First and 10: Save it, Texas A&M. You had your Playoff shot and blew it
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
Don’t blame Ohio State or Notre Dame when you don’t reach the Playoff, Texas A&M.
Look directly at that safe, bored team you put on the field for the previous 3 games, the one that had College Football Playoff poll position and zeroed in on another team’s misfortune instead of building its case on the field.
After all that whining and complaining since the first CFP poll, Texas A&M is left with this: The Florida loss it so desperately wanted/needed does nothing for its Playoff hopes.
In fact, it might have hurt them.
By the end of next week’s championship games, Texas A&M’s best win will be a team that lost 2 straight to end the season, and that fell out of the top 10 after a likely blowout loss to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
The Aggies needed Florida to play the SEC Championship Game with 1 loss, and lose respectably. That scenario would’ve at least meant Texas A&M’s anchor win would’ve stayed in the top 10 and strengthened its résumé.
And now? Well, now the Aggies need a miracle (more on that later).
Because it’s not just the Florida loss that has Texas A&M on the outside of the Playoff with its face pressed against the window. It’s not just the CFP selection committee even considering an Ohio State team that played half a season.
It’s 2 ugly wins over Auburn and LSU when the Aggies had an opportunity to make a statement.
That was the biggest sin of all.
Through all of those controversial BCS years and the previous 6 CFP seasons, the overwhelming reality was the safest, surest way to reach the game(s) that matters is winning big. Not stumbling to the finish.
The college football postseason has forever been as much a beauty pageant as a demolition derby. For 3 weeks the Aggies were dinged and dented while playing it safe in wins over Auburn and LSU – and as damaging, by not playing games because of COVID protocols.
The more Texas A&M didn’t play games – no matter which team failed to reach protocol minimums – the more they were out of sight and mind from the CFP committee. Again, it’s a beauty pageant and a demolition derby, and you must be present to be accounted for in a committee poll that is essentially an eye test.
You’re not winning votes with the committee when you beat a bad LSU team 20-7, and your quarterback completes 30% of his passes and averages 3.1 yards per attempt.
You’re not winning votes when you beat unranked Auburn 31-20 and have to score 17 points in the 4th quarter to make it happen.
You’re not winning votes when, by no fault of your own, your game against Ole Miss is canceled.
Because while the Aggies were throwing up all over themselves in those 2 wins, Ohio State was annihilating Michigan State. While the Aggies were sitting out a week because of COVID protocols, Ohio State got its biggest win of the season over 1-loss and top 10 Indiana.
Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Justin Fields was making spectacular plays in big moments to win games. Mond was doing everything he could to not lose games.
That’s not exactly all gussied up for the CFP selection committee if you know what I mean.
This is a unique season, a rare moment where the CFP selection committee could’ve chosen a Texas A&M team that rolled opponents every week since a 28-point loss – a TWENTY-EIGHT point loss – to No.1 Alabama.
Instead, the Aggies gave the committee this to chew on following a 41-38 win over Florida:
- 28-14 over Mississippi State.
- 42-31 over Arkansas.
- A blowout of a truly terrible South Carolina team.
- Uninspiring wins over LSU and Auburn.
The response from the CFP selection committee: So?
It’s a beauty pageant, and you better look good every week when you’re on the runway. Anyone can look good at home in a desperation game after a big loss to the No. 1 team.
Not everyone can grind through the demolition derby of a season. Those that can’t will eventually look just as banged and battered – and here’s the key, unattractive for the eye test – as everyone else chasing all that pretty.
Because at the end of the show, you can’t point to a car more damaged than yours. If neither are running, who cares?
2. Stand and deliver
Let’s get beyond Ohio State playing 5 regular-season games. The CFP committee clearly doesn’t care.
The next question: What does Texas A&M need to reach the Playoff (see: aforementioned miracle).
One thing that has been overlooked yet can no longer be ignored is where unbeaten USC fits in the argument. Because like Ohio State, the Trojans have also played 5 games.
An unbeaten Power 5 champion has never been left out of the CFP, and the last time an unbeaten Power 5/BCS conference champ was not given a chance to play for it all was 2004 (Auburn). If the committee is giving Ohio State a break despite playing 5 regular-season games, it must do the same for USC – or risk exposing the long denied reality that the committee vote is an eye test.
This, of course, is bad news for the Aggies. Heading into championship weekend, Texas A&M needs this Hail Mary to make the Playoff:
— It begins and ends with the ACC only getting 1 team in the playoff. That means Notre Dame beating Clemson, or Clemson beating Notre Dame so badly, the committee can’t ignore it.
Either scenario gives the Aggies their best chance of reaching the Playoff because it allows them to be judged head-to-head with USC and Cincinnati.
— If the ACC gets 2 teams in the Playoff (the anticipated result), the Aggies have no Playoff path. Alabama (win or lose to Florida) is in, and the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game is in.
If Northwestern beats Ohio State, the Wildcats’ biggest win (Ohio State for the Big Ten title) is bigger than the Aggies’ win over Florida.
