Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

First order of business on the Gator coach search is finding a guy who’s not afraid to give it a try

For years now I have been clinging to the same philosophy when it comes to coach searches at Florida.

You don’t get a guy who has no SEC experience to step into a pressure cooker like the Gators job. He needs to know the region and its recruiting rhythms. Needs to have been a big winner as a head coach already. Needs to have a ton of confidence and the ability to snatch up and develop a championship quarterback or two or three.

ANNAPOLIS, MD- OCTOBER 21: Head coach Scott Frost of the UCF Knights stands with his players during the play of the Navy Midshipmen fight song following the Knights 31-21 win at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on October 21, 2017. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

So when the Gators hired Urban Meyer, I had major doubts about going with a flavor-of-the-month from the old Mountain West. (Wrong about that)

And when the Gators hired Will Muschamp, I felt pretty good about it based on SEC roots and recruiting power and was willing to overlook the lack of head coaching experience. (Wrong about that, too)

And when the Gators hired Jim McElwain, I was somewhat ambivalent but satisfied that at least with a reputation for building a quarterback at Colorado State he probably could do it again. (Wrong, wrong, always wrong)

So what’s the proper combo for 2017? The only right answer now is whatever makes fans and boosters happy in the moment because they’re just about ready to shred their season tickets right now.

The Gator program has jettisoned too much of its cachet with this constant coaching churn. Whoever gets the job now will be lucky to keep it for three years. McElwain couldn’t, and he won the SEC East title in each of his first two seasons there.

I’d probably be wrong, under the circumstances, to eliminate Scott Frost as a candidate because he is winning big in the American Athletic Conference and hasn’t even been doing that for long. (Florida wouldn’t want anything to do with playing Central Florida right now or anytime soon).

Probably wrong about crossing off Dan Mullen, too, just because he got rolled by Georgia and Auburn this year and is about to get rolled by Alabama, too.

Probably wrong about doubting Willie Taggart for being 5-5 in his first year at Oregon, or Mike Norvell for being at little ol’ Memphis, or Matt Campbell for pulling off a few flashy upsets in the Big 12 but being 9-12 at Iowa State overall.

The only thing that might feel just right, at least at this very moment, is Justin Fuente, but Miami just slowed his progress at Virginia Tech with a thorough whipping of the Hokies on Saturday night.

The whole thing will have to be wrapped up, one way or the other, by Dec. 10 or so. Got to get the next recruiting class coming in. Got to find a guy who is willing to do more than just play Florida for a bigger contract at his current job. Got to prove to Gator boosters that the program didn’t peter out the day Tim Tebow left.

Whatever happens, the reaction column I write can’t possibly be as strong and as certain as they used to be. Nothing about Florida is certain anymore, including the idea that any ambitious young coach would die to be there and to stay there for years and years to come.

That may be true again one day, but for now, with even UAB a major threat to stick it to the Gators in a few weeks before a half-empty stadium, what’s happening at Florida may actually be enough to scare some pretty good candidates off.

Following blowout loss to Georgia, Jim McElwain sounded like he knows he is finished at Florida

 

Jim McElwain is 3-4, which might not seem so bad except the last time the Gators were 3-4 was way back in 1986.

That’s how it works when you’re coaching the Gators, a team with three national titles and a fan base that has gotten used to beating up on Georgia.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, left, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain meet at midfield after a 42-7 Georgia victory at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Nothing has been officially announced or even publicly discussed, but it sure looks like Saturday’s 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs at EverBank Field was the last straw for McElwain as Gators coach.

It was Georgia’s largest margin of victory in this series since a 44-0 victory in 1982 and it would have been a shutout if not for a late touchdown drive led by Malik Zaire, the quarterback who transferred in from Notre Dame but had gone unused by McElwain until now.

Replace all of that competitive sorrow with SEC championships and McElwain easily survives the kind of mess he caused early last week by dropping the unsubstantiated inference that he and his family and his players had received death threats. It would have been viewed as a poor choice of words and forgotten.

When it’s going like it’s going for the Gators these days, nothing is forgotten, or forgiven, by boosters who expect so much more.

“When you look back, I’ve made mistakes in my life,” McElwain said. “Yet I’ll stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is. It won’t be the first to ever happen to anybody and I get that.

“We put a lot into this program. People have been great to my wife and I. We’ll see what happens. That’s the stuff that’s out of your control, and yet I’m proud of our team. I know we haven’t won and yet those guys are what it’s all about.

