The Back Nine: Despite departures, Bama still the choice

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[Staff Photo/Erin Nelson

The Back Nine comes at you after a super weekend, especially because my wife and I both finally put together an Adirondack chair that had been sitting in pieces on our back porch since before the Peach Bowl. Of course, we’re both afraid to sit in it.

10. When Dan Mullen went on the basketball court before the Florida-Tennessee game Saturday and thanked the fans and helped get the crowd fired up, he said something that certainly stirred up the fan base and some media members in Bulldog Country. Mullen pointed out Florida was the second best team in the SEC, but that the goal is to finish with a championship. He was basing that on the coaches’ poll, which had Florida at sixth. The writers had Florida tied with Georgia for seventh. It’s splitting hairs in a way, because too much emphasis is placed on what you do in bowl games. But Georgia people have pointed out that Georgia beat Florida and won the East. Which I get. What’s the coach at Florida supposed to say? That’s what makes rivalries great. Look, Georgia was better than Florida this year, not by a wide margin, but better. At the same time, which fan base enjoyed its season more, the one that beat LSU or the one that lost badly to LSU? The one that finished its season by beating its rival to break a five-game losing streak and blew out a Top-10 team in its bowl game or the one that blew a big lead in the SEC title game and lost its bowl game? Asking for a friend.

11. Just a week ago, I gave you my early Top 25 and had Alabama at the top. Since then, Alabama has lost, like 50 players to the NFL and some more coaches. Can I have that prediction back? Alabama will be just fine, but sometimes I wonder if all the defections will catch up to the Tide. Nick Saban seems to reload every year and he still has the best skill players in the conference and the No. 1 recruiting class coming in. I’ll stick with Alabama for now. By the way, Florida’s class is now 11th in recruiting according to 247Sports and has a chance to slip into the top 10 by the time we get to the late signing day.

12. One thing coach Mike White said during a subdued postgame news conference Saturday was about how more of his guys need to finish plays with contact at the rim rather than celebrating that they were fouled and missed the shot. Amen to that. One thing Florida lacks is a player who takes it strong to the rim and has a shot at an “and-1” rather than missing the shot and getting two free throws. The effort was there Saturday against a really good team, but there was also that occasional lack of basketball IQ that has plagued this team all season. Just doing their jobs on every possession is an issue, especially late in games when there seems to be a panic rather than sticking with the plan. That’s how you leave Admiral Schofield wide open for a trey on the biggest play of the game.

13. I am volunteering my services to be the onside kick coach for any NFL or college team. Because I am never wrong. Too many times I see coaches try the onside kick when they should kick it deep. On Saturday night, Dallas chose not to try one with more than 2:11 left down eight points to the Rams. Dallas has forced one — ONE — three-and-out in the entire game. It’s true that it’s difficult to execute that play, but when you can’t stop the other team, it’s worth the risk. Instead, Dallas kicked deep (and I was thankful as someone rooting for Los Angeles) and the Rams got two first downs (Nos. 29 and 30 for the game) to end the game. I am cheap and available.

14. So what we have is a dream final four for the NFL playoffs — Rams at Saints and Patriots at Chiefs. The four teams have combined for 53 wins this season, including the playoffs. Pass the popcorn and reserve me a spot on the couch. I went 2-2 again this week, which won’t get you far in Vegas. I’m going with the Rams and Chiefs this week, which means I’m betting against Tom Brady and Drew Brees, which may be the dumbest thing ever. But many weeks ago, I wrote about how great it would be to have a Rams-Chiefs Super Bowl and I’m sticking with it.

15. We all know how difficult it is to win on the road in any sport and any league. Sometimes I think it’s toughest in the NBA. For example, there are only three teams in the Western Conference with winning records away from home — Denver, Golden State and Oklahoma City. Billy Donovan has done a heck of a job this year after losing the first four games of the season and going through a recent three-game losing streak to get to within three games of the top. It seems so long ago that Billy was Florida’s coach. That’s how fast time passes.

