Billy Donovan threw his support behind embattled Florida football coach Will Muschamp and said that his colleague has been focused on trying to turn around the downtrodden Gators program.
Donovan, a two-time national champion with the Gators and the SEC's longest-tenured men's basketball coach, said he is well aware of the pressures Muschamp has experienced after winning only four games last year, starting 3-3 this season and now hearing continual calls for his job.
"Certainly coming toward the end before [Urban Meyer] left, I think Will walked into a very challenging situation. I think everybody knew that," said Donovan, who appeared Friday on the ESPNU College Basketball podcast with Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg. "I think he built in a style of play his first year, and I think he saw a huge jump in his second year. Last year what happened, and I give Will a lot of credit, I don't think enough people have talked about this, people look at their record a year ago and how difficult and challenging it was. As a head coach, he never, ever made one excuse for his players or for himself with the amount of injuries they had. It was totally impossible to overcome the level and the talent of the players that he had.
"And I will tell you this: I am a huge Will Muschamp fan. I really respect him as a man. I respect the way he goes to work every day, and the way he's tried to deal and address his team. Certainly in these situations, they are always challenging. But as a man, he is a great guy and I think he's an outstanding football coach. I don't know enough about the X's and O's in football to probably pass an opinion on that. But I do know Will Muschamp is a man, and there's nobody rooting harder for him than I am because he's all about the right things."
Fall of Meyer's Florida dynasty
Three days before winning the 2008 national championship is when Florida's downturn began. Quarterback Cam Newton announced he would transfer. Look to the sport's most important position if you want to know why the Gators have struggled so badly on offense since 2009. Florida was riding high with Tim Tebow, the perfect centerpiece for Urban Meyer's spread-option attack. His backup, Newton, was an all-world talent. But after Newton, Meyer stopped recruiting the position. No QB was signed in 2008. Jordan Reed from the 2009 class eventually became a tight end. In 2010, Trey Burton changed positions almost immediately, and Tyler Murphy was ignored for three years. Quarterback was one of many problems Will Muschamp inherited from Meyer. He also inherited a commitment from Jeff Driskel, the No. 1 QB prospect in the country. There have been other quarterback mistakes and misses since then -- picking Driskel over fellow 2011 signee Jacoby Brissett, signing Skyler Mornhinweg in 2012 and Max Staver in 2013. It adds up to Florida's relying on Driskel to pan out, something that hasn't happened in his first four years. -- Jeff Barlis
Post-Fulmer coaching stumbles at Tennessee
Phil Fulmer supporters use his departure from Tennessee as a cautionary tale about unseating a proven winner. Detractors say the program had taken a step backward -- the Volunteers endured losing seasons in two of Fulmer’s final four years -- and it was time for new leadership.
No matter which argument you believe, it’s clear Tennessee's post-Fulmer coaching moves were disastrous. First, it hired Lane Kiffin, who posted a 7-6 record in 2009 but also created negative attention with some questionable tactics and left behind a mess when he accepted the USC job a few weeks before national signing day in 2010.
Derek Dooley was also not the answer, going 15-21 in three seasons as the program became increasingly irrelevant. Vols fans hope second-year coach Butch Jones has Tennessee on the right path, but he clearly has a lot of work to do since Tennessee is 0-3 in SEC play entering Saturday's game against Alabama. -- David Ching
Regression at South Carolina
Even while Florida and Tennessee struggled over the past couple of seasons, South Carolina helped the SEC East pack a punch with three consecutive 11-win seasons between 2011 and 2013.
With stars such as Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw leading the charge, Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks finished ninth nationally in 2011, eighth in 2012 and fourth last year. But with those standouts now in the NFL, South Carolina hasn't come close to replacing their production.
It opened the season ranked in the top 10, but a 52-28 thrashing from Texas A&M in the season opener started a downward spiral. Now at 2-3 in SEC play, the Gamecocks need to win out to avoid posting their worst record in conference play since going 3-5 in 2009. -- David Ching
Hey, no pressure, Jeremy Foley, but the balance of power in the SEC is riding on your next move.
It looks likely that Florida will have a new coach in 2015, and Foley, the Gators' longstanding and highly respected athletic director, will make a decision that could greatly influence whether the Western Division continues to dominate the league and capture national acclaim.
The division in the divisions is enough to make you believe that things have always, always, always been this way in the SEC.
