AP’s all-time Top 100 may favor Buckeyes, but FSU is on the fastest climb

Hey, I thought we weren’t supposed to worry so much about the Associated Press college football poll anymore. Now the AP has come out with its all-time Top 25 based entirely on the organization’s data and everyone’s getting bent out of shape?

Miami fans are howling that five national titles ought to be worth more than No. 13 on the all-time list.

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2003,  file photo, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel holds up the championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami 31-24 in two overtimes in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. The Associated Press has been ranking the best teams in college football for the last 80 seasons. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
TEMPE, Ariz. – Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel holds up the championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami 31-24 in two overtimes in the Fiesta Bowl to win the 2002 national championship. The Associated Press has been ranking the best teams in college football for the last 80 seasons. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

The Florida Gators come in at No. 10, second only to Alabama among SEC schools, and that has everybody else in the conference upset.

Florida State is No. 9 and what Seminoles fans want to know is how Texas, a proud program stuck in a terrible slump, could be ranked above them.

All of this is beautiful to me. It’s the reason the AP list always has mattered in August, when there are no games to play and passionate college football nuts can’t wait to win something, anything, even an imaginary list built on all kinds of arbitrary factors.

What’s needed here is an understanding of exactly what this all-time Top 100 is supposed to be. The AP isn’t saying that Ohio State, No. 1 in this poll, is the best program in history.

It’s not saying that the Buckeyes’ five AP national championships are more important than Miami’s five, or that Notre Dame’s greatness in the 1940s was more significant than FSU’s in the 1990s.

This thing is an amalgamation of everything that has come before, with AP staffers doing an exhaustive search of every poll since the poll began in 1936. From that points were awarded for how many times a program was included in the Top 25 through the years, how many times it rose to No. 1 in a weekly poll and how many times it was awarded an AP national title.

Consistency is rewarded most of all. Being a name brand for longer than other programs brings consistency in this setting.

Regional bias in the earliest years of the poll makes a big difference, too. And if anyone’s looking to debate which polls matter and which don’t, forget it. This AP Top 100 recognizes national champions recognized by the AP alone, and not all those ancient other ones that you’ve never heard of which always show up on the resumes of Alabama and Notre Dame and other bluebloods.

Put it all together and it’s ridiculously impressive that FSU could find a spot in the all-time AP Top Ten.

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

[Amar’e Stoudemire belongs on my list of all-time greats from state of Florida]

[Here’s a fun look back at Dolphins’ first training camp at Boca Raton in 1966]

The Seminoles didn’t even field a football team until 1954. That means 18 years of AP polls had already gone by with no chance of representation for FSU but tons of recognition for Ohio State and Oklahoma and Southern Cal and Nebraska and similar monster programs.

FSU didn’t appear in an AP poll until 1964. Since then Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher have combined to push the Seminoles to the No. 1 position in 72 weekly AP polls. That’s only two times fewer than Alabama, which has been at this thing from the start.

Penn State, meanwhile, has been No. 1 in 19 weekly polls and has just two AP national titles, which doesn’t compare too well with Miami’s 67 times at No. 1 plus five national titles.

Still, the Nittany Lions come in at No. 12, one spot above the Hurricanes, because they’ve always been there. That’s what the numbers say, with Penn State appearing in 53.4 percent of all AP polls throughout history and Miami appearing in 41.5 percent.

Bottom line, don’t let this thing eat your lunch. It’s something to talk about, or shout about, with the certainty that no one will ever be completely satisifed, even all-time top dog Ohio State, which has Urban Meyer but still can’t seem to push Jim Harbaugh and Michigan out of the headlines.

Here’s a reason to crow. The AP Top 100 verifies that FSU, Miami and Florida have established themselves as elite programs and that they’ve done so the hard way, by winning a lot of games in a short time.

The Hurricanes would be higher if they hadn’t lost their momentum in recent years. On top of that, it won’t matter what any all-time poll says if Miami gets great in real time. That’s what brings in the recruits and makes the stadium rock and gets people eager to see the rankings the drive the industry these days.

That would be the College Football Playoff committee rankings. A topic for another day, much later in the season, long after this provocative and entertaining AP Top 100 has been pushed down the list of rage-worthy college fan debates.

 

Steve Spurrier was a furious force on the sidelines, more like a hoops coach

 

 

Could he coach? Well, Steve Spurrier won an ACC football championship at ever-loving Duke before the Fun ‘N Gun revolution took hold in Gainesville.