“Look, we haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough, haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it. There’s no doubt.””

McElwain’s offenses did not rank within the top 100 of major-college teams even when the Gators were winning the 2015 and 2016 SEC East titles. He has not developed redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks and on Saturday, even after a bye week, 14 penalties showed a lack of focus by Florida, including a series of illegal procedure and false start flags against the offense.

Asked if he still wants to be the coach at Florida after all that is reported to be happening behind the scenes, McElwain said “Yeah, you know, this is a dream job. It’s a great place. Great fans. Great support. The resources are there to win. Obviously I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to deliver in the time I’ve been here, but this is one of those places I’ve said from the start where you should have the opportunity.

“My concerns are not at all me. My concerns are these guys, this university. You know, it’s a great place and that really is my concern.”

And if McElwain remains as Florida’s coach for the rest of the season, beginning with next Saturday’s trip to Missouri, how do he and the team bounce back?

“That was a blowout, and something I’m not proud of,” said McElwain, “but how you rebound when something doesn’t go right is you certainly don’t run the other way. You come back to work and get ready to go play this game next week.”

McElwain also was asked about being photographed with a smile on his face as he walked with wife Karen off the field and into the tunnel. The questioner suggested it was not a good look for a coach who just got beat by 35 points.

“She told me to keep my chin up,” McElwain said. “That’s something my dad used to tell me. It doesn’t do you any good to hang your head. Just like I told our guys. I’ve never been about good looks, so I apologize for that, I guess.”

 

Gators’ Jim McElwain follows the clumsy coaching norm by keeping Antonio Callaway on the team

 

Antonio Callaway, the only sure playmaker on a Florida offense that has ranked among the nation’s worst for a couple of years now, is suspended for the season opener against Michigan.

The kid earned every bit of it, and really should be kicked off the team by now. This latest case of misusing school-issued funds to buy textbooks and then resell them is piled on top of previous problems.

GAINESVILLE – Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway runs after a reception against Kentucky a 2016 game. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Pleading no contest to a marijuana charge and paying a fine. Being suspended for a semester by the university during a sexual assault investigation that eventually came to nothing. Getting pulled over as a passenger in a car with a 40-year-old man whose criminal history is well known to police. Being far too well acquainted, overall, with the school’s hearing system for student conduct code violations.

Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain needs this spectacular wide receiver and kick returner against the Wolverines on Sept. 2. Heck, the way this offense struggles to put points on the board, he needs Callaway against Northern Colorado the following week.

“Very disappointed,” is how McElwain described his reaction, as well as the necessity to suspend six other players for the opening game because of the same text-book scam.

Very light, in Callaway’s case, the punishment. He isn’t learning anything from all of these close calls and dodges except that McElwain, like most major coaches trying to get a shot at the national title, will do whatever he can to keep his best players eligible.

Here, meanwhile, is what I have learned through the years of watching college players trade touchdowns for true accountability.

First, there is a reason that the Gators and many other high-profile programs generally schedule an easy game or two to open each season and have done so forever. It allows room for painless suspensions in response to offseason idiocies. This Michigan opener is an experiment, and with the exception of Miami as a season kickoff game in 2019, it’s not the kind of instant challenge that Florida will pursue on a regular basis.

Second, Cam Newton got away with a lot of stuff before he left the Gators in 2009 but more than that we probably still don’t know the whole story.

Urban Meyer knew what he had in this transformational quarterback, the logical successor to Tim Tebow, and he didn’t want Cam to get away. So even though a Fox sports report said Newton was caught three times for academic cheating before and after an arrest for buying a stolen laptop computer, he only decided to transfer to a junior college when the university threatened to expel him for repeated violations of the school’s honor code.

Was Newton worth the trouble that Meyer and his staff must have gone through to try to keep him on the team?

The fraternity of coaches probably has a different answer on this than you might, but consider that Gene Chizik had an undefeated and national championship at Auburn in his one season with Newton at quarterback. Two years later, without Newton, Chizik bottomed out and got fired.

[Is there anything with this waivers thing to worry about with Giancarlo Stanton?]

[Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin will have a strong influence on Buffalo Bills]

[The two places in America where there’s nothing but love for Jay Cutler]

“I saw these strides, right, and then sometimes you take a step back,” McElwain said of Callaway’s suspension. “Yet I’m sure he’s not the only one that’s done that, and yet it’s my responsibility to keep teaching.”

