The Back Nine: Miami’s Diaz picks safe hand at quarterback

Miami head football coach Manny Diaz speaks during the Atlantic Coast Conference media days in Charlotte, N.C., last Thursday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The Back Nine comes at you with the knowledge that the next one of these columns will be a kickoff to game week and that makes me want to run into a field screaming with joy. I know, I need to pace myself. Why start now?

10. There are a lot of you out there who probably have never heard of Jarren Williams, but I’m sure you are aware now that he is the Miami quarterback the Gators will be opening against. Most of you — and I was right there with you — assumed it would be Tate Martell under center. But then there was this quote from coach Manny Diaz after the latest Hurricanes scrimmage. “Very disappointing in the way that you started to see the ‘far away’ look in some guys on the offense, things we’re trying to eradicate from our program,” Diaz said. “We had a feeling the disease wasn’t fully cured.” That could not have been comforting to Miami fans, although Diaz said the second half was better. I am just guessing here, but reading what Diaz had to say Monday after naming Williams the starter, it sounds like he is going with the guy least likely to throw the ball to the wrong team. He knows he has a great defense and can’t afford to allow a bunch of short fields or easy defensive scores. I asked Dan Mullen if the news changes anything for the Gators’ prep work (they start concentrating on Miami on Friday) and he said this: “He (Williams) hasn’t played a whole lot. None of them have. It’s not like a guy who has played a whole lot and it’s a new coaching staff.” Instead, he said, the Gators just need to focus on themselves and not worry about who will be behind center.

11. Diaz didn’t name a backup either and you wonder what is going through Martell’s head right now. This is a guy with a high opinion of himself and he can’t be thrilled, especially if he loses the second-string job to N’Kosi Perry. Martell may not be in Miami long. On the other hand, he can bear down, win the back-up job and wait for a chance. The interesting thing is that Martell left Ohio State because Justin Fields transferred there. And now neither one of them may start because Fields hasn’t won the job (it may go to former Kentucky QB Gunnar Hoak). Quarterbacks are high maintenance.

12. So ESPN came out with its list of the top 50 players and this is one more reason I voted Alabama No. 1 on my AP ballot. The Tide had 10 of the 50 players. I know Nick Saban’s team has been dealt some tough blows in the last week with injuries, but the talent is ridiculous. By the way, Clemson had six players on the list. Florida had one, cornerback CJ Henderson. The interesting thing about Henderson is that teams hardly threw the ball his way last season after Marco Wilson went down (he allowed only 18 catches and no touchdowns last season; the rest of Florida’s secondary allowed 16). And when nobody throws the ball your way, lazy voters leave you off ballots because they only look at your interception totals.

13. The SEC released next year’s schedule last week and while most of the freaking out was over Georgia and Alabama playing in the third week of the season, the thing that stood out to me was Cupcake Week. Usually, the week before the finale is loaded with enough soft treats to give you diabetes. But the league made an effort and we have A&M at Alabama, LSU at Auburn and Georgia at Kentucky on Nov. 21. That’s beautiful, even if Florida hosts New Mexico State that day. That’s another element that we are going to see as athletic directors try to upgrade their schedules because the fans can’t be expected to be blindly loyal anymore — if you are playing nobody and somebody good is playing somebody good at the same time, how many of you are staying home? Anything that gets better games is a plus and because it seems inevitable that we’re heading for an eight-game playoff, ADs are falling all over themselves trying to schedule better games down the road. I approve.

14. I started to make a list of the worst radio show topics I have heard this summer during talking season. But then I realized I’d be feeding the beast. Instead, I will give you this nugget that I didn’t know until I had a conversation with Steve Spurrier on Monday — Spurrier wore No. 16 when he arrived at Florida and now his grandson Gavin is wearing the same number as a preferred walk-on at Duke. So there you have it.

15. OK, so now that a full week of preseason NFL is in the books, I’m ready to make my picks (as if anything that will happen in the next three weeks is going to change my predictions). Here are your playoff teams:

AFC — Cleveland, Houston, New England, Kansas City

Wild cards — NY Jets, San Diego

NFC — Chicago, Philadelphia, LA Rams, New Orleans

Wild cards — Atlanta, Seattle

Super Bowl — Chiefs over Saints

There you go. Head to Vegas.

