Saturday Football: Kirby's QB misstep, Dabo torches FSU and Northwestern on the rise
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! The first College Football Playoff rankings came out last night. We’ll update you on how those look in a bit, with a deeper dive into some takeaways from the first rankings in Friday’s newsletter.
For today’s edition, we’re going to discuss why it took so long for Georgia to make JT Daniels the starting QB. Then, we’ll dive into Northwestern’s incredible 2020 resurgence. Finally, we’ll try to figure out why Dabo Swinney is still so angry at Florida State. It’s a stuffed pre-Thanksgiving newsletter! We hope you enjoy it and have a safe, happy holiday tomorrow!
KIRBY’S QB MISSTEP
JT Daniels was excellent in his first start for Georgia. Should Kirby Smart have played him sooner?
JT Daniels finally got his chance to take the field as Georgia’s starting quarterback on Saturday against Mississippi State. He didn’t disappoint, throwing for 401 yards and 4 touchdowns in Georgia’s narrow 31-24 victory over the other SEC Bulldogs. Now, many are wondering why he didn’t get the reins to the offense sooner. Coach Kirby Smart has been asked about it a lot in recent days.
So, what’s the latest on the JT Daniels situation? Let’s take a look at what media members, fans, Smart and even Daniels and his family are saying this week:
- Daniels made an eye-opening remark after the victory. According to him, he’s been cleared since missing a Week 1 game at Arkansas. Since then, he said, it has been a coach’s decision surrounding his on-field absence. Considering Daniels’ debut was the first time a Georgia QB has thrown for 300 yards and 4 scores since Aaron Murray did it in 2013, fans were questioning Smart’s decision to keep the USC transfer on the bench this long.
- JT’s father, Steve, has Kirby Smart’s back, though. In an interview this week, he praised Smart for prioritizing his son’s health. “Kirby didn’t rush him or put him out there too soon, and that’s why you come to a place like this, for this kind of support,” the elder Daniels said.
- Smart has been asked about Daniels a lot this week, understandably. First, he took issue with a question regarding Daniels’ playing time. He lauded his coaching history and that of OC Todd Monken. Smart did offer plenty of praise about Daniels’ continued development over the course of this season.
- Daniels’ performance has set the media world on fire this week. Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes led his weekly First-and-10 column by writing that Smart owes Georgia fans an apology. SDS’s Joe Cox writes that Daniels was one of the big winners of the weekend. SDS writer Sydney Hunte added that Daniels’ first impression on Georgia fans couldn’t have been much better.
It’s important to note that Mississippi State only had 49 scholarship players available on Saturday, but Daniels’ 4-touchdown day is still a big step for the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs will take on another struggling team — South Carolina — this weekend. Can Daniels continue to put up big numbers? We’ll find out on Saturday.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS
The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2020 season came out on Tuesday night. We’ll do more in-depth reaction to these debut 2020 rankings in Friday’s newsletter. But, for now, here’s how the top 25 shakes out as we approach December:
- Alabama (7-0)
- Notre Dame (8-0)
- Clemson (7-1)
- Ohio State (4-0)
- Texas A&M (5-1)
- Florida (6-1)
- Cincinnati (8-0)
- Northwestern (5-0)
- Georgia (5-2)
- Miami (7-1)
- Oklahoma (6-2)
- Indiana (4-1)
- Iowa State (6-2)
- BYU (9-0)
- Oregon (3-0)
- Wisconsin (2-1)
- Texas (5-2)
- USC (3-0)
- North Carolina (6-2)
- Coastal Carolina (8-0)
- Marshall (7-0)
- Auburn (5-2)
- Oklahoma State (5-2)
- Iowa (3-2)
- Tulsa (5-1)
How will things change in the next rankings on Tuesday, Dec. 1? We’ll see if there are any massive upsets this week, as many SEC teams are playing their biggest rivals. Could chaos reign during the post-Thanksgiving weekend of college football action?
