STATE OF FOOTBALL: Head Gator Dan Mullen takes unexpected view of the shoe toss

Ken Willis
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

We’ll obviously never know if the 2020 Florida Gators would’ve eventually hung another national championship sign on the stadium wall.

They would’ve had to beat Alabama this weekend to make the four-team playoffs, then win twice more against the highest quality opponents — perhaps even Alabama again.

Tall task, and not one that invites assumption.

But we have a pretty good idea why the Gators aren’t even entertaining the possibility anymore. Marco Wilson’s shoe toss last Saturday night triggered a mini-rush of events leading to LSU’s dramatic 37-34 upset that was hard to watch for Gator fans — literally, given the thick fog blanketing the home field.

Marco Wilson (right) and the infamous shoe toss.

The fog of war, they say, can hamper perceptions and make for alternate views. But wow, did Dan Mullen ever serve divorce papers on reality.

Wilson, Mullen said the next day after reviewing film, “made the tackle, and part of the football move, the kid's shoe was in his hand, and he kind of threw it and jumped and celebrated with his teammates.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

Mullen continued.

“It's a shame. It's pretty unfortunate in that situation. I don't think there was any intent to taunt, and it wasn't like he was throwing it at their sideline or doing any of that. It was a huge play, he thought possibly a game-winning play, and he kind of threw the shoe and went to celebrate with his teammates, and unfortunately, it was a penalty.”

Just for fun, try to imagine Nick Saban explaining it in that fashion. Can’t do it, can you? Now let’s move on.

The Shoe Toss:When the playoffs kick you out: Video has fun at Florida Gators' expense

Two thoughts as the Shoe Game takes its place in Gator lore.

1. Coaches need football players — particularly on defense — who run on high emotion along with their physical skill sets. They feed on each other. When you get a good one — like Marco Wilson and others — you understand that the competitive juices and accompanying emotion are walking a fine line, and one little teeter could end up with the throwing of a shoe and yellow flag. It’s a coaching reality.

2. You notice that all of this — especially Mullen’s calm response — came during the week of Wednesday’s “early signing day,” when coaches like Mullen fuel their team’s tanks by sealing the deal with certain recruits and maybe even stealing one formerly committed elsewhere.

If Mullen had publicly chastised Wilson, it would’ve been noticed by some fence-sitting blue-chippers who prefer their coaches to support and defend them in the toughest moments. So maybe there was an ounce of calculation involved for Mullen, and frankly, it would make perfect sense.

And, you know, it’s not like there’s anything they can do about it now. But an SEC Championship banner wouldn’t be a bad consolation.

Rank & File

The weekly ranking of Florida’s seven big-league college football programs, based on results versus expectations, current trends, and yesterday’s yield curve.

1. Florida (8-2): Tight end Kyle Pitts, badly missed in the LSU loss, is expected to play Saturday after dealing with what’s described as a “lingering injury.” The folks setting the points spread would really like to know.  Next: vs. Alabama Saturday.

2. Miami (8-2): “Defense is something I have always taken pride in and I have never seen a day like this past Saturday.” So said head coach Manny Diaz after watching two Tar Heels rush for a combined 544 yards. Yep, that’s a record. Next: Hopefully signing some run stoppers while they await an official invite to the hometown Orange Bowl. 

3. UCF (6-3): What initially appeared to be a downer (the Boca Bowl) became must-see TV when Brigham Young also accepted a Boca invitation. Put fresh fuses in the scoreboard for this Dec. 22 aerial show. Next: Del Boca Vista!

4. FAU (5-3): Marshall gave the Owls a chance at reaching the Conference-USA championship game, and FAU responded by dropping two straight to close the regular season. Next: Memphis in the Dec. 23 Montgomery Bowl in Alabama.

5. FSU (3-6):  Another win this week would actually send the ’Noles home with some positive mojo. Could’ve never imagined that a few weeks back. Next: Saturday at Wake Forest.

6. USF (1-8): Nothing to see here. Not yet, anyway. Next: Brag about the early-signing class.

7. FIU (0-5):  Well, at least there’s this. Punter Tommy Heatherly is one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award. Snicker if you want, but he’s the only non-Power 5 Conference punter on the list. Next: Pullin’ for Tommy.

Pro Picks

Tampa Bay (8-5) at Atlanta (4-9): Pretty favorable holiday menu for the Bucs, who get the Falcons twice, sandwiched around the Lions, to complete the regular season. Bucs 30, Falcons 20.

New England (6-7) at Miami (8-5): Remember last December when the Dolphins went to New England and shockingly took away the Pats’ playoff home-field advantage? Prevailing wisdom suggests the Dolphins need to win two of their last three to clinch a playoff berth, and among the three, this one seems most workable. Payback time? Probably not. Dolphins 17, Patriots 12.

Jacksonville (1-12) at Baltimore (8-5): The Jaguars are one loss away from tying the franchise’s longest losing streak. At least when they previously lost 13 straight, they had the decency to break it up over two seasons — the last five games of 2012 and first eight of 2013. Ravens 38, Jags 16.

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