That made an SEC East assistant laugh this week. He didn’t quite offer Rust Cohle’s “time is a flat circle” soliloquy from “True Detective,” but he reminded me of college football’s cyclical nature.
“It’ll turn,” he said, “and then it’ll turn again.”
Back to Florida and Foley’s next hire: The other six schools might not want to hear this –- and especially Georgia -– but because of its past success and location in recruiting heaven, it’s the flagship in the SEC East.
1. Last season, we all wondered how in the world Stanford was good enough to defeat six ranked opponents during the regular season, but couldn’t beat Utah on the road.
The Utes, who finished 5-7 in 2013, upset the Cardinal 27-21 in Salt Lake City, an ugly loss that might have prevented Stanford from being selected for a four-team playoff if it had been around a year earlier.
After watching Virginia Tech lose to Miami 30-6 at home Thursday night, the Hokies’ stunning 35-21 upset of then-No. 8 Ohio State on the road Sept. 6 looks like the biggest head-scratching result of 2014.
Since upsetting the Buckeyes, the Hokies have dropped four of their past six games and have looked terrible on offense. Miami outgained the Hokies 255-36 in the first half to build a 24-0 lead, and then forced them to fumble on their first three possessions of the second half.
Virginia Tech’s 250-game streak of scoring even seemed to be very much in doubt, until backup quarterback Mark Leal threw a 14-yard touchdown to Isaiah Ford with 1:30 to go.
Sure, the Buckeyes have looked much better since losing to Virginia Tech, scoring more than 50 points in four straight victories. But OSU had better hope the College Football Playoff selection committee wasn’t paying attention to the Hokies on Thursday night.
The early list of candidates being mentioned for the not-yet-open UF job include Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.
Florida has contacted Stoops about its openings in the past, but he has always been reluctant to leave the Sooners. Mullen, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator under former coach Urban Meyer, seems like an obvious choice. But Mullen and UF athletics director Jeremy Foley didn’t always see eye-to-eye during their previous working relationship, so those past differences would have to be worked out.
I don’t think Foley, one of the most respected ADs in the country, can afford to make another mistake. With Muschamp’s tenure seemingly headed to a disappointing end, Foley is batting 1-for-3 in football coaching hires since legendary coach Steve Spurrier left. Foley struck out on former UF coach Ron Zook and hit a home run with Meyer. He can't be wrong again.
3. Here’s a great stat from ESPN Stats & Info, which says a lot about the current state of affairs in Michigan: According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Michigan State is a 17-point favorite against Michigan this weekend. According to historical lines data from The Gold Sheet going back to 1957, it is the highest betting line in the rivalry in the past 57 years. Before this week’s game, the most points Michigan State was favored by in the rivalry was 13 in 1966 (MSU won 20-7).
4. Given Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel’s play the past two seasons, it’s hard to believe that he was actually the last quarterback to defeat Florida State. Driskel led the Gators to a 37-26 victory over the Seminoles on the road on Nov. 24, 2012, completing 15 of 23 passes for 147 yards with one touchdown. The Seminoles were undone by five turnovers in that loss, including three interceptions thrown by former quarterback EJ Manuel.
Since that loss, the Seminoles have won 22 games in a row. Meanwhile, the Gators have dropped 11 of their past 18 games.
5. More than a few athletic directors around the country had to cringe when Texas AD Steve Patterson suggested earlier this week that the Longhorns were budgeting $6 million annually to pay student-athletes $10,000 in cost-of-attendance and likeness stipends per year.
Patterson said the Longhorns are prepared to pay each of their student-athletes $5,000 for full cost of attendance (which would cover educational expenses that a full scholarship doesn’t currently pay) and $5,000 in compensation for the university’s use of the player’s name, image and likeness.
Patterson said Texas is prepared to provide the stipends if the NCAA doesn’t win its appeals of its current legal battles concerning student-athlete compensation.
The bottom line: Paying an additional $6 million to student-athletes is a drop in the bucket for an athletic department such as Texas. In fact, it’s only 3.6 percent of the Longhorns’ annual operating budget for athletics. But for smaller (and poorer) FBS programs such as Iowa State, Purdue, Wake Forest and Washington State, the additional costs will be significant.