Northwestern will have played 8 games – 1 less than Texas A&M (if the Aggies play Tennessee this week as scheduled).
3. The fog fallout
Forget about Marco Wilson tossing a shoe. That’s the sore on top of the infection.
An unexplainable loss has been building for weeks at Florida, and Dan Mullen has no one to blame but himself.
He had the chance 2 weeks ago against Kentucky to make a statement and get it turned, but he, in the parlance of our times, opted out. Late in the first half against the Wildcats, Mullen was screaming at defensive coordinator Todd Grantham about yet another subpar effort by the defense.
National television cameras caught it. There was no denying it.
But after the game, Mullen played it off as two friends getting after each other and going to dinner later.
The Florida defense is in disarray, and it plays out on the field nearly every snap of every game.
Missed assignments, blown assignments, poor tackling, bad angles — and 10 weeks into the season, a failure to line up in position prior to the snap. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s coaching.
That’s poor coaching of a unit that has speed, athleticism and a handful of NFL Draft picks. Mullen had to have seen that from the first game of the season, when Ole Miss did whatever it wanted offensively.
Or from Week 3, when Texas A&M’s historically average quarterback played the game of his career against the Florida defense.
Or against LSU, when a true freshman quarterback making his first start played behind a patchwork offensive line and scored 30 points (7 were on a pick-6).
Yet after both losses this season, Mullen blamed his offense. The Malik Davis fumble late in the 4th quarter against Texas A&M, and Trask’s pick-6 and fumble that led to 10 LSU points, and the red-0zone inefficiency.
It’s not the offense. It’s the defense – and Mullen should have publicly said so months ago.
No matter what was said behind closed doors, there’s no greater motivator in sports than public embarrassment.
There’s no chance former Florida coach Urban Meyer, Mullen’s mentor, allows a defense with this potential to play like it has all season without publicly calling them out. Urb simply wouldn’t stand for it.
There’s no chance former Florida coach Steve Spurrier spares an underwhelming defense his sharp tongue (he once said, after Week 1, the Gators’ best pass defense was “still the dropped ball.”)
There’s no chance Grantham calls another double corner blitz (knowing Florida’s struggles in the back end) that leads to another coverage bust and another easy touchdown, if Mullen began his postgame press conference after the Kentucky win and said, “I’m tired of watching blitzes that don’t get home and put us in bad position in coverage – and I told Todd and the players that.”
He might have said those exact words in the locker room, but it’s different (for players and assistant coaches) being dressed down in the safe space of the locker room than the unknown outside it. The sense of urgency is ramped up when all the world hears.
Marco Wilson’s boneheaded play didn’t prevent Florida from playing for a national title. That’s the sore.
The infection is the defense, and how it has played – and hasn’t been publicly pushed – all season.
4. The bronzed season
Let’s look at this within the framework that Heisman Trophy voters are creatures of the moment.
Always have been, always will be.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones began last weekend as the unquestioned leaders for the greatest individual award in sports.
Both had underwhelming games (Trask’s effort more damaging than Jones’), while Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith continued to race toward a huge season, including a Heisman moment of sorts with an electric 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in a rout of Arkansas.
Smith has 83 catches and 15 TDs this season, and has 1 game remaining against a Florida defense that hasn’t proven it can stop any passing game – much less the best passing game in college football.
It has been 29 years since a wide receiver won the Heisman (Desmond Howard, Michigan), and 33 since Tim Brown of Notre Dame became the first and only other wide receiver to win the award. The one thing we learned from those 2 Heisman winners: If you’re a wide receiver and not prominently featured in the return game, you’re not winning the trophy.
Smith has 9 returns this season (7 punt, 2 kickoff). Meanwhile, Michael Crabtree and Larry Fitzgerald and many other wide receivers have had better seasons than Smith, and didn’t win the award.
Fair or not, the Heisman has become a quarterback award, and unless Jones struggles in the SEC Championship Game, he’ll win it.
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread.
- Alabama (-17.5) vs. Florida
- Texas A&M (-10) at Tennessee
- Vanderbilt at Georgia (-35.5)
- Ole Miss (+1.5) at LSU
- Missouri (+2) at Mississippi State
Last week: 3-1 (1 cancellation).
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout breaks down an NFL draft-eligible SEC player. This week: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama.
“There will be a lot of discussion on this player. You put on the tape, and he just jumps out at you. He’s so smooth, gets separation, catches everything, runs away from the back end. He’s the guy you’re watching every snap.
“Then you have to look at the measurables. He’s 180 pounds, and that might be a high number. He’s Gumby out there; all arms and legs. He’s going to run in the 4.5s at the Combine, and that’s going to be a red flag.
“Then you’re going to hear how he benefited from the Alabama offense. But at the end of the day, you have to trust what you see on the tape. He’s playing in the best league in college football, and going against the best defenses in college football. And he’s the guy you can’t stop watching when the tape is rolling.
