Posted: 11:35 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Florida doesn't play on this Saturday, but there's still plenty to watch in college football, especially for Gators fans. Here's a list of nine things to keep an eye on.
No SEC team will get to claim it beat Texas A&M; in its first SEC game or the first game of Johnny Manziel's career but Florida. And what the Gators did in limiting an eventually unstoppable offense in that 2012 win in College Station is only getting more and more impressive in retrospect.
Florida controlled much of the second half of that game, and effectively stopped Manziel, something that no team but LSU has done since, and LSU got five turnovers from the Aggies in that game, which covered for a horrifically inaccurate day from Zach Mettenberger and helped make up for being outgained by almost 100 yards.
Alabama's defense looked to have taken a step back from its dominant 2012 form in the Crimson Tide's opener against Virginia Tech, and only a superlative day on special teams from Christion Jones prevented the Tide from just sort of squeaking by the Hokies. The Alabama offensive line that looked bad against VT might also find it easier to play against a green and porous A&M; defense. And an extra week off after an entire offseason spent partially preparing for A&M; makes me think Nick Saban has thought through defending Johnny Football pretty thoroughly at this point.
But Alabama penned Manziel up for much of the second half of last year's Alabama-Texas A&M; game, too, and he still did enough to get the Aggies the victory. I wouldn't be surprised if he did the same today.
A foregone conclusion: Oregon is going to beat Tennessee today. The Ducks don't lose non-conference games at home (last loss: 2008 to Boise State) and have too much speed for a rebuilding Tennessee team that looked good against overmatched Austin Peay and Western Kentucky teams. (And that 52-20 win over Western Kentucky featured an incredible plus-six turnover margin, two defensive touchdowns, and no drives of more than 22 yards until after halftime.)
But if Tennessee can keep it respectable, and stay within 20 points or so of one of the nation's five best teams on the road, Florida's game next Saturday will look more like an upset special and less like an easy path to nine straight wins in the series. Whether that will be a fair assessment or not — Florida looks to be at least two touchdowns better than Tennessee to me — is a judgment call, but Butch Jones's Vols are playing for perception more than anything right now.
Kentucky built a ton of momentum entering the 2013 season by constructing one of the better recruiting classes in the country from kids who wanted to commit to the new, bold vision put forth by Mark Stoops. That momentum was almost all dashed in a dispiriting season-opening loss to Western Kentucky (the Wildcats trailed 35-17 in the fourth quarter before rallying to make the final score 35-26), and a home win over lowly Miami of Ohio didn't do much to raise spirits.
Now the 'Cats face in-state rival Louisville, and what could end up being the best Cardinals team ever, with lots of pride and plenty more on the line. If Teddy Bridgewater and company deliver a beatdown, Stoops's promises of a new day are going to ring a bit more hollow, and Florida should feel a lot better about continuing its decades-long winning streak over the 'Cats on its first SEC road trip.
LSU fans spent 2012 complaining bitterly about their underwhelming team and the lack of night games in Baton Rouge. This season, the Tigers look a lot better than they did last season, and have all the night games they could want.
Last week, UAB was fed to the Tigers' den; this week, it's Kent State. Auburn drops by next week, and Florida comes to town in October for what could be a night game showdown if Texas A&M-Ole; Miss turns into a game that CBS might want at 3:30. Death Valley is getting its fill of heavyweight bouts under the lights this year, in any case.
I think Vanderbilt's a rebuilding team that will be lucky to win six games this year. South Carolina is a much better team, though its offense may be ahead of its defense, which just doesn't have the talent around Jadeveon Clowney necessary to stop elite attacks like the Georgia one that ran it over last week.
But Vandy is probably going to be annoying and sneaky all year, as it was against the Ole Miss team it didn't have the firepower to top on the opening night of the season, and South Carolina's primed for either a blowout win or a scare after that loss to Georgia. The way this game goes, even if the Gamecocks win as expected, should tell us plenty about both teams.
Florida fans are going to be incredibly tired of hearing about Florida State's Jameis Winston by the time the Seminoles trek to Gainesville in November. And it's games like FSU's tilt against Nevada today that are going to fuel the discussion about him: Yes, Winston is good, but Nevada's defense yielded over 300 yards passing and rushing to UCLA, and just isn't much of a challenge, and so he's going to look beyond good.
You can paraphrase that last sentence for virtually every Florida State game this season, with Clemson being the notable exception. Winston's going to play extraordinarily well, sure, but his competition is very ordinary.
Texas's decline will inevitably spark discussions about whether Will Muschamp would go back to Austin to replace Mack Brown, and though the answer to that question is probably a definitive "Ha, no," it was stunning to see BYU destroy a talented and discipline-free defense last week. The difference between Florida's players and Texas's players in terms of talent isn't all that significant, I think, but the gulf between their respective performances so far in 2013 is immense, and every Texas fan pining for Muschamp should be a reminder that Florida's lucky to have him.
Also, Ole Miss is going to be fun until someone figures out exactly how Hugh Freeze got all this talent to Oxford or Freeze realizes he's not going to be the coach who makes Ole Miss a perennial power, because that person hasn't yet been born.
I'm not saying Sonny Dykes's Golden Bears could really beat Urban Meyer's Buckeyes, but the conditions are remarkably ripe for something screwy happening out by Strawberry Canyon. Dykes is an offensive genius and can put the pressure on the Bucks. Braxton Miller is banged up. Cal pushed Ohio State in Columbus last year with Jeff Tedford coaching it.
I'll be rooting for Cal, obviously. But I don't think I'm crazy for believing the Bears might have a chance.
For some reason, Boston College plays at USC today, meaning that former antagonist of Gator Nation Steve Addazio and former antagonist of Gator Nation Lane Kiffin are meeting for the first time since Florida and Tennessee played the most frustrating game of the 2013 season. And without the prospect of Tim Tebow and Eric Berry colliding, this one is liable to be beyond awful.
Watch it for the schadenfreude.