- UCF QB McKenzie Milton suffered a horrific injury two years ago this week. After a grueling rehab process and multiple surgeries, he has finally been cleared to play. There’s a chance he could suit up for UCF this weekend, albeit as the No. 3 QB on the depth chart. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson profiled Milton’s incredible rehab process, full of progress, setbacks and, finally, success.
- There are a number of talented non-Power 5 teams out there in 2020. Though they’ll all have a difficult road to the Playoff, this year has been crazy. It would be a huge surprise to see a Group of 5 squad in the Playoff, but it’s not impossible. Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter makes a CFP case for 11 of the top non-Power 5 teams this season.
- No team has had Alabama’s number in recent years more than Auburn. The Tigers have beaten the Crimson Tide 2 of the past 3 times they’ve met in the Iron Bowl, including last year’s 48-45 thriller. This week, No. 1 Alabama knows it can’t slip up as it marches toward another Playoff berth. Saturday Down South’s David Wasson writes that Alabama players know what’s at stake on Saturday against its pesky rival.
- This week’s Michigan-Penn State tilt was supposed to feature top B1G teams. Instead, the Wolverines and Nittany Lions are a combined 2-8 and coaches Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin may be on the hot seat. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara previewed what he calls the “LinkedIn Bowl” between a pair of coaching staffs that might need to make sure their resumes are updated.
NORTHWESTERN ON THE RISE
Northwestern is off to a 5-0 start, the best record in the B1G. Are the Wildcats the real deal?
Northwestern has the best record in the B1G. If you thought that would be the case in 2020 after the Wildcats finished last season with a 3-9 record, go ahead and put your hand in the air. Now put it down because you’re lying. We caught you.
After a 17-7 win over Wisconsin on Saturday, Northwestern catapulted from the label of “good football team” to “College Football Playoff contender.” However, the latest polls don’t quite reflect the Wildcats’ ascension into the upper echelon of the B1G. Pat Fitzgerald’s bunch is ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, spots that Northwestern’s social media team didn’t find respectable.
So, the big question is, are the Wildcats for real?
- Let’s start with strength of record, shall we? The phrase “They ain’t played nobody,” is typically something you hear frequently when the College Football Playoff rankings are released. However, this actually works in Northwestern’s favor. According to ESPN’s formula, the Wildcats own the nation’s best strength of record — even better than the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Northwestern’s opponents have a combined record of 10-9 this season.
- Joey Galloway added fuel to the fire. The ESPN analyst compared Northwestern’s players to a “bunch of Rece Davises,” the host of College GameDay and other shows across the network. That didn’t sit well with anyone in Evanston. The entire team used that comment as motivation throughout the week of practice, shared in a video on Twitter. After Northwestern’s win over Wisconsin, Pat Fitzgerald called out Galloway for his “pretty disrespectful remarks.” The social media team in Evanston wouldn’t let it go, either, changing the team’s name to the “Fightin’ Rece Davises” for a day.
- A collection of national awards was handed to Northwestern. You know what, that’s probably not the right thing to say. A collection of national awards was earned by Northwestern. That’s better. The FWAA named the Wildcats the Team of the Week, Fitzgerald was the Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week and linebacker Blake Gallagher received national recognition from the Bednarik Award, too. That’s all in addition to two Wildcats being named B1G Players of the Week for their performances on Saturday.
- Is a legitimate College Football Playoff run possible? As Saturday Tradition’s Phil Ervin writes, Northwestern has had a great season during a chaotic year. But to call the Wildcats a Playoff contender might be a little premature. Yes, Northwestern is likely to win its remaining three games (Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois), with a 75% chance of victory or higher for each game, per ESPN’s FPI. But there’s still doubt that Northwestern can hang with Ohio State, the perennial B1G power.