Could he cut and slash and dig? The answer here isn’t yes, but rather how deep would you like? Spurrier regularly skewered his rivals with jokes and sarcasm that sprang from the cocky, trash-talking star athlete lifestyle of his youth. It made his enemies hate him, and made sportswriters love him almost as much as Bull Gator boosters did.

Could he last forever? Of course not. Nobody can. Still, when Spurrier told his South Carolina team on Monday night that he was retiring immediately at 70, everybody who follows college football had to take a step back and decide how they felt about that.

It’s fair to say that nobody feels 100 percent great about it, and that includes fellow coaches who gauged Spurrier to be arrogant and mean-spirited at his worst. It also includes fellow coaches embarrassed by Spurrier at his best, when he happily hung “half a hundred” on opponents through a flood of innovative plays that came at defenses from out of nowhere and had officials tossing flags for reasons they couldn’t quite explain.

Characters like this just don’t come along that often, or if they do, they’re not as successful.

112099 Gators coach Steve Spurrier rotates quarterbacks #7 Jesse Palmer and #12 Doug Johnson in game against the Seminoles. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
Former Gators coach Steve Spurrier rotates quarterbacks #7 Jesse Palmer and #12 Doug Johnson in game against the Seminoles. Palm Beach Post staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Spurrier made a national championship program with real staying power out of a Florida operation that had never produced so much as an SEC title prior to his arrival. Six conference championships eventually came his way, plus a seventh that prior NCAA violations by Galen Hall wiped out.

Spurrier did all of that with a flair that Nick Saban lacks. He did it with a twang that proved he, like Bear Bryant, was born for the SEC and would never be completely happy if he wasn’t dominating the SEC.

He did in the most personal way possible, calling every play from the sidelines and then changing that play right until the last possible second while exasperated quarterbacks asked themselves if there are limits to this genius business. I mean, who acts like that?

We’re not just talking about flinging visors, which actually didn’t happen as much as everyone remembers. Think instead of alternating quarterbacks play after play, which is how Spurrier beat FSU one year. Think of having so many guys going out for passes that Danny Wuerffel was a consistently lonely target in the Florida backfield, taking so much punishment that I’m convinced he won the 1996 Heisman Trophy based on his physical toughness as much as anything else.

Always, you got the impression that Spurrier believed it was child’s play scanning a defense and tossing the ball where the resistance was thinnest. These were his “ballplays,” and no doubt the coach believed he could still run them himself if only his eligibility hadn’t run out in 1966.

This guy was a great multi-sport athlete in his Tennessee high school days. An all-state selection in basketball, among other things. Matter of fact, he behaved more like a hoops coach than a football coach, stomping up and down the sidelines and working officials with dramatic poses and pained facial expressions.

Back in 2001, near the end of his great Florida run, I did a long interview in Spurrier’s office in which my favorite response was to the question of whether he ever had been benched.

“In ninth-grade basketball,” he said, “my coach was the football line coach. I could dribble behind my back, which not everybody did, and I would shoot a fancy hook shot up to the goal every now and then. He thought I was too much of a showboat. That’s the word he used. I was a little upset about getting taken out of the game but after a while he sent me back in.

“I think we won that little old tournament, too.”

Couldn’t leave out that detail, right?

On that same day, I asked Spurrier why he gets under everyone’s skin.

“I’m in the forefront out there, not sitting off to the side with my headsets on, looking like I’m listening. I’m not afraid to put my name on the line every play that’s called.”

It’s an important distinction, one that will come to mind the next time you see a coach at the NFL or college level seemingly off to himself, a spectator set in motion by an occasional flurry of handclapping and nothing more, a robot who can’t even fling a red challenge flag with gusto, much less a clipboard. They’re the ones who give the cliché quotes heading off the field at halftime. They’re the ones that nobody remembers.

Spurrier will be remembered. In fact, we’ll be hearing his voice for decades because of the quirky little phrases he invented. You will hear of somebody being “coached up” and of somebody being “the head ball coach” of this or that team, and few will recall the origins. That’s pure Spurrier, however, and always will be.

So was taking a crack at NFL coaching with the Washington Redskins, which turned into an utter failure, and so was coming back to the SEC to compete with his alma mater, and in the same division no less. South Carolina had never done all that much in football but Spurrier believed he could make an SEC champion out of the Gamecocks just like he did the Gators.