“He’s a first-round guy, and he probably moved from early second to mid-first by coming back for his senior year. He has made a lot of money this year.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll – and one big thing.
1. Alabama: I’m still not a fan of the Tide defense (it will get exposed over the next month), but the offense should be enough to get it to the national championship game.
2. Texas A&M: Not getting to play the Ole Miss game last weekend eliminated another Playoff committee data point for the Aggies. But Florida’s loss to LSU is all that really matters in the long run.
3. Florida: Get ready for an unsightly mess in Atlanta: a Gators defense that can’t line up prior to the snap vs. the offense that runs tempo with All-Americans all over the field.
4. Georgia: This will be a weekly gut punch for Dawgs coach Kirby Smart. The more JT Daniels plays and plays well, the more baffling his decision to play Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis.
5. Auburn: The dangerous reality setting in: Auburn has become a program that wins the games it should, not the games it could. Translation: a lot of Outback Bowls in Auburn’s future (no offense to the Outback Bowl).
6. Ole Miss: Man, did I want to see that Rebels offense against the Texas A&M defense (I’m not sure the Aggies did, but that’s another story for another time).
7. Missouri: Tigers aren’t quite ready to trade blows with Florida and Georgia, but I like this team and this staff. Six wins in Eliah Drinkwitz’s first season, a COVID season where every first-year staff had a distinct disadvantage.
8. LSU: Lost in the criticism of Florida losing to LSU was the way Tigers coach Ed Orgeron got a team that should’ve lost by 30 to win by 3. Emotion and motivation is a powerful thing in college football. It can lead to the unthinkable when you’re down to 54 scholarship players and playing a true freshman QB making his first start.
9. Kentucky: Is it too much to ask that the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator also be its quarterbacks coach? That the guy coaching the quarterbacks is also the guy working with the starting quarterback to come up with a game plan for Saturdays?
10. Arkansas: Feel badly for QB Feleipe Franks. Was having a nice season before injuries (hand, rib) impacted the final month, and prevented Arkansas from building on a 3-3 start.
11. Tennessee: At the very least, Tennessee got what it desperately needed – a win. But how much will that matter when Texas A&M rolls into Knoxville and lays a number on the Vols to impress the CFP selection committee?
12. Mississippi State: If I know Mike Leach, he’s just sick about wasting a good defense because he couldn’t find a quarterback to fit his system. The clock starts next year, so don’t be surprised if he reaches into the transfer portal one more time.
13. South Carolina: When you’re not inherently a heavyweight in the SEC, any rebuild is difficult. This will be especially unique with a first-time head coach (Shane Beamer) and a roster that has gotten used to losing.
14. Vanderbilt: I’ve said this 2 weeks straight, so why not again? Vandy must be different in its head-coaching hire. Hire Army coach Jeff Monken or Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and run the triple option. Be daring.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Now that Gus Malzahn is gone, where do we go? This should’ve been done last year, and we could’ve been in a better situation.
Trent: Understand this: if Auburn is willing to spend $21.4 million to fire Malzahn, a coach who beat Nick Saban and Alabama 3 times, they’re willing to try anything. That means taking shots at coaches, who for one reason or another, wouldn’t seem like a fit.
Among that list: Liberty coach and former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze. And current Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin.
The incestuous SEC favors those two, and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. In fact, I’d love to see Auburn offer the job to Sarkisian just to see Alabama’s intentions: Would the Tide give Sark a big raise and make him Coach In Waiting?
But that’s all funsies drama. You know, the silly season. If I were Auburn president Jay Gogue, I’d hop on a plane for Bloomington, Ind., right now and beg Tom Allen to take the job. He’s exactly – and I can’t stress this enough, exactly – what Auburn wants from its football coach.
Auburn loves to speak about it its family atmosphere, and how being part of that family is the most important thing (and winning — or lose and get $21.4 million to go away). Allen, who was an assistant on Freeze’s Ole Miss staff for 3 seasons, took over at Indiana and has transformed a basketball school into a legitimate threat in the Big Ten.
His mantra LEO – Love Each Other – is about as Auburn as it gets. He preaches the idea of players and coaches and staff loving each other, and moving that love into the passion of playing for and with each other.
Yeah, it’s hokey. But you know what? It worked at IU. He recruits furiously in the state of Florida (where he was a high school coach), and he has built his team on fast defenses and a dangerous dual-threat quarterback.
Why make any other choice?
9. Numbers: 67
When JT Daniels took over as starting quarterback at Georgia 3 games ago, the Bulldogs were converting a respectable 42% of 3rd-down conversions.
In 3 games under Daniels – the 3 (Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri) not nearly as difficult as the Alabama and Florida games – the Bulldogs are converting 67 % of 3rd downs.
More impressive, 6 of Daniels’ 9 TD passes are 3rd-down throws.
10. Quote to note
Florida coach Dan Mullen: “We played 10 games. I guess the best thing to do would be play less games, because you seem to get rewarded for playing less games in 2020.”