16. I think the wild card one-game playoffs are the dumbest things in all of sports (and I watched ESPN Ocho last week). But I will say this — the wild-card race itself is brilliant, especially in the National League. There are eight teams separated by only five games in the NL as we head down the stretch which keeps the fans engaged in all of those cities. When people whine about every game being important in college football and an expanded playoff taking away from that, I throw a little math at them. The more teams with a shot, the more games will be played that matter.

17. I was in a mood this week. I was just fed up with reading about politics on Twitter. I go on Twitter for sports news and an occasional laugh. It was just getting to me. So I unfollowed about 500 people. I feel refreshed. Now, the Tweet of the Week and it comes from The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee — “Greens are much faster, which slows play down. Courses are much longer which slows play down. Players have “books” and debates about yardage/reads which slows things down. Roll the ball back. Make the books illegal. Slow the greens down. Problem solved.” That makes too much sense. Maybe it’s time to put clocks on the course. I mean, it worked for college baseball.

18. There was a lot of music Saturday at the wonderful combination of Sara’s Birthday Golf Tournament and Phoenix Fox Foundation benefit to help MDA research. However, my latest comeback from knee replacement surgery was less than spectacular. We had a great time though, so there’s that. And now, there’s this:

“Luckiest Man” by The Wood Brothers.

• “Kelly’s Bar” by Trampled By Turtles. Whee-doggie. As Darling Briscoe used to say when Andy Griffith was getting ready to twang with the Darling Family, “Just jump in where you can and hang on!”

• “Bird Song” by the Wailin’ Jennings.

• No, nobody kidnapped me and brainwashed The Back Nine to start a country-ish link. These songs were just ones that grabbed me this week. I take this so seriously that I Shazam any good song I hear in public and keep Post-It notes in my car so I won’t forget a gem I hear on Sirius. Anyway, here’s a little more of a rocker — “Take Control” by the Mysterines.

• And for an old one, “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones in honor of the one that closed at the Galleria Mall that we used to frequent at SEC Media Days.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. Waylon Jennings was the bass player for Buddy Holly on his ill-fated 1959 tour. He lost the coin flip to Ritchie Valens to see who would get the last seat on the plane Holly chartered to take 4 people to the next stop at Spirit Lake, Iowa. Feb. 1959. We know how that flight ended. Sad. That’s “THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED” in Don McLean’s American Pie song. Peace to all.

  2. Of course, it’s reported now that Martell didn’t show up for practice yesterday, and now the wire services are full of questions regarding where he will transfer to next. If the lad keeps this up, he may someday be the only 53 year old college quarterback in existence. But nobody can call him a diva….I guess he’s just high strung?

  3. Gator fans have learned from the Muschamp/McElwain experiences that conservative offenses do not win consistently and struggle for wins practically every game. Miami and their coach Diaz will get their first lesson in Boring O’s 101 on the 24th. I like Pat’s “between the lines” prediction that as good as the Cane defense is, they can’t afford to allow a bunch of short fields or easy defensive scores, which there is a great possibility of occurring.

    Cleveland? Well, why not. If any fan base of any sport deserves to see their team make the playoffs, the Dog Pound is it. Drew Carey has known all along that Cleveland Rocks!

    The one game playoff is similar to when two teams tie for first in the division, but it’s not the same. WC teams should play three.

  4. Regarding #17, most people turn to sports to take a break from the news, politics, and endless bickering found on the cable news channels, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other places. Ask ESPN how much revenue it has lost because viewership is down and then ask why it’s down.

    Pat, you recently invoked a very divisive political issue into The Back Nine. According to you, those of us who didn’t like the US Women’s Soccer team’s captain and her protest during the national anthem don’t understand free speech. That’s political, dude, and you put it into your column and did precisely what you said you don’t want with Twitter. Readers of this column and, I would bet, log on to read about the Gators, sports, and occasional laughs. Perhaps you will stick to just sports in future editions of The Back Nine and leave politics out of it.

