The Back Nine comes at you refreshed from a 12-hour sleep after one hour the night before. We’ll see how that works out.
10. The obvious storyline this week is going to be about Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville. (One symptom of sleep deprivation is stating the obvious). The interesting part of it is that Mullen is taking his team to play a hugely important game against a monster he created. That has to do with the players on the team, but also the environment. Mullen pushed hard to get the fans behind the program and everyone tells me it’s a lot tougher place to play than it was the last time Florida was there in 2009. One reason is the Great Cowbell Compromise of 2010. The league already had a ban on artificial noisemakers that was not enforced until 2010. Then, there was a movement to put some teeth into the rule with financial penalties. Mississippi State President Mark Keenum and the late SEC commissioner Mike Slive worked on a compromise that would allow the clanging only at certain times. “It was up to Dan and I to convince the fans to only do it at certain times,” said Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, who was then at MSU. “They were not very cooperative at first. We got a few warnings from the league office.” The theme for the cowbells is to ring responsibly. Like not when the other team is at the line of scrimmage. Also, Stricklin told me that the loudest place at the stadium is the open-air press box. Oh, goodie.
11. There will be so-called experts out there who will point to Florida’s latest national ranking in total offense (93rd) and see more of the same and make some clever remarks about the Gator offense. And while it is an offense that is still a work in progress and has only played against one really good defense, there are some stats that need to be pointed out. Florida is actually 29th in the country in yards per play. Exploda-Gators, huh? UF is averaging 6.67 yards a play this season. The problem is getting more plays. Florida is dead last in the country among teams who have played four games in offensive plays this season. This can happen when you get a lot of short fields and big special teams plays. “I have no problem if we continue on this path,” Mullen said. By the way, Florida’s standing right now in total offense is better than USC, Stanford, LSU and Louisville, not to mention the teams coached by Chip Kelly and Scott Frost.
12. One thing that I know came across on TV was how lit the crowd was at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. It was an incredible environment with only a few empty seats. Those fans have been through a lot, but I give them credit for the support they showed and can’t really blame the ones who left after Florida got up big in the fourth quarter. Florida caught some heat on Twitter for only selling 2,600 tickets, but that’s just the way it is in college football these days. Didn’t anybody read my story this summer? Don’t answer that. Fans don’t want to pay $100 to sit on the top row of a stadium and fork over the travel money when they can watch at home and see multiple games in HD. We did see what is becoming a trend in college football which is small pep bands on the road to allow some of the better seats to be sold to boosters.
13. It hasn’t gone real well for new coaches in the NFL (7-14, but how about that Tennessee win Sunday over Jacksonville?) and it’s been even worse in college football. There are 18 new head coaches and they are 4-23 in games against Power Five teams. Mullen has one of those wins and one of those losses, but I think Gator fans are pretty happy with the direction of the program. Not so much in some other places. Disgruntled fans are popping up all over the place questioning the new hires after the fact. And while I am the guy who preaches patience, I will say this — if coaches don’t like fans jumping up and down a few games into their careers, take a pay cut. When these guys are making such over-the-top salaries, the lunatic fringe comes with the territory.
14. Nick Saban wants the media to write stories to point out the flaws of his team. He cracks me up. Nick, the only easy part about filling out my Associated Press ballot every Sunday morning is who to put at No. 1. Voting for the last five teams is like doing trigonometry homework. I mean, Virginia Tech suffered one of the worst losses in the history of college football. So I dumped the Hokies. What do you do with unbeaten teams with no real quality wins? Or teams with a couple of losses who have played really good teams? That’s why we get paid the big bucks. Wait, there’s no money? Rats. All I know is that Duke, Kentucky and Syracuse are making me wonder if hoops season came early. Anyhow, it still feels like Alabama and Georgia should just cancel the rest of their seasons and play in Atlanta for seeding purposes only.
15. So officially, Tiger Woods is back. Wasn’t he already back? Dude was in contention in majors, was spiking TV ratings and drawing ridiculous galleries. That’s kinda “back” isn’t it? He was all anyone could talk about who followed golf and was bringing in the casual fans the way he used to. All this before he won the Tour Championship. The crowds Sunday at East Lake were ridiculous. Only one guy can do that. And the comeback he made from four back surgeries is amazing. Just don’t try to tell anyone that golf was a bigger deal than the NFL on Sunday. The King still had better numbers easily. But next year’s Masters? We may see the all-time golf record for ratings on Sunday if Tiger is right there.
16. Lost in the Tiger story on Sunday was another strong performance by UF grad Billy Horschel. He finished second, which means he has finished tied for third, tied for third and second in the last three tournaments he has played. I agreed with captain Jim Furyk’s picks for the Ryder Cup, but Horschel is playing so well right now he may regret not taking the Gator. Then again, I am a little biased because Billy is such a good dude and the only Tour player’s phone number I have.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Patriots Insider Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston — “Linebacker speed was the biggest offseason need the Patriots had. It’s the biggest need still. Meanwhile, time was invested trying to trade an All-Pro tight end with a team-friendly contract.” The revelation this week that the Pats tried to trade Rob Gronkowski plus the real-or-imagined rift between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can’t be helping things in Foxboro. Pats haters must be in heaven.
18. While our first road trip of the season went really well, we did have one flight from Charlotte to Knoxville where leg room was optional. Luckily, I had this playlist:
• “Guiding Light” by Mumford and Sons.
• “Falling” by Mansionair.
• “Gainesville” which is the new/old song by Tom Petty and should be played in the stadium before home games now that it has been released as a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song.
• “Once in a Million” by Hudson Taylor.
• And for an old one, because I stumbled on a Partridge Family episode with a special guest wearing one of those awful early-1970s neck chokers, “Easy Come, Easy Go” by Bobby Sherman.
(P.S.) I went this whole column without mentioning the Braves clinching the division with a sweep of the Phillies. My euphoria if I wrote about it would be very unprofessional. So I will steer clear of any mentions about the Braves winning the NL East. Just so you know. But the Braves did win the division this weekend.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.