With SEC Media Days now complete here are three things that I want to rant about.
Johnny Manziel and the dichotomy of being a 20-year-old celebrity.
There was no neutral ground for Johnny Manziel at SEC Media Days. You loved him or you hated him. He was praised for displaying the same confidence and composure that that won him the Heisman Trophy while being peppered with questions under the spotlight. He was critiqued for showing too much arrogance. There was no middle ground.
As much as I hate making the comparison, he matched Tim Tebow’s ability to polarize a room – and more universally, the internet. At the very crux of all the Manziel chatter is the predicament that he finds himself in. The issue is not the Manning Passing Academy. The issue is not underaged drinking (alleged). The issue is not what his family can and cannot afford. The issue is this: Johnny Manziel is twenty years old and he is famous. Really, really, famous. Really, really twenty years old.
He’s the most popular college football player on the planet and one of the most famous figures in his sport’s history. But he’s twenty years old. He was the youngest player ever to win one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports, but he’s still young. His fame and his age are not two mutually exclusive characteristics. They are very much coinciding.
People struggle to comprehend how Johnny Football can claim to be a “normal” twenty year-old college kid while describing the highlights of his offseason as, “Meeting Drake backstage at his concert in Toronto before flying to Cabo for Spring Break and later getting to chill with LeBron James.” At first glance, maybe those two concepts – the “normal young kid” notion and the “rock star” persona – disagree with each other. But maybe, just maybe, slightly deeper thinking can explain the paradox.
Could it be that when Manziel refers to himself as a “normal” college kid he really means, “I’m doing what any other college kid would do if he/she was given my opportunities.” Because that’s a statement that I can rally behind. As Daniel Palmer said on the podcast on Wednesday, “Give me his arm, his talent, his fame and his family’s money and things get way worse for me. And I’m 28!”
We live in a controversy-driven culture. The internet had exacerbated that problem. But if you can’t see that Johnny Manziel is equal parts normal kid and celebrity, then you have less common sense than society seems to think he has.
“But,” you may say, “Look at A.J. McCarron? He is humble, quiet, well-mannered and always out of the spotlight.”
All of that is true. A.J. McCarron, however, does not have a Heisman Trophy. A.J. McCarron is not bankrolled by a wealthy family. This is not intended as an insult, but A.J. McCarron doesn’t have Johnny Manziel’s charisma or personality either. McCarron is humble and polite. Manziel dominates a room. These are two different quarterbacks from two different backgrounds who behave in two different ways. I’m not going to condemn one for being wrong and award one for being right.
Manziel’s social life is capitalizing on his opportunities. For McCarron he capitalizes with National Championships. Each is true to himself. You could make a darn compelling case that each is living the better life.
Is anybody else over Jadeveon Clowney?
I stand by everything that I have ever said about Jadeveon Clowney. He’s a beast. He plays his position better than any player in the country plays theirs. He’s scary. He’s not human. But good gracious his legend is growing awfully out of control.
I wrote a few weeks ago that I didn’t think Clowney would live up to the offseason hype. My reasoning: the hype is darn-near unparalleled to begin with for a defensive player, his defense lost a lot of talent and teams may be able to scheme better for him and he doesn’t put up statistically monstrous games on a consistent level. Those are admittedly nit-picky criticisms but when we’re dealing with hoopla that is unprecedented (and I think we are for a defensive player), sometimes it takes some controversial disputing over minuscule points to disqualify someone.
I learned one thing when I wrote that article: NOBODY TALKS BAD ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA’S BELOVED BABY JADEVEON!!!. NOT NOBODY, NOT NO HOW!!!!
First of all, the guys more than capable of defending himself. Secondly, I don’t think anybody is really talking trash about Jadeveon (he’s the only one doing that). Thirdly, just because Jadeveon is a once in a generation talent at the collegiate level does not mean he’s above reproach:
- He has a tendency to take plays off.
- He struggles at times in run defense.
- He is not the most attractive fellow in the world.
All-SEC teams were voted on during Media Days. Twenty people did not vote for Clowney on the First Team. Outrage ensued. Do I think Clowney is First Team material? Absolutely. Was I surprised that he wasn’t a unanimous choice? Somewhat, but things are rarely unanimous these days (remember, we love controversy).
People went absolutely nuts about it. Even former Georgia Bulldog turned hater David Pollack weighed in on Twitter saying, “All 20 of the 240 media members who didn’t vote Clowney First-Team All SEC, should never be able to vote again.”
