The Back Nine: X-factor teams in SEC

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[Staff Photo/Erin Nelson

The Back Nine comes at you after a wonderful weekend if you were near any body of water. And that includes pools, but not kiddie pools, endless pools or standalone pools. You have to draw the line somewhere.

10. Sometimes you are watching a football game from the previous season (OK, maybe it’s just me) and you start to see a theme or perhaps you just imagine one. But this is what occurred to me with my feet propped up (maybe it was just the blood rushing to my head) — this conference is full of X-factor teams. By that, I mean, there are so many teams who feel like they could be really good or really disappointing, Usually, there is a team or two I feel that way about. But this season it certainly feels like there is Alabama and maybe Georgia and then a bunch of X-factor teams. For example, LSU might contend for the College Football Playoffs. Or it may lose in the second week against Texas, never recover and end up in the Belk Bowl. Texas A&M is a team I am tempted to pick second in the West, but I count five games on the schedule where the Aggies could be underdogs. Will Muschamp told The Back Nine recently that this is his best team in Columbia, but is it good enough to have a real shot at the East or is it fighting for bowl eligibility late in the season? Of course, there are the mighty Gators who could be really good, but with a tough schedule and a new offensive line it can go south quickly. Anyway, it’s a mix throughout this conference of teams with legitimate aspirations that could give way to bitter realizations. That’s why we play the games and remember, some team will lose every game that is played this year.

11. For example, take the over/under totals released by Fan Duel last week. There could be some easy money there in both directions. And there are a lot of them you had better stay away from.

Alabama 11 wins (run away, fast, because you are one fluke play away from breaking even at best).

Arkansas 6 wins (even with a soft non-conference schedule, I don’t think the Razorbacks are any better than barely getting bowl eligible).

Auburn 8 wins (now here’s a bet you could fall in love with, especially if the Tigers beat Oregon to open the season).

UF 9 wins (seems like it’s right on the number).

Georgia 11 wins (if I were going to bet, I’d go under because of cross-division games against Auburn and Texas A&M).

Kentucky 6 wins (here’s a lock for you so bet the over).

LSU 9 wins (my gut is the Tigers won’t win nine games, but I don’t know which side they will end up, Remember? X-factor?)

Miss. St. 8.5 wins (can’t see it; bet the under).

Missouri 6.5 wins (what if Kelly Bryant goes off and takes advantage of skill position talent?).

Ole Miss 5 wins (don’t you have a feeling the Rebs will get bowl eligible?)

South Carolina 6 wins (bet the over and thank me later).

Tennessee 6.5 wins (am I missing something here?)

Texas A&M 7.5 wins (hardest team to predict because of the schedule so stay clear of the Aggies).

Vanderbilt 5 wins (why would you bet on Vandy in anything other than baseball?)

12. On the same day the Mets paid Bobby Bonilla $1.1 million not to play, Florida paid Jim McElwain $1 million not to coach its football team. (Here’s where I usually inject a joke about being in the wrong profession). We’ve chronicled all the things that went wrong here with McElwain (death threats were — more than anything — an out for the people at Florida who wanted him gone), but it still seems amazing that a coach could be 16-3 at one point in his career in SEC games and be fired three games later with overwhelming support from the fan base. I keep reminding people that McElwain won 10 games his first year just like Dan Mullen. But it feels different. Or — again — is that just me?

13. Meanwhile, another former Florida coach is a hot topic on sports radio talk shows because it’s the time of the year when stories get invented and take on lives of their own. And the next thing you know, they happen. Anyway, there are a lot of people who are convinced that we are watching the same movie with Urban Meyer, that he will spend a year on TV and end up at Southern Cal next year. I know he is at least talking to former assistants about another ride and he may be joking, but he may not be. Could it be that he left Ohio State because he didn’t like the way he was treated and wants to coach again? The thing is, the perfect job has to open up and the best chances for Meyer would be a bad season for the Trojans or Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly turning pro. Or maybe Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. But if none of those things happen, I can’t see him coaching Florida International just to coach.

14. The frenzy of NBA free agent signees Sunday blew up my phone and made me wonder what it must have been like for reporters who actually had to stay on top of it. It feels like the league is wide open with a lot of teams who can win their conferences (except, of course, the Knicks, who can’t even tank the right way). You’ll need a scorecard to keep up with all the changes and the guy who wants you to get off his lawn is screaming today about players being greedy and no loyalty. Just remind him that — as the great Jerry Seinfeld said — we’re just cheering for laundry. (“It’s different guys every year. You’re rooting for clothes, when you get right down to it. We’re screaming about laundry.”) For those of us who are not, who change like the wind, it’s a little more confusing. I started rooting for the Celtics because of Al Horford and Brad Stevens, but I can’t root for Philly. Sorry. No way. I think I’m going to be a Pelicans fan. Is that a thing yet?