    I scored you at a double bogey on 17 this week.

  5. Yikes. “Very disappointing in the way that you started to see the ‘far away’ look in some guys on the offense.”

    I know that far away look well. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    I’m kidding. The only thing I don’t wish on Miami is an injury. Beyond that, I hope they are only surpassed by FSU in offensive ineptitude. Competitive games are fun and all but I’m hoping for defensive dominance to the tune of allowing around 10-15 points and consistent offensive performance for the first three quarters that culminates in an opening of the floodgates during the last quarter when the Miami D is tired and losing motivation. This, followed by a season of slugging through the muggy swamp for both FSU and UM, that halts both of their recruiting momentum and sends some the Gators’ way (after the good guys finish off another good looking 10+ win season).

    Can’t wait! 11 days, 6 hours, 19 minutes, and 25 seconds left!

  6. ”…inevitable that we’re heading for an eight-game playoff.” -Dooley.
    Oh joy, we get to see MORE GAMES like the undefeated team, Notre Dame, had their CFP game for last season’s playoffs. Despite Notre Dame’s record, the Irish clearly did NOT belong there. And now some fans (Dooley, etc…) want to add MORE GAMES like that one? No thanks, leave it at 4, as it makes for better BOWL GAMES and better competition in the Football Final Four (minus 1: Washington, Notre Dame, etc…). Go Gators! Just win baby!

      • Cool Joe, that is a valid point, but for only one game (last year’s Bama Clemson game). Alabama has proven it belongs there, since the CFP inception, to be fair. But Washington, Notre Dame, etc… NOT SO MUCH (so far to date)!
        8 games may be nice for some fans. But I’d rather see an awesome BOWL GAME with those #5-8 ranked teams, like FLORIDA vs Michigan last season, because when we have ”4 more games like the Notre Dame game last year” in the CFP (Final Four) well, I would rather pass on those game! But that’s just me… Go Gators!

        • I agree, gi, Bama certainly belonged there, but Clemson was just clearly better. Whether it was just for that game or overall, I don’t know.

          I see the appeal for 8 playoff teams, but I agree that 4 is enough. You have to draw the line somewhere, and it’s already a stretch asking “student athletes” to play 15 games, much less 16 or 17. In fact, I think they could’ve simply used the old BCS poll and had a playoff with the top 4 teams instead of just a championship game with the top 2. At least the BCS poll criteria was published and objective, so you could know exactly how the teams were chosen. With the CFP Committee its all subjective. Even when the chairman tries to explain it after each weekly poll reveal, you’re still not exactly sure what the individual committee members were thinking.
          Go Gators, and as you say, “Just win baby”!

    • There are pros and cons but I personally lean slightly toward expanding it to (and finalizing it at) 8 games. At that number, any team that has a legitimate argument for saying they are the best in the country would get in. ND would get in from the other year. UCF would get in from that year. Even UGA would get in from last year. There are legitimate arguments to be be made that all of these teams deserved a shot.

      I honestly can’t think of a time when a #9 team could realistically claim they might have been the best in the country. Wisconsin went undefeated in their [arguably cakewalk of a] regular season and then lost by less than a TD in the Big 10 Championship a few years ago. You can easily argue that a 12-1 Power 5 team that lost a single game by less than a TD to a top 10 team can legitimately believe they might be the best in the nation. I think 8 games would be the best way of getting everyone who deserves it a shot without killing the regular season.

