in the AP poll for women’s basketball. Miami’s women also rank highly at No. 14.

We’ll check back as the hoops season goes on, unless all you want to talk about by then is college football recruiting, which would mean that everything is back to normal no matter what three pretty competitive basketball programs have to say about it.

 

[Steve Shepherd, Dave Lewter enter Florida Boxing Hall of Fame]

[Bob D’Angio was king of close calls during great run at Forest Hill]

[Lane Kiffin revival tent comes to Florida Atlantic]

 

FSU keeping Jimbo is the program’s most important news since hiring Jimbo

 

LSU really messed up by not getting Jimbo Fisher when he was available as he ever will be.

This was the year to strike, with no College Football Playoff possibility for Florida State and no reason for Jimbo to delay a decision until January.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and running back Dalvin Cook celebrate the team's 31-13 win over Florida in an NCAA college football game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and running back Dalvin Cook celebrate the team’s 31-13 win over Florida at Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

This time next year the Seminoles could be right back in the national championship chase. LSU, meanwhile, will probably be licking its wounds after getting aced out again by Alabama in the SEC West.

Ed Orgeron isn’t the guy you need to catch and pass Nick Saban. If he coaxes Lane Kiffin from Alabama to run the Tigers’ offense, it would be closer to reality, but why wouldn’t Kiffin hold out for a head coaching job or stick with the No. 1 team?

Orgeron was 3-21 against SEC teams in a previous head coaching opportunity at Ole Miss from 2005-07, and Saban didn’t even have Alabama up and running until 2008.

Jimbo, on the other hand, is an elite coach. He’s one of four active coaches with a national championship, joining Saban, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops.

He’s a recruiter persuasive enough to get Alabama native Jameis Winston to Tallahassee instead of Tuscaloosa.

Also, he’s close enough to his players to find and push all their buttons, including the ones that make them go out and pound Florida on a week when their head coach is being rumored as the top candidate at another school.

If you want all of that, you’ve got to pay for it, in the same way that Alabama broke the bank for Saban.

Instead, Jimbo is out on the recruiting trail, avoiding the kind of big rebuild that new Texas coach Tom Herman is facing. Everything is in place for many more great seasons with the Seminoles. Jimbo has seen and will see to that.

[Ravens have a sophisticated offense weapon that Adam Gase lacks]

[Tebow’s Arizona Fall League season is over but look for him at spring training]

[One recent Dolphins head coach made quite an impression on Gase]

This is such massive news for FSU, but there may actually be people who don’t fully appreciate it. The monotony of beating both Florida and Miami the last four years makes it seem as if such dominance is automatic. It is not.

The jackpot of getting superstars like Dalvin Cook to play for FSU instead of Florida or Miami is impossible to quantify.

The disappointment of not playing for a national title every season? Beyond being a little silly, that’s missing the larger point.

If Jimbo’s not your head coach, who would be better to lead the Seminoles?

The name of Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt keeps coming up as a possible replacement one day. He called the defensive plays for Jimbo during FSU’s national championship season of 2013, but Pruitt has never been a head coach.

Kirby Smart, another highly-regarded Alabama defensive coordinator, was in a similar position when he got the Georgia head coaching job. Favored to win the SEC East in the preseason, he is working on a 7-5 debut with home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech and a dud of a performance against Florida in Jacksonville.

A guy like Pruitt probably does better than that with the talent Jimbo has put together at FSU, but wouldn’t you just rather have Jimbo?

Other names tossed around as possible FSU coaches during the period of LSU’s flirtation with Jimbo include North Carolina’s Larry Fedora (coming off losses to 4-8 Duke and 6-6 North Carolina State in the last three weeks), Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy (if he finishes in Top Ten, that will make twice in 12 seasons at Stillwater), Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre (turning Buffs around but his only postseason experience as head coach is a Military Bowl victory over Bowling Green) and Chip Kelly (brilliant run at Oregon but he’s on an NFL kick now and seems to have lost his momentum).

I even saw Les Miles’ name come up as a person for FSU to call in a pinch. That would be taking the guy LSU fired to replace the guy LSU hired. That would be taking a guy who misses so many details and loses games over penalties and a general lack of discipline.