15. Today will be appointment TV viewing, as the Americans try to reach the final of the World Cup. I watched Friday at a restaurant, saw a goal and got home in time to see the second goal. That takes real talent. Megan Rapinoe has become the latest hero for people who only watch women’s soccer when it’s the World Cup (or the villain for people who don’t understand the concept of free speech). It’s almost like the Miracle on Ice in that Friday against France was the one the USA had to win and it felt like a final, but there is still work to do. England is the opponent, Fox is the network, 3 p.m is the time. Pull up a chair.

16. Congrats to the two Florida Track Club runners who are going to the Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta in February. Enoch Nadler qualified in December and just last month Kelly McCoy Griffin qualified in Duluth. He trains her and she is not a professional runner, so that is pretty impressive for the mother of three. I am neither a professional runner nor a mother, and both seem incredibly difficult things to do separately, let alone together.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from someone named Brian Penter, a UF grad in Atlanta (I think), who offers up some food for thought — “The SEC has won 21 National Titles in football, basketball and baseball in the last 20 years. Schools who have not contributed:

– UGA

– Arkansas

– the Mississippis

– the newcomers (Mizzou and A&M)”

I will leave this here without comment. I’m not sure one is needed.

18. Well, the fairways are no longer safe. I hit a bucket and played three holes at Ironwood on Sunday. The fever is back, despite a few chili pepper shanks on the range. And I’ll need a new playlist for tooling around the golf course. (Seriously, ever since cell phones took over our lives, every third golf cart has some tunes going. Maybe they should put chargers in the carts).

• “Cringe” by Matt Maeson.

• “Forgive Me Friend” by Smith and Thell.

• “Shine a Little Light” by The Black Keys.

• “Shinin’ “ by The Allman Betts Band. Yep, the kids got together to start a band and it’s awesome.

• And because there might have been some impromptu karaoke on the back porch Saturday night as we once again celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary (we’ll stop now), “I Started A Joke” by The Bee Gees.

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

44 COMMENTS

  1. It’s hard to imagine why anybody is high on TAMU this year, when the probability is that they won’t come of age until 2021. Of course, nobody really knows until games are actually played and the season is over, but c’mon……does the name Fisher really carry so much weight that rationality goes out the door? I’m a Gator of course, but a “fan” of A&M and saying that in all honesty.

    Somehow I get the feeling that in some quarters Dan Mullen will be secretly hoped never to reach the top at Florida. Or, is it just me perceiving that?

      • there is no question in my mind dooley wants champ back as coach. he needs to come up with a better story and south carolina needs to find a better coach.
        it is true mac had a better start, but mac just couldnt pick good assistants, such as offensive line, other than the one defensive coach now at georgia tech, so i prefer cdm. i thought tamu looked good at the end of last year but i dont follow texas football, so im not going to argue with anyone else. i see lsu starting to decline more and more over screwing up the hatter situation, saban continuing his decline at the end of last year, kirby still not realizing that special teams matter (he is georgia bulldog, like champ, he just doesnt grasp things some things very well), and i dont care what urban does with his life. number 17 is right, and i see arkansas, missouri, kentucky, mississippi state, auburn, and ole miss all better than people think. fsu and miami will be better, ucf and usf not so much. i havent watched an nba game in a few years, nhl either, but any team with al horford is going to win a lot of games.

  2. The difference between Uncle Yellow Teeth and Mullen? Well, one sucked, was a weird freak obsessed with Shark Slut Magazine, was brought in to be an offensive guru but won on his predecessor’s defense, was semi-illiterate, fat, kept forgetting to put on socks, and also sucked.

    The other one is a competent coach, was brought in to be an offensive guru and actually is an offensive guru, is not obsessed with dirty shark porn and also does not suck. Done.

    Also, Uncle Yellow Teeth sucked.