  7. Count me in as one who would absolutely stay home to watch LSU-Auburn and A&M at Bama over watching UF battle New Mexico St at Florida Field in person. I LOVE going to games at Florida Field……”real” games. I would MUCH rather see the SEC move to 9 SEC games or schedule more Power 5 opponents. Stop playing these creampuffs just to put W’s on the record and get the home game revenue. I know there are some smart folks in the Athletic Administration that can make a budget work even with playing home and home series against Power 5 teams. This ain’t hard fellas……and as you’re seeing, all the WiFi and Concession gimmicks in the world isn’t enough to get folks off the couch in 2019 ….. you gotta play a good schedule and you gotta be competitive. Simple. There, I solved it for ya 🙂

    • The whole UF 2020 home schedule is weak. Living 500 miles away, it makes me wonder why I continue to pay the cost of tickets plus booster fees. Next year there are only a couple worth making the drive. I want to support the program but really should just boot the season tickets and only buy the few games worth going to.

      • This is what I’ve done. Increasingly, every year before the season I look at the home schedule and there are usually only 2-3 games I really want to make the effort and spend the money to see. Honestly, if I still lived in Gainesville (and I wish I did), I still wouldn’t go see some of these games (nothing against Towson or North Texas or Samford or whoever, but as a “Gator” fan in the SEC, I’m just not interested in FCS football at the Swamp) as they just aren’t interesting matchups. I love high school football and watch games often. I’ll even go watch lower level college matchups (Appalachian State in Boone, NC is a great venue) from time to time. But UT-Martin vs the Gators in the Swamp….no thanks.

  8. A proper 8-team college football playoff system must ensure that regular season conference games really matter. It also must reward quality out-of-conference scheduling without penalizing teams that lose out of conference. And finally, it must include a path for all 130 Division 1A teams to “earn it on the field” based on their actual performance during the regular season. All of this is possible and rather easy to accomplish by starting the playoffs with 16 teams on Conference Championship Saturday.

    Winning a Power-Five Conference Championship must mean something or what’s the point of the regular season? Power-five conferences are deeper and play more difficult schedules on average so any team that wins a power five conference title has earned the right to represent that conference. The Power Five Conferences have great teams, rivalries and traditions so wining a conference title should be a big deal… and should get you in the playoffs.

    Players and fans love quality cross conference regular season games. An 8-team playoff system can encourage quality out of conference matchups but at the same time maintain a focus on winning your conference. Teams should not be out of the playoffs for losing out of conference games or losing 1-2 conference game… just win a Power Five Conference Title and you are in.

    Interconference games can only help teams and their conferences for seeding purposes but more on playoff seeding later.

    To properly do an 8-team college football playoff the number of games played must be the same for all playoff teams.

    If the five Power-Five champions automatically get in, three additional teams are needed to round out a field of Eight. This is where the selection committee begins, and three new invitation only play-in games come in.
    The selection committee would pick six teams to fill three Play-In games played on Conference Championship weekend. Keep in mind these “selected” teams either don’t belong to a power five conference or are teams that didn’t make their conference championship games. In other words, teams that are 3rd best in a Power Five Conference, are Independents or are non-power five schools. The selection committee will have the entire regular season before them to help make team selections… and seeding decisions for the three at-large games.

    Worthy Independent schools or power-five teams that scheduled well and played well but don’t win their conference championship, can still be selected and play for a national title. This is where quality out of conference wins can help teams, and at the same time, out of conference loses don’t hurt your conference title chances during the regular season.
    On the occasion there is a deserving Non-Power-Five team that schedules big opponents and wins, they’d have a chance to be selected as well. A “Cinderella” team make a run someday which would be great for the game and ratings. A worthy non-power five school now has a path to get into the playoffs under this system, but they would have to forgo their conference championship game for the privilege to play for it all.
    Selected teams will now be playing a meaningful game against a quality opponent on Conference Championship Weekend instead of watching on TV.

    For scheduling purposes, Conference Championship games are already regional neutral sites. Adding three additional neural site venues will be needed for the Play-In games but fan notice is basically the same for tickets and travel.

    Play-In game winners would be seeded 6-8 in the Round of Eight, which is a disadvantage, but they’d at least have a chance to win it on the field.