Really, D.P? Never vote again? Isn’t that a little strong? Keep in mind, this is a Pre-Season vote. The goal of the vote is to predict what will happen this year. I can think of a number of reasons why someone could conceivably think Clowney wouldn’t finish as one of the two best DEs in the league:
- Maybe somebody saw a rising star at the DE position while covering the beat trail for his/her college team this Spring. Maybe somebody is saying, “That kid can be better than Jadeveon Clowney.” I bet the folks at Ole Miss are hoping Robtert Nkedkdmfdmdsfeche (spelling?) can be.
- Maybe a voter has heard something about Jadeveon’s offseason workouts. Yes he’s reportedly run incredible 40 times and benchpressed entire planets, but maybe he’s been letting off the gas a bit.
- Maybe somebody sees the way he plays and says, “For some reason I think all of his flailing and jumping over blockers is going to get him hurt.”
I’m not saying that I agree with any of the things I listed above or that I’ve heard any such inklings, but I haven’t seen what every voting Media member has seen either.
Jadeveon Clowney is great. But South Carolina fans – and now fans in general – are putting a hell of a lot of pressure on him.
Les Miles is a Gift
Les Miles is an absolute treasure to college football. He dropped knowledge on the unevenness of SEC scheduling in a very non-Spurrier way (meaning he had facts that weren’t simply demonstrative of his team’s fortune or misfortune). He spoke eloquently about his coaching staff, players and other personnel. He spoke with an Australian accent for a spell (seriously). He talked about Twitter, the United State of America and the Harlem Shake.
Les Miles was great.
That’s all I got/
In 2011 an angry little man by the name of Will Muschamp took over as the head coach of the Florida Gators. The Gators rolled to a relatively uninspired 7-6 record that year and lost to every ranked opponent (Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina) that they played in the process.
Expectations for the program were mixed heading into the 2012 season. The 7-6 debut season was far from a source of relief for fans, but a tradition of winning was still demanded and most believed Muschamp was the man to continue that legacy. Sure enough, the Gators did a lot of winning last season.
Muschamp’s squad took down Tennessee (the Vols were comically ranked 23rd in the nation early in the season), LSU (ranked 4th at the time), South Carolina (ranked 7th at the time) and Florida State (10th in the nation). The lone setback for the Gators during the regular season: a 17-9 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. And of course, the Gators were defeated by Louisville in an ugly display at the Sugar Bowl.
When it was all said and done Florida was “back,” according to most pundits as Gainesville was once again home to a top-10 team (The Gators finished the season 9th and 10th respectively in the final AP and Coaches Poll.).
I don’t think Florida is back.
To be fair: I think Muschamp’s 2011 team was better than its win/loss record indicated. I won’t focus on that as the true objective of this article is to actually look ahead and a re-examination of 2011 is relatively meaningless. But, while I’m re-calibrating expectations for the Gators I think that is worth briefly pointing out.
Conversely to Muschamp’s debut season, I think his follow-up squad was not as good as its record. And, I would point to the following situational (and admittedly debatable) evidence to support that assertion:
- Yes, Florida defeated Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziell. But…this was A&M’s first game of the season. This was Manziell’s first outing of his collegiate career. He was the first freshman to ever win a Heisman Trophy, but this was his first time playing on a college field. And it showed in what he was allowed to do. Johnny Football was phenomenal in the game – he hit 76.7% of his passes. He didn’t turn the ball over. But his 23 completions went for just 173 yards. He didn’t look downfield, because they didn’t know he could. He accounted for 233 yards of offense – a respectable total. But in his other 12 games he averaged over 406 yards. Was this because of Florida’s defense? Maybe. Or maybe he wasn’t let loose yet.
- With ten minutes remaining in the Tennessee game the Florida Gators led by just 7 points. A 75-yard pass play and a 49 yard field goal opened that game up in the fourth quarter. This was a really bad Tennessee team – just ask Derek Dooley. Although that win came over a top-25 team, it holds little to no weight. (And for what it’s worth, I don’t give Georgia any credit for narrowly escaping with a win against Tennessee either.)
- Florida absolutely dominated South Carolina, winning 44-11. A few weeks earlier South Carolina had delivered a similarly impressive whipping to the Georgia Bulldogs. I don’t think South Carolina was truly 28 points better than Georgia. I don’t think Florida was truly 33 points better than South Carolina. I think all three teams in question were prone to very volatile performance results. Georgia was terrible against a South Carolina team that played its best ball of the season that day. South Carolina in turn was terrible against a Florida team that played its best game of the season. But if South Carolina played Florida nine more times there would not be another outcome that lopsided.