  3. ”…in some quarters Dan Mullen will be secretly hoped never to reach the top at Florida.” -Gator-6.
    If I am hearing you correctly (Gator-6 and Jaws), you both think there are ”some” Gator fans hoping that Coach Mullen stays at 8-10 wins per season? Because ‘IF’ that’s what you 2 think, well, I have NOT sensed that from ANYONE here in Hogtown. And I was born in a building off 2nd Ave in 1968, (now torn down: AGH), and I’ve lived here ever since. And I actually perceive the opposite! Among the 4 other Head Coaches since the H.B.C., (Zook, Urban, Muschamp, and Mac), Coach Dan Mullen probably has the most support that a U.F. Head Football Coach has had since Urban Meyer’s glory days in 2005-2009. But that’s just me, and I don’t rub elbows with the ”elite here in G’ville,” but everyone else is extremely stoked about Dan Mullen’s chances for success, and supports him completely. Go Gators!

  4. 1. Yes Pat, there is a difference between McElwain and Mullen. Supporters and naysayers need to get over his two-year record and look at the bigger picture. The SEC East was in shambles and Muschamp left UF with a great defense. I could’ve coached them to 10 wins those first two years. While Mac may be a solid coach, he just wasn’t an SEC coach. Dan Mullen is a top tier SEC coach. Comparison done.

    2. Can we just quit talking about Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp? I don’t care where Meyer ends up….that’ll be the new school’s problem. And SC will always be second tier in football. Deal with it.

    3. NBA. meh …..

    4. Free Speech. Now there’s an interesting topic. I understand free speech. I served this great country to protect it. But it sure has a different meaning today. While we are still free from imprisonment for saying something others don’t like, we are quickly losing ground on that. When it’s convenient it is called free speech. When it offends someone it is called hate speech. And now it’s fashionable to be anti-American with free speech. I can’t watch the Women in the World Cup because I don’t feel like I’m rooting for the USA but rather the Anti-USA. It’s one thing to not like particular US leaders but it’s another thing entirely to hate the USA which provides so many human rights to begin with. Careful what you wish for.

    Yes, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

    • No you didn’t Rog (wake up on the wrong side of the bed) — you simply know that (a) freedom isn’t free, (b) with freedom comes responsibility, and that (c) thoughts, behaviors, and speech based exclusively on emotion instead of logic are both meaningless and inflammatory.

      Great post, bud.

    • Rog Most who are complaining have not witnessed oppression or lack of freedom and place ideals they have read in books to things they have not experienced. We are not perfect and never will be as perfection is something to strive for. I enlisted in the Army (Airborne Infantry (by choice) @ 18 why? My dad was Army, I believe all owe something to the country, and I was having way too much fun to attend college at that time. I was in the Middle East, North Africa and Central America and saw the ideals I had not always hold up to the reality of the dynamics of the world.
      No Sir, you didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you are seeing the reality of a entitled generation that while they have seen or been affected by war haven’t taken the time to see the details that got us where we are now and how complex it is, because there isn’t an app to explain it in less than 60 words.

    • I am actively rooting against the women’s world cup team, but I am not sure it’s for the same reason. I was disgusted at the bush league behavior during the 13-0 rout of Thailand. Was it really necessary to celebrate every goal like it was a cup winner, not a grind-their-face-in-it we’re already up by six, eight, ten goals, goal.

      Classless, unsportsmanlike, call it what you want, I was embarrassed for them. I know goal differential is a tie breaker, so while the score was run up, at least there is what can be considered a legitimate reason for doing so. That being said, in the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, “Act like you’ve been there before!” when it comes to scoring.

    • Rog you are right on. I’m not watching the cup anyways but my wife informed me of what Rapinoe had done and I think in this case it is particularly disgusting. She’s playing for the US national team on foreign soil and shows disrespect for her country? It’s bad enough when pro players do this but a member of the national team? These useful idiots should stay home and not sign up to represent the country they apparently so despise. But that’s the way it is now and when she gets back home she will go see O CrazyO instead of the President and that’s fine, one useful idiot lauded by one history – ignorant socialist wannabe. What a great country this is.

  5. Megan Rapinoe is a fine soccer player. She also enjoys the right to her freedom of speech. But she showed a tremendous lack of class in her recent, politically-charged comments. I don’t particularly care what she thinks about anything, but my opinion of her is that she is yet another athlete who is long on talent, but sadly lacking in respect and etiquette.