16. Very impressive showing for the UF gymnastics team in its debut against Missouri, a result that has the Gators at No. 3 heading into Friday’s meet at No. 5 LSU. But the thing that caught my eye — and was watched more than 13 million times on social media — was elsewhere, the floor performance by Katelyn Ohashi of UCLA on Saturday night. She received a 10 that could have been an 11, it was that impressive. Go Google it and watch. You can’t help but smile. What won’t make you smile is that former UF coach Rhonda Faehn was fired at Michigan on Sunday night a week after being hired as a consultant after Board of Regents members voiced their concerns over the hiring. Their concerns were based on allegations Faehn waited too long to report abuse by Larry Nassar that was relayed to her by gymnasts on the USA Gymnastics team.

17. The Tweet of the Week goes to UnBiased_UF and I have no idea who this person is but someone retweeted it and it ended up on my timeline: “Former Saban OC’s and what they did last year:

– Jim McElwain: Coached WR’s

– Doug Nussmeier: Coached TE’s

– Lane Kiffin: HC FAU, went 5-7

– Brian Daboll: OC Buffalo Bills, went from 29th to 30th in total offense.

Seems to be easier to call plays at Bama.”

I don’t think even I could mess it up with that talent. (But can Steve Sarkisian?) The Tide didn’t lose to Clemson because of play-calling (except for the fake field goal). They lost because they couldn’t stop the Tigers.

18. My playlists have all become messed up, some disappearing, some missing songs. It has something to do with my daughter and I sharing an ID on our phones, I will solve this. And this will be the first playlists I include:

• “Grass” by The Candescents.

• “Big Boss Man (Live)” by the Kentucky Headhunters.

• “Little Mexico” by The Flusters.

• “Death in Midsummer” by Deerhunter.

• And for an old one, mainly because I couldn’t remember the name of the group while we were watching a commercial and I pride myself on music trivia, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

57 COMMENTS

  1. During the UT game, ESPN had Mike White “mic-ed up”…wasn’t very inspiring to my ear? We have no front court. They just keep getting their butts handed to them with no toughness. No team can beat the good teams with just threes, the stats speak for themselves. Maybe we get 15 wins. Mike has got to find some toughness one of these years.

    Maybe Saban’s “chink in the armor” is his inability to retain good coaches for more than a year or two? I know if he lost that temper with me, in my face, it would not turn out good and I would likely be world famous. Play calling did partially lose the NC game for them. Your not going to run the same running play at the one against a Clemson Defense! I don believe the game was closer than it appeared. Take those three super catches away from Ross, all three and very long, and Bama likely wins. It was that close. Trevor Lawrence is a Tebow that can throw, assuring Clemson of at least two more NC games. Dabo has the long term benefits of a solid coaching staff.

    Unless I missed it, you have not made the point that ND didn’t belong in the final four. Is their anybody on the planet that doesn’t honestly know that UGA, OU, MI and likely UF, had far more talent than them. Give them our schedule and they would have lost to several SEC teams.

    Happy New Year!

      • Nice, G-6! The question still remains, like your comment reflects, WOULD or COULD Notre Dame even win a ”conference championship”?!?!
        I would emphatically argue, ”NO!” Because let’s say the Irish were in the A.C.C., well Clemson showed them who the BIG DOGS (or Tigers) are in that conference (in the Final Four semi-finals this year). And furthermore, I would also argue that even Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team, or even an Urban-less Ohio State would convincingly and repeatedly beat the Irish in the Big 10 conference. Anyway, ”GO GATORS!”

        • You and I are of one mind, GI…..the only difference being in our spiritual gifts: Yours is obviously a bright, incisive mind, while mine is simply sarcasm! But the truth is, Notre Dame would have a hard time competing in any Power-5 conference today, save possibly for the latest “Power-6” addition of the legendary AAC, clearly the most talented-yet-maligned grouping of college football teams ever known to mankind — but I’m not even sure of that.

          However, I’m sure the movement is afoot to give them an automatic playoff bid every year henceforth, regardless of their record be it 0-12, 12-0, or 6-6, so we might as well get ready for it and grin and bear it.

          DISCLAIMER: I am a lifelong Catholic who’s opinion is decidedly not influenced one iota by recent attendance at the Four Square Sword of Joshua Non-denominational Church and Discount Cigarette Outlet.

        • Notre Dame is running the Miami playbook (with much, much deeper pockets and better resources). Both are (or would be) also-rans in the ACC (vaunted basketball conference that it is). Both have legit, impressive history of dominating college football. Both have formidable reputations. And in both cases, it’s an old rep. And neither will EVER be “back” the way their fan base thinks.