- As a Georgia fan I loved the Bulldogs’ win over the Gators. But if I’m looking at this from the outside in, Florida should be embarrassed for losing that game. If there is one fatal flaw for Georgia teams of the recent past it is the tendency to shoot themselves in the foot early on. Aaron Murray threw three interceptions in the first half (he threw a total of 10 all season). A team that was remotely opportunistic could have taken the Dawgs out early. Alabama would have. I think LSU would have. South Carolina did. Instead, Florida one-upped the Dawgs’ turnovers and in doing so breathed life into a defense that had just allowed 44 points to Tennessee, 35 points to South Carolina and 24 points to Kentucky in consecutive games.
- A 37-26 win over Florida State is nice. It’s cute even. But FSU still plays in the ACC. And FSU still struggled the following weekend against Georgia Tech (6-6 heading into the game with a black eye in the form of a 49-28 loss at home to Middle Tennessee State) in a game that meant everything – Conference Championship, BCS Bowl Bid, etc.
For every great game Florida had – the LSU game comes to mind (in addition to the Carolina game) there were a handful of, “Say whaaaat???” moments for Muschamp’s team. A 27-14 win over Bowling Green to open the season was oddly close. A 14-7 win over Missouri was almost embarrassing as a 27-20 win (off a blocked punt return, after trailing by 7 points with 1:43 to play in the game) against Louisiana-Lafayette.
And of course, there was the Sugar Bowl. Florida fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before narrowing the margin to 24-10 at the half. Louisville then went up 33-10 with 8 minutes remaining before the Gators scored two TDs (one on a kick-off return) in garbage time.
So, was Florida a good team in 2012? Yes. The Gators, in my opinion, were a top-25 team. They were not, however, a top-10 team.
The 2013 Defense
The Gators’ calling card in 2012 was their defense, and that makes sense given Muschamp’s past as a Defensive Coordinator. Unfortunately for Florida fans, a lot of that Defense is gone:
- DT Sharrif Floyd (37.5 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 Sacks, 1 FF) – 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft
- S Matt Elam (67 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 PBU, 1 FF) – 32nd overall pick in the NFL Draft
- ILB Jon Bostic (56.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) – 50th overall pick in the NFL Draft
- OLB Jelani Jenkins (injured most of the year, 24 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT) – 104th overall pick in the NFL Draft
- S Josh Evans (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 PBU) – 169th overall pick in the NFL Draft
In addition to those stars, Florida is losing 73.5 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs and 9 PBU from contributors Omar Hunter, Lerentee McCray, Earl Okine and De’Ante Saunders.
The Gators must replace production in mass – 325 tackles – and in highlights – 50 TFLs, 12 INTs. And, with the Gators taking on seven teams (Toledo, Miami, Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida State) that averaged 30+ points per game (FWIW: the national average was around 28 ppg) in 2012, stops will be needed. Compounding that demand is the fact that LSU, Georgia and South Carolina – all conference foes – return starting QBs and multiple weapons.
The 2013 Offense
Florida’s offense struggled at times in 2012, hence a 26.7 point scoring average against BCS Conference opponents. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to pin some of those struggles on quarterback Jeff Driskel.
The chart below compares team points and Driskel’s yards of total offense. As you can see neither figure is remotely consistent. Driskel’s yardage is all over the place as is the team’s scoring. And yet, even within that context there still isn’t always any sign of correlation. Case in point: Driskel accounted for just 88 yards when Florida scored 44 points against South Carolina. In his next game he racked up 187 yards en route to 9 total points.
In any event, both sets of this data need to stabilize and I think that starts and ends with Driskel’s performance. That might have been an overstatement in 2012, but in 2013 it is not. What’s changed? Driskel has lost the team’s leading rusher (Mike Gillislee had 1152 rushing yards and 10 TDs, no other player had over 408 yards rushing or more than 4 Tds) and his leading receiver (Jordan Reed accounted for 34% of Driskel’s passing yards. Take away Frankie Hammond (295 yards receiving, 3 TDs) and Gillislee’s catching (159 yards, 1TD) and 1,018 passing yards and 7 TDs need to be replaced. That might not be a big deal for an Aaron Murray or a Tajh Boyd, but that leaves Driskel with just 633 yards and 5 TDs of returning production (given his 2012 passing numbers).
General 2013 Outlook
Replacing defensive stalwarts will be difficult, but driving Driskel to consistency without key weapons from 2012 will be even more challenging. Take away place kicker Caleb Sturgis (340 career points, 14 of 16 on FGs of 30+ yards in 2012) and the Gators may really struggle.