Teach on, just like Nick Saban has done by deciding not to suspend Da’Shawn Hand for the season opener against Florida State, even though the star defensive end was charged with DUI for being asleep at the wheel of a car while impaired.

This is how it works with the best players, in every sport, at every level. This is how it always will.

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]

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the head coaches had to take over the huddle in a pinch, which old-timer would you want quarterbacking your team?

 

From the childish category of my-dad-can-beat-up-your dad, here’s a question for you.

Pictured below with quarterback's coach Earl Morrall are (left to right): Vinny Testaverde, Kyle Vanderwende, Jim Kelly, Mark Richt and Bernie Kosar. (Contributed photo)
Pictured below with former UM quarterbacks coach Earl Morrall are (left to right): Vinny Testaverde, Kyle Vanderwende, Jim Kelly, Mark Richt and Bernie Kosar. (Contributed photo)

If in a charity football game you had to name a quarterback to save the day in the fourth quarter, and if that quarterback had to be one of the head coaches from Florida’s major college football teams, which one would you pick?

Here’s my order.

  1. Scott Frost, Central Florida – He’s 41, which helps, and he’s 6-foot-3, which hurts anyone trying to tackle him. Most importantly, Frost quarterbacked Nebraska to a share of the national championship in 1997. Michigan won the AP title. The 13-0 Cornhuskers, led by Frost’s three touchdown runs, beat Peyton Manning and Tennessee 42-17 to win the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll.
  2. Willie Taggart, South Florida – He’s 39, finishing up his career at Western Kentucky in 1998 as a four-year starter at quarterback. Was an All-America at the I-AA level and a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the top offensive player in that division. Payton, by the way, played at Jackson State so don’t underestimate small-school talent.
  3. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State – He’s 50 and still pretty spry. Bounced around a bit after high school before landing at Samford, where he was the Div. III Player of the Year in 1987. Played a little Arena Football League, too, after getting his college coaching from Terry Bowden. Maybe you’ve heard of Terry’s dad.
  4. Mark Richt, Miami – The oldest of our contestants at 56, he was a star quarterback at Boca Raton High School and led the Bobcats into the state playoffs. A backup to Jim Kelly at Miami, he completed 45 percent of his passes over a four-year Hurricanes career with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Finished in 1982, one year before Howard Schnellenberger’s national title team.
  5. Jim McElwain, Florida – He’s 54. Played a little quarterback at Eastern Washington in the early 1980’s but gave up his senior season of eligility to pursue a more promising career as a graduate assistant coach. Good multi-sport star in high school back home in Montana.

Can’t rank Charlie Partridge of FAU here because he played defensive line at Drake. FIU’s Ron Turner was a receiver at Pacific.

Tell the truth, though, I’d like to stretch this imaginary category a bit further if it’s a matter of winning or losing, and when isn’t it?

Give me Steve Spurrier off the bench at Florida. Of course, he’s going to need a clean pocket. The ol’ ballcoach doesn’t get around like he used to, but he’s still crazy competitive.

[Thumbs up for Hard Rock Stadium, which sounds as loud as a stadium should]

[Strange but true, American football once was an Olympic sport]

[The Olympic gold medal sprinter who played for the Dolphins]

Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Gators again

The Florida Gators barely beat FAU last year. In overtime.

They edged Vanderbilt 9-7, struggling mightily to outscore a team that completed three passes for 30 yards.

Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
HOOVER, Ala. – Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Against Florida State, the Gators would have been shut out at home if not for a safety that the Seminoles gifted them in the fourth quarter.

Finally, in a bowl game that only Jim Harbaugh could love, Florida got rolled 41-7 by Michigan.

Is it any wonder that the Gators are flying under the radar at this week’s SEC Media Days in Alabama? Based on the results listed above, and the fact that coach Jim McElwain’s best quarterback from last season has transferred to West Virginia under the cloud of NCAA suspension, Florida’s ability to win a second consecutive SEC East title deserves to be doubted in every way.

Except one.

The Gators offense has to be better this year for the simple fact that it can’t possibly get worse.

McElwain has four quarterbacks from which to choose, with everyone figuring that Luke Del Rio will be the one, but really, it all comes down to this assessment from the 2015 SEC Coach of the Year.

“We’ve really got good arm talent,” McElwain said, “and I’m looking forward to stretching the field vertically.”