Why Mississippi State wins big: Kentucky’s defense has already surrendered 282 rushing yards to South Carolina and 303 to LSU last week. That doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s game, when Mississippi State will bring the SEC’s top offense (and No. 2 rushing offense at 264.3 yards per game) to Lexington. The Wildcats are improving, but they don’t have the firepower to hang around in this one. Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 17 -- David Ching
Why Kentucky keeps it close: Mississippi State should be rested after having last week off, while Kentucky is still smarting from its 41-3 loss at LSU. The Bulldogs should roll, but it won't be easy. The Wildcats have been a different team at home and have the firepower at defensive end to keep Dak Prescott on his toes. Mark Stoops has instilled the right kind of pride in his team, which means the Wildcats will bounce back and make this a second-half game. Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 27 -- Chris Low
Why Ole Miss wins big: Anthony Jennings has struggled enough throwing the football for LSU, and he'll find it even more difficult against Ole Miss' vaunted secondary. If Jennings turns the ball over and makes Cam Cameron's game plan too one-dimensional, the Rebels will feast. Ole Miss 31, LSU 17 -- Alex Scarborough
Why LSU keeps it close: Ever since getting blown out by Auburn, the Tigers have steadily improved. From barely surviving a trip to Florida to handling upstart Kentucky, LSU's offense and defense have gotten better. Ole Miss' defense presents a supreme challenge, but with senior Terrence Magee and true freshman Leonard Fournette, LSU has the backs to establish a running game and battle the Rebels to the end. Ole Miss 23, LSU 20 -- Jeff Barlis
Why Alabama wins big: This game screams blowout. Alabama’s defense is on fire and the offense just exploded, hanging nearly 60 on Texas A&M. Tennessee hasn’t hit 400 yards since the end of September. Hey, Lane Kiffin is back in Knoxville, so I can only imagine what he has cooked up for Tennessee’s defense -- and those Vols fans. I bet there are more anti-Kiffin signs than Tennessee points in Knoxville on Saturday. Alabama 41, Tennessee 10 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Tennessee keeps it close: Lane Kiffin would love nothing more than to put up a big number on his former team, but this Alabama offense has struggled on the road this season. In their two road games, the Tide have failed to break 20 points. They might reach that number Saturday, but it won’t be easy against a Vols defense that looked inspired in the first half last week. Alabama 24, Tennessee 14 -- Greg Ostendorf
More unanimous picks:
Auburn over South Carolina: Auburn is 12-0 at home under Gus Malzahn and won those by an average of more than 23 points per game. Interesting side note: South Carolina hasn't beaten Auburn since 1933 (though the teams didn't play each other again until 1996); Auburn is 7-0 since then. Auburn 42, South Carolina 21 -- Sam Khan Jr.
Arkansas over UAB: UAB can move the ball (had 548 yards against Mississippi State and kept it close at the half), but slowing down the Razorbacks' elite rushing attack is a tall task. Arkansas 45, UAB 20 -- Sam Khan Jr.
Missouri over Vanderbilt: Mizzou has actually been better on the road than at home, but Vanderbilt has yet to win away from home or an SEC game, period. The Tigers' defense and special teams are coming off great performances at Florida. The offense will join in on the fun Saturday. Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.
Edward Aschoff: 59-10
Greg Ostendorf: 59-10
Jeff Barlis: 58-11
Chris Low: 58-11
David Ching: 57-12
Alex Scarborough: 56-13
Sam Khan Jr.: 52-17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Too little, too late?
Florida coach Will Muschamp is fighting for his job and faces the gargantuan task of getting his Gators back on track before what could be a career-deciding game against Georgia on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville.
Muschamp announced Wednesday that true freshman Treon Harris will start at quarterback, replacing junior Jeff Driskel. It's an obvious move because there is little else this team can do to reverse the tailspin that dates back to the 4-8 season of 2013.
The discord has only grown this season, as Florida (3-3, 2-3 in the SEC) is looking at another dysfunctional offense and another poor record.
Muschamp agreed and said his players are circling the wagons.
"We've just tried to control the controllables. We repeat that to our players a lot," he said. "The things that we can control -- we need to play better, that’s the bottom line. We need to coach better. So those are the things we need to focus on -- improving ourselves and finding an identity offensively in what we can do and what we can do well.
"And block out as much as you can. You're going to hear it. That's part of it playing at a place like the University of Florida."
Irate fans booed Driskel and chanted "Fire Muschamp" during Florida’s 42-13 homecoming loss to Missouri on Saturday. Their frustrations boiled over as the Gators committed six turnovers after having three in each of the previous three games.
Muschamp said he didn't hear the chants but seems to understand what caused them, calling the game "an embarrassing performance, coaching-wise and playing-wise."