Add a difficult away game early in the season at Miami (the Hurricanes return 11 starters on offense and 9 on defense from a team that went 7-5 last season) and trips to LSU and South Carolina – both hostile environments and potentially top-10 teams – and the schedule is less than favorable given the standard SEC slate and the typical neutral site Georgia game.
The earliest set of Vegas “Over/Under” lines have been put out by 5Dimes and has the Gators pegged at 9.5 wins. My gut says take the “under” as I’m doubtful that Florida will be better than LSU, Georgia or South Carolina and I think Miami or FSU could surprise them.
In any event, a 9.5 over/under on a team that went 11-1 with one 8-point loss during the 2012 regular season seems to be indicative that I am not alone in my theory that the Gators will take a step back in 2013.
That’s all I got/
ESPN recent released its list of the “10 Most Talented College Football Teams.” This is the exact kind of crap that I read during the offseason, as if talent would ever come into play in a football game…Oh wait.
In any event, three SEC teams made the list. No other conference placed three teams in the top-10. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
And, to make matters even more delightfully SEC-ish, all three teams finished in the top-5:
- Alabama – ranked first: This comes as no shock for college football’s current king of the mountain. The Tide do not have any glaring holes, a result of how well coach Nick Saban and his staff have recruited and developed players.
- LSU – ranked second: LSU fans might seem spoiled, trying intermittently to run their title-winning coach out of town. But when you delve into the level of talent that arrives and departs on a yearly basis, it makes sense why there would be some unrest and crankiness with last season’s Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance (let alone a loss).
- Georgia – ranked fifth: This is another sometimes-restless SEC fan base, because the Bulldogs are always close to the top — and they were never closer than in 2012, just a few yards from a national title shot — but are not quite at that elite level.
That’s all I got/
For the rest of the SEC Domination Countdown, go here.
The SEC is distributing 289.4 m-m-m-m-million dollars to its 14 member distributions for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. This does not include the $14.1 million retained by the schools who participated in bowls or NCAA academic enhancement payouts. This doesn’t include local media revenues either.
This is the richest conference’s new record for richest payout.
This is just like Richie Rich…
That’s all I got/
For the rest of the SEC Domination Countdown, go here.
You may have heard by now that Georgia has a completely brutal first month of the season in 2013. According to PhilSteele.com, the Dawgs will play three of the top 12 teams** in the country in the first four games of the season. As the alternate title indicates, I will not be providing way-too-early keys to the North Texas showdown on the fall equinox, but I will tell you that Mean Joe Greene played there. And he ain’t walking through that door.
(**- The most comprehensive rankings he has up are his projections of the preseason AP poll (predicting projected predictions…that’s
perfectly clinically reasonable insane), but that is a pretty good indication of where these guys will be ranked when we play them. For what it’s worth, he has UGA at #6, SC at #9, Clemson at #11, and LSU at #12.)
The Tigers are riding high after closing out their 11-2 2012 campaign with a Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over LSU (hey, we’re talking about them later in this post!) As of right now, it is May so Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins still has three months to get himself suspended before this game. TO THE KEYS!
1) Overcoming the first-game jitters: High-profile non-home openers haven’t treated the Dawgs well in recent years (Oklahoma State, Boise) and the common theme in those games was a seeming lack of early-season confidence. It is my opinion that this will be the toughest road game of the season, so a strong start and an early defensive stop against this Tiger offense are going to be vital.
2) Controlling tempo: More than any team the Dawgs will play in the regular season, Clemson likes to push the pace on offense. This video indicates the type of pace the offense likes to play, getting the formation set within 10 seconds and the play started within 15. With a young defense lacking in depth, it is vital that UGA ride Gurshall early and hold off on Aaron Murray’s Heisman campaign for a week. While Clemson’s rush D improved as the season went along (176 yards per game in September, 121 in November), they still finished 60th in the country against some pedestrian (linebacker playing quarterback for Maryland, didn’t even mention BC, Duke, or Wake, ALL OF WHOM THEY PLAYED!!!) ACC offenses. Run it downhill with Todd and Keith, throw in some nice intermediate routes, and get into the upper 30’s in time of possession.
3) The kicking game: Marshall Morgan was short of spectacular as a freshman, missing 6 of 14 field goals and 4 extra points. Clemson opened a 2-point favorite in Vegas. Vegas people tend to be pretty good at these predictions, and the home team in college football generally gets a three-point boost. Morgan needs to make up that difference, or at least not BE the difference. Against an offense like Clemson’s, the Dawgs can’t afford to get into the red zone and not come away with points.