        • Boy, I lose out on that one, Gopher — my Bloodhound, Willis, has me beat when he stands up on his hind legs. Some say he has me beat on IQ too, but at least I have opposable thumbs!

          Been meaning to ask, are you up in Minnesota by any chance?

          • No, I’m a native Floridian – a Gator. I picked up the nickname Gopher my first year in the dorms. There are people in this world that know me ONLY as Gopher.

          • Makes sense, you don’t sound like a yankee anyway! The only other person I ever knew who went by that moniker was a fraternity brother from long ago (Pi Kappa Phi), and he really was a Minnesota transplant.

          • You’re not missing anything; beautiful country, but in the summer the horse flies are so big they can stand flat footed and…..well, nevermind, suffice it to say the bugs are bigger than any Palmetto bugs in Florida.

    • While you didn’t say it directly, some have called ND “a joke”. If so, that makes them a 1-loss joke who fared as well against Clemson as Bama did. Therefore, Bama is also a joke, and by extension, OU is also a joke for having lost to a joke in Bama. For that matter, all the teams that lost to both ND and Bama would have to be considered jokes as well. Consequently, all the teams you mention as being more talented than ND are jokes, because they either lost to Bama or ND directly (UGA, OU, & MI), or lost to a team that lost to Bama or ND (UF lost to UGA which lost to Bama). Now, since we’ve accurately branded the entire Top 10 and playoff teams not named Clemson as jokes, can we do anything less than declare Clemson’s national title a joke, since it was won in a playoff full of jokes? Of course, I’m kidding, but my point is you don’t put teams in a playoff because you think they’re more talented; you put teams in a playoff because they won games on the field.

        • True, 6. I agree that all the FBS teams should be in a conference. We know that not all conferences are equal in talent and strength, but getting all the eligible teams into conferences that are at least “considered” to be of relatively equal value would be a good first step to a more objective criteria for selecting playoff teams.

          • Concur and concur, Joe. Boy, if we were just in charge for a day, huh? You know, so what if we occasionally have a conference champion with a lesser record? And say, after they get “in”, they win their playoff games and wind up winning a national title, who cares? They would have been the “best” team when it really counted, wouldn’t they have?

          • Hear, hear! Or is it Here, here!? Oh well, if they offer me that one-day position, I’ll be hiring you as my consultant, and I expect no less if you should get the job.

          • The CFP committee is suppose to identify the “best teams”, which means only big boy football teams. Would anybody be willing to bet their pay check ND would be LSU or even MS State or UF…Hummmmmm? I don’t think so! I wouldn’t.

          • No, BSCE, but I’d bet 6’s paycheck that they’d beat MSU! I get your point, though, but if we’re not going to consider all the FBS teams as relatively equal, at least in opportunity, if not strength, then we need to eliminate those lesser teams from the FBS and give them their own division, so they can have a shot at a title. In that scenario, I think ND would still be counted among the relative big boys who would remain in the FBS. My problem is that the criterion for making the playoff is being considered one of the four “best” teams. That’s a subjective blending of opinion and results on the field. My preference is to take the opinion out of the equation, but if it has to remain, I’d actually prefer dusting off the old BCS poll to select the playoff teams. At least with that poll, you knew exactly how the rankings were compiled and you wouldn’t have to try to decipher the CFP committee chairman’s explanation of why the committee voted they way they did. Listening to those explanations is like trying to make sense of a Jim McElwain presser.

          • Oh yeah? Well I’ll take Dewayne’s bet, double it with Gator65’s paycheck, and skip town if I lose.

            Seriously, conference champions solve the problem once and for all, especially if you throw in the best three GOF champions in any given year. Settle it on the field, you and your conference gets braggin’ rights for a whole year. No whining allowed.

          • I’m talking about “quality of wins”…if ND had dominating wins, especially against lesser opponents, then they would maybe deserve to be in the final four. Getting by Stanford and USC is not domination. They believe they’re special by just being ND and don’t need a conference affiliation. Wrong! Their program is no more special than the other historic powerhouse programs. They haven’t been a powerhouse program for over 30 years, as they’ve had two undefeated regular seasons with blowout loses at the end each. Inflated resumes against sub SEC/Big 10 caliber schedules. They should be forced to go all in with the Atlantic Cutie Conference and Clemson or the Big 10….Then 8-4 every year! 2018: Ball State 24-16, Vandy 22-17, Mi 24-17, etc.