  6. Gator 6 – Who are you talking to that’s secretly sticking pins in a CDM voodoo doll? Coach Dan has mostly hit the right notes since he’s been here. The old knock on him was that he was a so-so recruiter. Well, then hire an ace recruiting coordinator. Urb showed him the way as far as organizing/coordinating/delegating to a top notch staff. Steve Spurrier never liked to recruit. But he could sure develop/coach ’em up. I have a lot of confidence in Coach Dan. Coach ’em up, Coach Dan.

    Rewinding the tape a little, Ron Zook (Kozo the Clown) was a predictable disaster. Unlike CDM, he was run out of town (twice) after meh stints as DC. He did fine work as special teams coach in the NFL. But what led UF AD JF to think he had HC mettle? Urb was a home run. I don’t care that he slinked away from competition with Sabes and The Hat. He delivered the goods when he was here. Muschamp? I defer to the fact that another major D1 program (Texas) was grooming him and believed in him as HC-in-waiting. UT AND UF got it wrong (in real time). He might eventually be a great coach. But UT and UF are NOT learn-on-the-job places. CDM got his learnin’ at a learn-on-the-job place (MSU).

    All that said, I am wringing my hands pretty hard about our O-line situation heading into the season. That’s a BAD place to be soft in this Conference. And it’s been an Achilles heel for several past teams (I still can’t say for sure that Jeff Driskel sucked or if he just sucked when he was flat on his back).

    • Boy, Gopher — I sure opened up a can of worms with that comment! I’m been listening to some guys I respect a great deal, I guess, and trying to make up my own mind by paying attention to what’s not said and what’s between the lines. Now, personally I (and the majority of Gators, I think) believe Dan Mullen is the guy we’ve been waiting for since 2010, a brilliant head coach, a man of absolute integrity and honor, an all around nice guy and a class act if there ever was one. On top of that, he’s a good manager of assets and resources — and an even better leader.

      I’ll just say that for all the accolades he gets from us, it sure seems like he receives mostly feint praise in some corners that are rather surprising. When I finally discern that, I think of reaction formation to account for the actual beliefs. Guess we’ll see.

      By the way, totally agree with everything you wrote above.

      • Gator 6. I am a gut-instinct guy. And my gut is mostly warm and fuzzy about Coach Dan. I am a big believer in the “right guy/right program/right time” line of thinking. Bo Schemblechler wanted a “Michigan Man”. I want a “Florida Man”. And I think that’s what we have going here now. Coach Dan’s not a alum, but I think his heart is in it 100%. The only hire I would have been more enthusiastic about would have been Bob Stoops (Charlie Strong would have been acceptable). But I believe Coach Dan is the right guy. I do think he needed some seasoning and he got that at MSU. Hiring him earlier would have been too soon (see Muschamp). Coach Mac was just the wrong guy. And I don’t think he even believed he was the right guy here (witness his paranoia with the media).

        Along those lines, what I call paranoia/hostility with the local media (especially print media) is a bad sign. The local hacks all WANT to cheer-lead and homer it up for the home team and the head coach. Chumming it up with those guys won’t get you Ws. But it will keep the seat a little cooler when things don’t go well. Look at that ol’ charmer Charley Pell. Mac was weird with the media as was Muschamp. Here in SoFla, Randy Shannon was jumpy/snippy/suspicious when he was head man for the Hurricanes. That’s part of growing in the job. Sure, a few of these guys can be bastards and get away with it. But that list is REALLY short and requires a LOT of winning (Belichick, Poppavich, Saban).

      • Objectivity and neutrality are not the same thing. Having said that, all this stuff is subjective speculation anyway until games are actually played and, ultimately, when the season is over — at which time we all can go back with a more reasonably educated, more objective assessment of what went the way we expected and what didn’t. Unfortunately, biases and stereotypes even apply then, but at least the picture is more clear. For some of us, anyway.

        Murphy was a grunt.

  7. GUYSl Put this 2019 season in perspective: GATORS have LSU, Auburn and Georgia on the schedule and all3 are pre-season Top 15. Canes are ranked anywhere from 20 to 50 to not ranked. This schedule is a bull-buster (Pun intended). I will be happy with a 10 win season and a New Year’s Bowl–and beating the snot out of the ‘Wholes.

    • Cattrick, you and some others have influenced me to back off my 11-2 prediction a tad — not that I wouldn’t take it mind you, and it seemed logical to me at first in order to sustain our progression from year to year — and I am now certain that if we repeat 10-3, given our schedule, it will indeed represent the same progression I was looking for. Now that I’ve taken all that pressure off the boys, I”m sure they’re going to play their guts out and have a great season! 😁