After Morgan kicks us off (see what I did there?) with a close victory, we’re on to…
1) Attack, attack, attack: This is gonna hurt a little. Take yourself back to October 6 of last year, with the undefeated Dawgs meeting the undefeated Cocks in a game that would surely define the season and determine the fate of the SEC East. The Cocks marched into the endzone in three plays on their first drive, a Devonte Holloman pick led to a second score, and Ace Sanders set Georgia special teams back 60 years after three more failed Georgia plays.
/takes deep breath.
/holds back vomit.
/promises better reading below.
Now imagine doing that to them. After rushing for 280 yards against Clemson and winning the toss Between the Hedges (and receiving), Murray fakes an off tackle run at Clowney, where Gurley chips him long enough for Mitchell, Bennett, Conley, or whoever else to get past South Carolina’s inexperienced secondary and open Sanford Stadium in style. After a South Carolina three-and-out (Marcus Lattimore’s 156 yards per game vs. the Dawgs are gone too), we let Murray take the top off the D again, and again, and again.2) Harness the Clowneyraptor (and friends): My colleague Johnathan Barnes keeps posting articles with the same picture of Jadeveon Clowney jumping over a hapless Georgia O-line in Columbia. It’s getting annoying. (Dude’s note: In JB’s defense the Dude has been doing the photo uploads for his pieces).
While Clowney’s freakish play was a major factor in last year’s game, it was nothing compared to Melvin Ingram’s impact in the 2011 game (Dude’s note: Great point. If you don’t remember that game the recap in newspaper formatting from my old site is here.). The point is that you can’t let one defensive player disrupt the rhythm of your entire offense. The South Carolina D plays at another level when Clowney is making plays, and a quick passing game (against a SC defense that lost 8 starters) and running right at the freak himself could slow him down in the early September Georgia heat.
3) Play smart: Position by position, man for man, Georgia has more talent than South Carolina. Neither Connor Shaw nor Dylan Thompson are going to lead an incredibly explosive offense, so the D needs to keep the receivers in front of them and the offense needs to hold on to the ball. Minimize mistakes, avoid third-and-longs, don’t extend their drives with stupid penalties, and execute, and we are looking at 2-0.
1) Defensive line depth: LSU has established its reputation as a big, mean, fast, physical team in the Nick Saban and Les Miles eras. With powerful backs Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, and Kenny Hilliard running at a young Georgia defense, it is critical that the three calendar weeks between South Carolina and LSU (bye, UNT, practice) be used to find 8-10 capable bodies to neutralize the running attack. Barring an 0-2 Georgia start, this will be the 3:30 CBS game that day, and staying fresh into the 4th quarter (see point #3) is critical.
This means that Chris Mayes or John Taylor (or both) need to establish themselves as space-eating threats in early games, or Mike Thornton prove himself as a penetrator at the nose, and that there be no significant dropoff between the 1’s and 2’s (and even 3’s), because they will all see significant action.
2) Special teams play: I’m not going to rehash 2011 SEC Championship memories on this column after causing PTSD with the S.C. breakdown, but LSU is always strong in special teams. While there is no established Patrick Peterson or Tyrann Mathieu returning kicks for the Tigers yet, it does not mean one will not emerge.
Also (again, see point #3), Les Miles is not afraid to allow special teams to determine the outcome of the game. Punter Brad Wing (the only punter I’ve ever known to declare for the NFL early) is gone, but you can count on at least one crazy fake field goal or punt on this big stage. If you’re not familiar with Wing, he’s in some ways punting’s equivalent to Sebastian Janikowski. Strong leg, trouble child, suspended for a bowl game, and famously scoring a 52-yard touchdown against Florida that was called back for excessive celebration.
3) Don’t let them stay in striking distance: While modern-day LSU is characterized by the Mad Hatter being the luckiest man in sports, I think there is something to be said in the theory that preparation can create luck. Expecting the unexpected against the Tigers is a must. If the game is within 10 points in the final 7-10 minutes, there is really no telling what could happen.
QB Zach Mettenberger is famously (more likely infamously) making his return to Sanford Stadium, and adding to the intrigue is the fact that he’ll likely want to make his presence known to Bulldog fans. While an overly-hyped Mettenberger could be a blessing for the Dawgs, the combination of him and Les Miles’ uncanny ability to pull wins from where the sun don’t shine would make for a very nervous crowd of 92,000 in the closing minutes of this game.
In my first ‘Go Dawgs’ post for DudeYouCrazy, giving you the business,
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