          • I understand the issue of “quality” wins, but then you’re being even more subjective in your selection of teams. What criteria do you use to make those judgments? ND beat then No. 7 Stanford by 21, No. 24 Va Tech by 22, and No. 12 Syracuse by 33. That seems reasonably impressive compared to anyone else. Also, what makes ND’s victories over Vandy and MI any less impressive than UF’s victories over those teams? ND didn’t have to come from behind to beat Vandy. ND beat MI in the first game of the season, but UF beat MI in a bowl game where it could be argued that the Wolverines were indifferent about having to play UF again, missing 4 starters, and disappointed about having been eliminated from the playoff. If it’s fair to devalue UCF’s win against Auburn last year for those reasons, it would be fair to devalue UF’s win over MI for the same reasons. That said, though, I agree with you that it would be ideal for ND to join the ACC for football, too. That way, IF they could get by Clemson, it would remove any doubt about their worthiness.

        • Sorry I do not think winning your conference should automatically get you in. Northwestern might have won the big 10. They certainly are not a top four team. Should Washington be in because the won the Pac 12. Remember Auburn beat them. You could wind up with a 6-5 conference winner with the conference championship method. I truly do not know of a perfect method of picking the top 4 teams, but I do not think a conference champ should automatically be in.

          • But so what, George? It’s going to happen once in a blue moon, sure — but then, what’s the purpose of having all these conferences anyway?

          • I get your point, George, but I don’t think a 1-loss team that didn’t win its conference, or even its division, should necessarily get in over a 2-loss conference champion just because its name is Bama, either. Something is wrong when teams like UCF know before the season starts that they can go 13-0 and still have no shot of making the playoff. I agree that they probably weren’t one of the “best” four teams this season, but I think with Milton in the game, they could’ve given Clemson as much of a game as ND or Bama did. College football is the only sport that concerns itself with “selecting” only the “best” teams for its playoff. All the other sports with true playoffs have teams earn their way in to the playoffs by winning their division, conference, or whatever grouping they call it. Win the games on the field, win your division, and make the playoffs. Win the playoffs, and then, you’re the undisputed champion, even if you have 3 losses and the team you beat in the championship game only has one. You can take out your glass football and polish it anytime you want while all the other teams whine that they were really “better” than you. You’re still the champion, because you won it on the field.

        • I guess this year we did have sort of an ACC Championship Game with Clemson taking the dogs off of ND in the semi. The SEC also has a somewhat geographic advantage, which promotes more interest. They spoke about this on XM ESPNU the other day and I agree:

          UWV to ACC
          ND to Big Ten (an obvious big ++++ move)
          MO back to Big 12 with other additions
          Louisville to SEC (Big UK rival to pump those folks up)
          Etc.

          • Dewayne, now you’re talkin’….I would enthusiastically support that if for no other reason the regional/geographic common sense it makes. I would rather see a Va Tech to the SEC than a Louisville — but the concept sure is a good one and it does put ND smack dab where they belong.

  2. Mr. Pat Dooley, thank you for your 12th hole honesty in this ”back 9” about this year’s Men’s Gator Basketball team. It’s quite literally the 1st time, so far this season, that I’ve heard or read such a truthful and accurate assessment about this Gator Basketball team from the media. Like your comment, ”…that occasional lack of basketball IQ.” And how NOBODY is taking it to the rack like a grown man anymore. Jalen Hudson and Keith Stone had some nasty throw-down dunks last year, but this year so far, nada!
    And freshman guard, Nembhard, lays the ball off the glass like he’s playing in high school against guys shorter than him. He will learn, pray tell, but dang man, come on dude! Please act like you’ve been there before young man! And the ”and 1” is not even attempted with any conviction by this team (again, like you said in your article). It does appear that for them just getting to the free throw line is enough. And while some Gator fans celebrated the fact ”that U.F. didn’t get blown out by U.T.,” and hung with the 3rd ranked team for 35 minutes, I say why NOT beat them for 40 MINUTES?!? Why play that hard and for that long, only to let a great resume win against a Top 5 team slip away in the end? Because I rarely, IF EVER, watched Michael Jordan lose many ”close games.” And Tim Tebow was another! You either have that ”KILLER INSTINCT,” or you don’t. And still, despite all these Gators’ deficiencies this team could have won that game Saturday night, and apparently they didn’t want it bad enough. And that is what really stung me the most, as a Gator fan. Because like Coach Mike White said in his post game presser, ”We are the University of Florida. There aren’t any moral victories.” So, ”Come on Gators! Get up and go!”