Didn’t quite work. The program enjoyed more success than ever but in the end Spurrier grew tired of falling short, lost the fun in prowling the sidelines. He was the old lion resting over in the corner of its cage, majestic no more.

Was there a time, though, when Spurrier could growl and revel in the danger he represented? Ask anyone who loved him, ask anyone who hated him. Not only when they say yes but, if being honest, they will say that they miss it already.

It’s finally safe to look forward to Jeff Driskel starting a college football game again

Good catching up with Jeff Driskel at Conference USA media day. He’s a genuinely nice kid who handled his demotion at Florida with class, not to mention the tsunami of social-media criticism that preceded it, and should have a lot more success playing quarterback at Louisiana Tech.

Maybe it would have just been better if he started out at a place like La Tech to begin with, but everybody was after Driskel, the Maxwell Club National High School Player of the year, when he came out of Oviedo in 2011. Signng Driskel away from Alabama, Auburn, Virginia Tech, LSU, Clemson and all the other teams that wanted him was the key to Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class at Florida.

090812 Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) rolls out during game against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Former Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel rolls out during game against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

The guy was fully committed to the Gators, all right, even though Urban Meyer’s departure would have given him an easy out. Driskel not only came to Gainesville, he enrolled early and got right to work on building what seemed likely to be one of the most memorable careers ever for a Florida quarterback.

Unfortunately, all anyone remembers now are the untimely turnovers by Driskel and the injuries that held him back, none of which did much for the generally impotent offensive game plan that Muschamp and his various coordinators served up.

There really is a fine athlete here, however, with the emotional maturity to become an instant leader at Louisiana Tech. Last year the Bulldogs went with another transfer quarterback, Cody Sokol, who played very little at Iowa but threw for 30 touchdown passes in one season at Louisiana Tech and got a brief look from the Kansas City Chiefs in May as an undrafted free agent.

Driskel, in contrast, threw 23 touchdown passes in four years at Florida.

[Don’t tell me Canes, Noles & Gators don’t belong on list of history’s top 100 teams?]

[If Tannehill’s really so lousy, Mike Wallace’s numbers should soar in Minnesota]

[Heat need Hassan Whiteside to become the players that Amar’e Stoudemire was]

Here’s a statistical sampling, however, of why Muschamp kept believing the Gators would take off with Driskel.

He rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 2012 game at Vanderbilt. That’s more than Tim Tebow ever ran for in a game.

Driskel also had a nearly flawless 14-for-20 passing day in a win at Tennessee that same season, plus three touchdown passes in a crazy triple-overtime win over Kentucky just last September. It took a fourth-and-7 scoring pass from Driskel to Demarcus Robinson just to keep that game going into a second overtime period.

Overall, Driskel was 15-6 as a Florida starter, and 9-5 as a starter in SEC games. He won, but not enough to meet the standards that Florida once kept under Meyer and Steve Spurrier, and not against the league’s best competition.

“It was time for me to move on,” Driskel said Wednesday of his decision to transfer shortly after Jim McElwain’s hiring as the new Gators coach. “I hope nothing but the best for the University of Florida.

“It wasn’t like they forced me out. I made the decision and I’m happy with the decision I made.”

And what does Driskel think of Conference USA competition compared to the poundings he took at Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Tallahassee?

“Looking at the NFL draft, a lot of great players have come out of Conference USA,” he said. “As far as what I’ve seen of the defenses on tape, I don’t think it falls off that much from what I was used to.”

That’s Driskel for you, always saying the right things and trying like crazy to do the right things, too. That included him asking, for whatever reason, to take a selfie with me, a weird old hack he doesn’t know from Adam.

Oh, and former Miami coach Larry Coker also looks much more relaxed these days as coach of Texas-San Antonio of Conference USA. The only thing bothering him during the league’s season kickoff session at the Boca Raton Resort & Hotel was the absence of an old friend.

“I usually wear my Miami ring (from the 2001 national championship) to events like this, and for recruiting, but I don’t have it today,” Coker said. “I was washing my hands at home not long ago when it fell on the tile floor and cracked the setting. I figured it would be all right but a few days later I looked down and it was gone. Just a black hole where the setting used to be.

“I’m getting a new setting now, but I tell you, I miss it.”