Remember that game a few weeks ago where LSU lost to Florida despite being a two-touchdown favorite at home? Orgeron said his running back ran the wrong way on the goal-line stop that won the game for the Gators, leaping over the middle instead of looking for a short toss around the end. That’s the kind of game Miles sometimes lost, and the kind of game that always had Tiger fans calling for his head.

Bottom line, Jimbo’s decision to stay at FSU is far bigger news than Herman going to Texas or any other coaching switch.

We’ll see that when FSU plays Alabama or Ohio State or Michigan or Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff sometime in the next few years. Those are the teams with heavyweight coaches and monster programs all tied up tight and looking for more.

Those are the only situations, apparently, that would ever convince Jimbo to leave and try his hand somewhere else. LSU either didn’t make the cut or wouldn’t pay the price.

In the end, it comes out to be the same thing.

 

 

 

 

Gators are close to turning the tide in the FSU rivalry

Jim McElwain did the best that he could last year cooking up a rallying cry after Florida’s utterly flat 27-2 loss to Florida State.

“Give them credit,” McElwain said. “They won the game. I guarantee you we’ll show up there next year.”

Yeah, well, that’s how the schedule works pretty much on its own.

SYRACUSE, NY - NOVEMBER 19: Dalvin Cook #4 of the Florida State Seminoles breaks a tackle to run in his final touchdown of the day against the Syracuse Orange during the third quarter on November 19, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Florida State defeats Syracuse 45-14. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
SYRACUSE, NY – NOVEMBER 19: Dalvin Cook of the Florida State Seminoles breaks a tackle to run in his final touchdown of the day against the Syracuse Orange on November 19, 2016. FSU defeated Syracuse 45-14. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Can’t blame the Florida coach for being a little flustered, though. The Gators entered the game at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings but needed a safety just to avoid being shut out in the Swamp for the first time since 1988.

The offense was kaput, all right, with Treon Harris at quarterback. That left Florida’s powerful defense in a terrible position, fighting and fighting through three quarters on the wrong side of a 13-2 score and finally fizzling in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Dalvin Cook got 150 of his 183 rushing yards and both of his touchdown runs. Until then both teams had been fairly stagnant. Nine punts by the Gators. Seven punts by the Seminoles. Truth be told, seven of FSU’s 15 first downs came in the final 8:00, when the game already was on ice.

OK, so it hardly was a classic but the Seminoles pushed their winning streak in the rivalry to three games overall and they won at Gainesville for the third consecutive time, too. ”Our players know how hard it is to do that,” said Jimbo Fisher.

Has anything happened to help switch the momentum for Saturday’s prime-time renewal of the rivalry at Doak Campbell Stadium? Sure, plenty.

[Here’s one former Dolphins head coach who really impressed Adam Gase]

[FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door]

[Might be last chance to see Brad Kaaya play at Hard Rock Stadium]

The Gators are coming off a huge victory, for openers. Last week’s goal-line stand to beat LSU also put Florida back in the SEC Championship game. In 2015 the game before FSU was a scary Gator escape from FAU. In overtime.

Also, the Gators have a legitimate field-goal kicker now in Eddy Pineiro, who was 3-for-3 against LSU. Last year Austin Hardin couldn’t be trusted to make an extra point. Against FSU, he missed from 51 yards on the final play of the half and had a 37-yard try blocked when it started out low.

Finally, the Florida defense kept Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice from killing them on the ground last week and came up with the biggest plays of the game when it mattered most in the closing minute.

Injuries were no excuse. Fatigue was no excuse. Spotty support from the Florida offense was no excuse, either.

Of course, Cook is the problem now, and he’s coming off a 225-yard, four-touchdown performance against Syracuse. His ability to run stronger and hurt teams more as the game goes along is his biggest threat.

If Florida can get a handle on that, avoiding big breakout plays by FSU’s new career rushing leader, these two teams just aren’t that far apart.

Call it 19-16 FSU, and call me a coward for not predicting an upset.

If this really does turn out to be the last game in Tallahassee for Jimbo, LSU’s top target, and Dalvin, a potential NFL draft gem, they’ll both bust a gut to keep it from being a loss to the Gators.