    • gi, I agree with you that Pat has correctly identified a major problem that few Gators are taking the ball strong to the rim. I had to listen to the first half on radio, and Bill Koss, on four occasions, called the Gators’ attempts to finish at the rim “weak”. Two were by Hayes, one by Stone, and the other may have been Hudson, but I don’t really recall. With about a minute to go in the game and the Gators down by two, Stone got the steal and gave it off to Locke who gave it back to Stone in the front court low on the right wing. With only one defender back who was trying to play both Gators, Stone had the opportunity for an aggressive drive to basket to tie the game. Instead, he hesitated, then gave it back to Locke for an open 3 that rimmed out. Locke’s 3 was a good look, but Stone had a great opportunity for a much higher percentage shot, and he passed it up. The Gators need to find that aggression, and soon!

  3. The coaching situation at Alabama bears watching over the next couple of years. Saban is getting to an age where human beings begin to naturally slow down. The lack of continuity in his coaching staff only exacerbates that problem by forcing him to spend more of his time and energy acclimating new coaches to his system and acclimating new players to his new coaches.

    At some point, as with Bowden at FSU, regression will begin. Meantime, Texas A&M and LSU appear to be ramping up. That regression, when it comes, will show up first on the field, as it did in the NC game vs. Clemson, where Bama failed to show up in the 2nd half.

    All good things must come to an end.

    • Absolutely true, StL, tho it may take a couple more years than a couple to become clear regardless of media stories. You identified both salient factors in continuity and age. I don’t think A&M will actually rise to the level to take their place, however…..nor Auburn, nor any other team in the West. I do think it will be LSU and this may well soon be their time as long as they can overcome the built in liabilities of their AD. Probably not as long a run as Bama, but a good run at dominance nevertheless. In the East, I’m willing to bet the power differential switches in the same time frame, with the re-emergence of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee — or at least there will be a more absolute parity East-West. These are exciting times!

      • StL, 6 and GI, all correct. Age does take away endurance a little and some other things. what i noticed about nick saban v clemson is he didnt chew out anyone, at least not while i was watching, or if so it wasnt memorable. like it or not, that is an indication of fire, and to morph into 6 and StLs point, the bama team did not win the “im not going to allow us to lose plays”, and im thinking nick is starting to descend, and this gator basketball team just doesnt have that kind of a player yet. and old nick is still better than a young mac etc., but your talking elite among elite here, not the university of average that people sometimes forget this is all about.

      • Oh yea, it sure appeared Bama got tired in the second half of both Clemson and OU. I’m 62, the older you get, the farther away from the young mind set you get and eventually you lose the personal connection. Bobby stayed so long he thought he was more important than FSU. I had a very famous inside source that told me in 2006, that Bowden was staying to out last Paterno. He knew Bowden personally as well as any body. It will be up to Bama Administration to watch out for the “signs”. I believe Saban is the type to know when its over, maybe.

  4. Hey Pat that “second best” in the SEC line rang true with me too and I’m glad Mullen is saying that in public. Who cares if it annoys the leg humpers.
    The lack of coaching stability in Tuscaloosa has already begun to take its toll. That was the main reason Justyn Ross signed with Clemson over Bama and Ross was the main reason Clemson beat Bama.
    Go Gators

  5. Clemson margin of victory against ND: 27 points. Against Baby Pooh Dye Job: 28 points.

    As for Mullen, love to see the Gator coach firing a few arrows into the enemy camp and stirring them up. It’s a tactic right out of the Art of War well-deployed by the Old Ball Coach back in the day. I believe we still hold the record for most points scored against UGA between the hedges, a record Spurrier made a point of setting– just because he could!