Coker went 4-8 last year in UTSA’s first season as a full Conference USA member, with a 27-7 win over Houston as the highlight. The Roadrunners also beat FIU 16-13. One of the worst moments of Coker’s Hurricanes career was the bench-clearing brawl that put both Miami and FIU in a horrible light during Larry’s final season with the Hurricanes in 2006.

“That was horrible, just horrible,” said Coker, who told it straight the the other day, just like always, terming the helmet-swinging fight “a riot” rather than a brawl.

They love him out in San Antonio more than Coker ever was loved in Miami. It’s a good fit, just like Louisiana Tech is for Driskel.

Coach Boom sure would prize a swat at the Gators right now

It just won’t show up, no matter how many times I stare at the Florida Gators 2015 football schedule.

There’s no Florida-Auburn game this year, which means there will be no immediate chance for Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to rain havoc down on his former Gator team, or to be humiliated by a Florida offense he never could get kicked out of neutral.

090812 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp during pre-game warmups at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Former Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp during pre-game warmups at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a shame for those of us who crave drama on a Saturday afternoon, with a little bulletin-board buffoonery on the days leading up to the game just for added spice.

Think back to April, when new Florida head coach Jim McElwain began to set the table for lowered expectations by the noting lack of depth he inherited on the offensive line. Muschamp jumped on that, remembering how McElwain had previously answered questions with the confident approach that he could win with anybody, even his dog Clarabell.

“Said he could coach a dog and win,” Muschamp said when asked about McElwain’s poormouthing of Florida’s depth. “Heck, (does) he like the dog better than his players?”

Muschamp won’t be able to resist popping off during Florida week, either, whenever it first comes around. He’ll revert to the skyrocketing “Coach Boom” role that he perfected in a previous time as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, and he would have loved even more taking on the Gators right away after being fired as their head coach last November.

Don’t make the mistake of categorizing this guy as wholly incompetent just because he went 17-15 against SEC competition as Florida’s head coach and, worst of all, lost to Georgia Southern.

[Media’s pick of Gators as fifth in SEC East gives McElwain too little credit]

[If Tannehill’s such a mediocre QB, then shouldn’t Wallace do better with Vikings?]

[Heat need Hassan Whiteside to become the player that Amar’e Stoudemire was]

I wrote in December of 2010 that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley would be rewarded for his bold move of hiring Muschamp, and wrote again in November of 2013 that Foley needed to cut the guy loose because it wasn’t working. In between those two columns, however, and to this day, I never stopped believing that Muschamp is one of the strongest defensive coaches around.

During his previous stint at Auburn, Muschamp prowled and jumped and fist-bumped on the sidelines at the Swamp as the Tigers pinned the first loss on Tim Tebow’s Heisman Trophy season. One year earlier, in 2006, the Gators won a national championship, but not without taking a loss at Auburn, their only one of the season. In each case, Florida scored only 17 points and Muschamp got a lot of the credit for that.

Now he’s getting $3.7 million per season over the next three years to run Gus Malzahn’s defense, and even though he’s the highest-paid assistant in college football, most of that total comes from what Florida still owes him. He has no reason to feel mistreated by Foley, who gave Muschamp one more season than necessary to straighten things out, but Muschamp is an intense competitor who also probably never quite got over the indoctrination of playing football at Georgia. He just can’t help being who he is.

So here’s how it plays out. The coach Florida fans couldn’t wait to get rid of is in line now to torment the Gators and everyone else in the SEC, on and off, for the next several years.

Auburn isn’t a contender for the national title according to media consensus simply because Alabama is a little down, or because Malzahn is a terrific playcaller. Having Muschamp there to shore up the Tigers’ porous defense is as important a reason as any.

Still staring at the Florida schedule and still no Auburn game popping up. That’s bad news for the TV networks, who would have fought each other for that matchup, and good news for the Gators, who are much better off playing LSU and Ole Miss from the SEC West this year.

There aren’t any easy teams in that division, but going up against Auburn right now would do McElwain no favors at a time when he really could use a few.

 

 

 

Jeremy Foley still doing a lot of things right at Florida

There always are going to be people who want to see Jeremy Foley fired. That’s because the Florida football team isn’t Alabama and Ohio State and USC and Florida State all rolled up into one unbeatable juggernaut. We’re not talking about reaching that monstrous level this year, either, but every year.

GAINESVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 06:  Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley speaks on during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. Jim McElwain has left Colorado State and replaces ex-Florida head coach Will Muschamp who was fired earlier this season.
GAINESVILLE, FL – Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley speaks during a Dec. 6, 2014 press conference introducing new football coach Jim McElwain.

Remember when the Gators actually did rule the world, and in both major sports? During the three-year span from 2006-08, Florida won two national championships in football and two more in basketball, which is such a ridiculous level of achievement that Alabama and Ohio State and USC and FSU all rolled into one couldn’t pull it off, and that’s in combination with Duke and UCLA and UConn and Kansas and all those hoop hangouts, too.

Well, Foley’s taking a few hits these days and he’s punching back with a few new hires, Jim McElwain and Mike White, who will need a little time to gain some traction. Overall, the Gators are still tearing into the competition pretty good in all the sports that come without RV cities and $300, two-night-minimum hotel stays.

According to the Learfield Sports Directors Cup standings, which measure achievement in men’s and women’s sports across the board, Florida earned the No. 4 spot nationally this year with a pair of NCAA titles (gymnastics and softball) and 13 top-10 finishes in the other sports.

The Gators’ nearest misses were men’s track and field, a national runnerup in both the indoor and outdoor competitions, and baseball, which tied for third in the College World Series.

Altogether, this is the seventh-consecutive finish in Learfield’s national Top 10 for the Florida athletic program. Also, Florida’s media relations department reports that the Gators are the only program in the nation to win multiple national titles in each of the last six years.

Foley, the only AD in Div. I history to oversee multiple national championship title teams in football and men’s basketball, doesn’t get many brownie points for all of that when Gator Boosters gather to grumble about losing to Georgia Southern in football.

The Gators do live in the SEC, after all.

For anybody who cares about anything else, however, Florida continues to do a lot of things right, and Foley is the man in charge of that.

 

 

2014-15 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings

School                       Points

Stanford                   1482.0

UCLA                         1236.0

USC                           1209.0

Florida                      1188.5

North Carolina         1152.0

 

 

 

It’s been a long time since Gators had simultaneous restart in football and hoops

Not since 1990 have the Florida Gators simultaneously started over with new coaches in football (Jim McElwain) and basketball (Michael White). Spooky stuff, but it really did work out pretty good that other time.

 Michael White (yahoo.com)
Michael White
(yahoo.com)

All Steve Spurrier did was give Florida its first SEC title. Then he won five more of those and the 1999 national championship, too — another Gator first.

Meanwhile, Lon Kruger — who also came on in 1990 — was making something of Florida basketball, too. He took the Gators to their first Final Four in 1994, the highest achievement for the program until Billy Donovan came along.

White’s turn at the wheel begins Monday with his introductory press conference in Gainesville.

White seems painfully young at 38, but he’s eight years older than Donovan was when he took the Florida job in 1996.

White is a coach’s son, but his father moved on from small-college track and field to become an athletic director. Today Kevin White is the athletic director at Duke. They seem to know a little about basketball up there, so that’s a good sign.

Florida AD Jeremy Foley had more than just White’s coaching record at Louisiana Tech (101-40) as a job recommendation. In his college days, White played basketball for Ole Miss, starting at point guard from his freshman year on. That sounds like leadership. What’s more, White is tied for seventh on the Rebels’ career assists list. That computes as leadership, too, and is an example of the kind of team-first concept that Donovan made work at Florida.

And how did White do as a player in games against Florida? Well, it’s pretty tough digging up box scores from 1998 and 1999 on the fly, but the overall results suggest he had a pretty good handle on the Ole Miss offense.

Jim McElwain (Getty Images)
Jim McElwain (Getty Images)

The Rebels beat Florida 90-79 at Oxford during White’s junior year. As a senior, he was part of a 79-68 win over the Gators at the O’Connell Center. That Gators team went 22-9 and made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time under Donovan. Matter of fact, that Ole Miss game was the only one Florida lost at home that season.

White is getting $2 million a year to coach the Gators. Not bad, considering Billy D signed for $400,000 per year on his original contract at Florida.

Not much pressure, then, on McElwain and White. Like I said, this double dose of change hasn’t happened at Florida since 1990. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1960, when Ray Graves became the football coach and slippery old Norm Sloan began his first of two runs in charge of Florida hoops.