    And most importantly, after Conference Championship weekend, the committee would seed the 8-team playoff field based on an entire season’s worth of data. The best conferences are seeded higher with the Play-In game winners filling in the lower 6-8 seeds. Seeding is important since the top four seeds get home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. This is obviously an advantage, but the regular season and every game played should mean something. It’ll still be somewhat subjective but at least an entire season’s worth of cross conference games will have been played before it’s voted on by the committee.
    Let’s look at last season hypothetically…
    Conference Championship Saturday Dec 1st
    PAC- Utah v Washington
    SEC- Bama v Georgia
    ACC- Clemson v Pitt
    Big 12- Texas v OK
    Big 10- NW v Ohio St.
    The new plan…
    Play-In Games- Hypothetical teams selected and seeded 1-6 by committee.
    1 Notre Dame 12-0 v 6 LSU 9-3
    2 Michigan 10-2 v 5 UF 9-3
    3 Washington St 10-2 v 4 UCF 12-0

    1st Round of 8 Team Playoff (Seeded by committee) Dec 15th
    1 Bama v 8 UCF
    2 Clemson v 7 UF
    3 Oklahoma v 6 Washington
    4 Ohio St v 5 Notre Dame

    2nd Round of 4 Teams Jan 1st
    1 Bama v 4 Ohio St
    2 Clemson v 3 Oklahoma

    Title Game Jan 27th (the week before Super Bowl)
    1 Bama v 2 Clemson

    This system is really for the players and fans but at the same time the revenue potential under this system includes three new play-in games and five now very meaningful Conference Championship games. In addition to four entirely new must-watch playoff games. That’s 12 must-watch win or go home games before the final four are even in place.

    Player safety is always a concern so one game should be dropped from the regular season, so we don’t see Div. I vs Div. II games any longer. Only two teams are playing one more game under this proposal and the new TV revenue should be shared so all Div. I schools can drop one game to reduce wear and tear on the players.

  9. GG96………… cannot state it much better. Your “system” is exactly the way I argued the NC should be decided years ago during the conspiratorial BCS era.
    Why, indeed, bother with a regular ” conference schedule” if you can win a power five conference and still be left out of the continuing competition for a NC………….because of the whim of a “committee” of all knowing humans. The answer is easy…….the current “system” supports the crushing boredom of the talking head world and the money it generates. Think about it. There is little overhead in the salary and set of a talk show while it generates millions of dollars in advertising minutes. And now there are literally hundreds of such shows on every conceivable network. The “guess who’s in” fodder, once the committee graces the few with “rankings”, cranks that money machine to the max. What the hell would ESPN do without the shows that live only to debate the issue for months. Controversy….real or promoted…. is their life blood.
    I digress…..sorry. The system has to be “earn it”…… based on conference champions…. not how a team looks to any group of “experts” . I don’t care how many conferences there are or if there are a couple of at large teams but if you don’t win your conference…..even it you are 6 and 2, you are not in .
    Every other way is just a continuing modification of the BCS.
    There are many benefits not the least of which the encouragement to play better non conference teams since you cannot lose your way out of the race with a defeat. Too many others to list here.
    You have done too good a job anyway.
    (I do disagree that the conference championship should not be LABELED as part of the NC system. The NC system should only technically start after conference championships)
    Now, how do we get this done?????

  10. 96, I don’t see any way you’re going to have a game, in let’s say FL, for 2 teams from the west coast and only give the fan base and schools 6 days to plan. All 14 conference teams know exactly where their title game will be played before the season starts. Lots of fans start making reservations early.

  11. That’s true but some Power Five teams don’t know they are in their Conference Championship game until 2 weeks before when it’s a close divisional race. The three play-in games would get die-hard deep pocketed fans regardless, who in reality would have a good idea they may get in based on the season to date so it’s not unsurmountable. The rest of us get to watch on TV ;o) Using major markets would help with general college football fans wishing to see a playoff game buying a majority of tickets, but also making travel arrangements for fans as easy as possible. Flights to LA or Orlando or NY from anywhere can be arranged and hotels are abundant. If selling out the games is the focus, you could also consider doubling up the venues of three of the the Power Five conference title games by adding a play-in games on the same day or over a Fri-Sun weekend. Also remember the fans of the top four seeded teams get home games in the round of eight so they can attend these games if they make it in ;o)