Good arm talent is the beginning point for any quarterback. It’s the opposite of what Treon Harris displayed last year. It’s the reason every play felt like fourth-and-long in the season’s final month.

A little foot power comes in handy, too. That’s why McElwain put so much energy into flipping powerful place-kicker Eddy Pineiro’s commitment from Alabama to Florida in February. Austin Hardin, the Gators’ previous best, made five field goals last season and missed three extra points. That’s middle-school stuff.

[Dolphins’ stadium, the one rushing renovations, also had a bumpy debut in 1987]

[The upside on Hassan Whiteside, who was Riley’s first free-agent priority]

[My strangest day in the business, an afternoon with Macho Camacho]

So we’ll talk more in the weeks to come about specific players at specific positions and what kind of magic potion it’s going to take to beat Tennessee again.

For now it figures that the defense will be good and Antonio Callaway will find his way back in the lineup and McElwain will go into his second Gainesville season quite happy that nothing spectacular is expected of the Gators.

One game, that 38-10 rout of Ole Miss, is all it took last year to get people believing in Florida again.

One game, maybe that trip to Knoxville Sept. 24, could do it again.

Last four Signing Day hauls show that bad coaching can sour even the deepest wells of talent

National Signing Day shows which teams should be winning a lot of games over the next few years but it doesn’t always show who will.

It really does matter who is doing the coaching.

Alabama, for instance, has no excuse if the championships don’t come rolling in. Starting in 2012, Nick Saban has been judged by the Rivals recruiting site to have the nation’s top class of signees three times out of four years. That adds up.

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles watches on during their game against the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEMSON, SC – Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles watches on during their game against the Clemson Tigers on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Look at USC, though. The Trojans had Rivals’ No. 1 recruiting class in 2015 and averaged out at No. 8 from 2012-15. The turmoil of numerous coaching changes really did its damage, however. Twice in the last four years USC was unranked in the final AP poll. Never during that period did USC finish in the AP Top Ten.

Let’s figure out, based on the rankings of the last four recruiting classes, which coaches are getting the most out of their talent in terms of development.

You already know about Al Golden, fired by Miami. His recruiting was decent, averaging out around No. 17 on the last four Rivals’ charts of his tenure. There were no bowl games in there, however, and no finishes in the AP’s final Top 25.

Will Muschamp had three top-10 recruiting classes at Florida beginning in 2012 but only one top-10 finish. That explains why he, too, lost his job and why Jim McElwain, a better coach, had the makings of an SEC East title team when he arrived as Gators coach.

Jimbo Fisher ranks high in both recruiting and production, as expected. Three top-10 recruiting classes according to Rivals between 2012-15. Three top-10 finishes and one national championship over the same stretch.

Nationally, I’d tag Gary Patterson as the coach who does the most with what he’s got.

Starting in 2012, TCU ranked 37th, 30th, 50th and 34th on the Rivals recruiting charts. That averages out to 37.25, nothing special. Still, over that same period, the Horned Frogs have two Top-10 finishes in the AP poll and two bowl wins.

Dabo Swinney gets high marks, too, for developing his team. Clemson had the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class in 2015 but nothing higher than No. 13 in the three previous years. Somehow Swinney has gotten four bowls wins out of that, including two in the Orange Bowl, and just last month the Tigers were in the national championship game against Alabama.

On the list of underachievers I’ll put Brian Kelly. Notre Dame, with its monster brand name and its own major television network, has appeared in one national championship game over the last four years but that’s the only top-10 finish over that stretch. The Fighting Irish should be getting more out of an overall average of No. 11 in the 2012-15 recruiting ranks.

Coaches to watch? Well, everyone’s had an eye on Butch Jones at Tennessee because the Vols’ recruiting ranks have been better in each of his years there, including No. 5 in 2015. So far, though, it’s a lot of smoke without really burning the house down.

As for Mark Richt, the new boss at Miami, his results at Georgia are about what you would expect. Three bowl wins and two Top-10 finishes over the last four years and a couple of top-seven recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015. Looks like he left plenty in the cupboard for new Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart. Let’s see how Smart likes it when Georgia boosters start ripping on him for coming up short in the SEC.

[Turns out Earl Morrall was a young whippersnapper if we’re on Peyton Standard Time]

[Dolphins and Marino were headliners the last time Super Bowl visited Northern California]

[Here’s hoping Dwyane Wade can recapture fun and finish of his rookie season]