Whether or not Northwestern actually gets to 9-0, wins the B1G and earns a spot in the College Football Playoff, Fitzgerald and his staff deserve a ton of credit for righting the ship in such a short period of time. After Saturday’s game, the longtime head coach gave plenty of credit to staff and had a special shoutout for defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who he says should be a “household name.” It’s been a collective effort in Evanston to get to the verge of a second B1G West title in three seasons. And in this crazy year, maybe a Playoff berth isn’t the most crazy thought.
JUST FOR FUN
Cincinnati debuted at No. 7 in Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings. That’s the highest a Group of 5 team has ever been ranked in the first Playoff rankings of a season. So, for today’s quiz, can you name the Group of 5 team that has been ranked highest in each debut CFP rankings (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019)? Bonus points if you also know where each team was ranked.
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
DABO VS. FSU
Florida State postponed last week’s game vs. Clemson. Why is Dabo Swinney still so angry?
On Saturday, the Clemson Tigers were down in Tallahassee preparing for a game against Florida State. Then, three hours before kickoff, the game was abruptly postponed. According to reports, the Clemson and Florida State medical experts were at odds about whether or not to play the game, as FSU experts were concerned about a Clemson player who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday after practicing with the Tigers all week.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, among others, took issue with that explanation. In the days since the game was postponed, he hasn’t stopped trashing the Seminoles for appearing to duck the high-powered Tigers. Let’s dive into this growing feud:
- Let’s start with a variety of angry comments from the Clemson coach. Swinney said “COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game.” That’s obviously a strong claim, and Florida State coach Mike Norvell quickly disputed it, adding that some college coaches seem to think they are doctors. Norvell addressed Swinney’s outrage again on Monday, reiterating that the game was indeed postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
- Swinney’s anger continues to burn strong as we enter Wednesday. He has continued to lash out at FSU. First, he said he doesn’t “give a crap” about what FSU’s medical experts say while defending Clemson’s medical personnel. Oh, but he wasn’t done trashing the ‘Noles just yet. He made sure to point out that FSU has had 3 head coaches in 4 years. Swinney also accused Florida State of facing Pitt after Pitt had a player test positive. This ESPN report from David M. Hale and Andrea Adelson refutes that claim. (That piece is also a great, detailed breakdown of this whole exhausting saga.)
- Swinney has been taking a beating from the media this week. ESPN analyst Greg McElroy put Swinney on blast on Twitter. But, it hasn’t all been negativity toward Swinney. SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said FSU postponing the game “was a bad look.” Meanwhile, star Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence came to his coach’s defense, stating simply that “people have emotions.”
There’s still a chance these two long-time ACC foes could make up the game. It’s clear Swinney isn’t going to get over his grudge any time soon, so hopefully the Tigers and Seminoles can meet safely on the gridiron before the postseason. The fireworks will surely fly!
Here are the Group of 5 teams that were ranked the highest in each season’s debut College Football Playoff rankings:
- 2014: East Carolina (No. 23)
- 2015: Memphis (No. 13)
- 2016: Western Michigan (No. 23)
- 2017: UCF (No. 18)
- 2018: UCF (No. 12)
- 2019: Cincinnati (No. 20)
- 2020: Cincinnati (No. 7)
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I appreciate DeVonta for bringing my name back up. I don’t think anyone actually knew I had the touchdown record until the last couple of weeks, so I appreciate him making me famous again.”
– SEC Network analyst (and former Florida WR) Chris Doering had a great reaction to Alabama WR DeVonta Smith breaking his SEC career receiving touchdowns record. Smith recorded touchdown catches No. 32 and 33 in a blowout win over Kentucky on Saturday, breaking a 3-way tie with Doering and Amari Cooper. Alabama coach Nick Saban also heaped praise on the talented senior.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is trying to avoid the rat poison heading into Egg Bowl week. After two big wins over Vanderbilt and South Carolina, he’s rising up the SEC Coach of the Year rankings. But, as you can see above, he says Arkansas’s Sam Pittman deserves the award. (You can check out Saturday Down South writer Brian Rippee’s case for Kiffin here.)