Under Muschamp's direction, Florida's offense has consistently ranked among the worst in the FBS: 105th in 2011 (averaging 328.69 yards per game), 103rd in 2012 (334.38 YPG), 115th in 2013 (316.7 YPG) and 101st through six games this season (368.0 YPG).
Florida’s offense has been going in the wrong direction this season, averaging 462.3 yards per game in the first three contests and 273.7 YPG in the last three.
"Fifteen turnovers in the last four games has been a killer for us," Muschamp said. "We can’t afford to turn the ball over. We've lacked production and explosive plays at the quarterback position. I think couple all those things together, we've struggled."
Hence the move from Driskel, who has completed 53.0 percent of his passes, to Harris, who has a completion percentage of 66.7.
The offense has rallied around Harris before. In fact, the 19-year-old led Florida to its only points against Tennessee and Missouri.
Now Florida players must rally to save their season, to save their coaches' jobs, and to save Florida's image.
"[Athletic director Jeremy] Foley said earlier that [Muschamp] is here and he's staying here," senior center Max Garcia said after the Missouri game. "We're going to play that way.
"We're not going to give up on him. We're not going to give up on the team. We don't have any quitters on this team."
Foley reiterated his support on Monday, saying he will continue to "evaluate the season as it plays out."
Muschamp, whose team has lost 10 of its last 13 and eight of its last 10 SEC games, said he appreciated the gesture and hopes team pride will turn things around.
"I think Jeremy sees a lot of the things that are going on in our program, and certainly a huge part of that is winning games, and that's not what we've done," Muschamp said. "But academically, socially, all the things we've done within our program in changing the culture have been outstanding."
Without positive results, will it be too little and too late for Muschamp?
Harris replaces fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel, who has struggled mightily in the Gators' last four games.
"[Harris] is getting all the reps right now," Muschamp said, "and Jeff is certainly going to have a role in that game."
Florida has a bye week before facing No. 9 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Gators (3-3, 2-3 SEC) are coming off two straight home losses, including an ugly 42-13 homecoming defeat to Missouri on Saturday that saw fans boo Driskel and chant "Fire Muschamp" before flocking to the exits in the third quarter.
Driskel has had 12 turnovers in his last 14 quarters, while Harris has sparked the offense with extended playing time in the fourth quarters of the Tennessee and Missouri games.
Harris was suspended the week after leading Florida to a come-from-behind 10-9 victory at Tennessee after police investigated an accusation of sexual battery from another UF student. Harris was reinstated five days later when the accuser withdrew her complaint.
After sitting in the coaches' booth for the LSU game on Oct. 11, Harris returned to the field against Missouri and was 8-of-12 passing for 98 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown and lost a fumble on a first-quarter sack.
The SEC has an impressive 89 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. While the SEC West has been dominant on the field, 13 of the 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.
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Here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday (and five more worth mentioning):
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: Chubb continued to give Todd Gurley the Wally Pipp treatment by carrying 30 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 45-32 win at Arkansas. He also caught a pass for an 8-yard gain. In the last two games, Chubb has run 68 times for 345 yards, and the Bulldogs have blasted Missouri and Arkansas on the road.
What it means: If and when Gurley returns to the lineup, he will obviously resume carrying the Bulldogs’ running game. But with the one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner suspended and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall out with injuries, Georgia desperately needed Chubb to produce, and he has exceeded every reasonable expectation.
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: Barnett logged his first game with double-digit tackles, recording 10 in a loss to Ole Miss, and also notched four tackles for loss and two sacks. The game wasn’t particularly competitive -- Ole Miss won 34-3 -- but Barnett clearly ranked among the Volunteers’ top defensive performers.
What it means: He hasn’t been getting the same kind of attention as Texas A&M freshman Myles Garrett, but Barnett might catch up soon. All of a sudden he’s second in the SEC with 9.5 tackles for loss, along with 38 tackles and three sacks.
DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
What he did: In the Rebels’ win against Tennessee, Haynes finished with five tackles, 2.5 sacks and his first career fumble recovery. That continued a dominant recent run in which he has totaled 4.5 sacks in the last two games.
What it means: Haynes leads arguably the SEC’s top defense with 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also leads the SEC with three forced fumbles. The Rebels already have a star-studded defense, and Haynes is quickly adding another name to the list of players to watch.
S Jamal Adams, LSU
What he did: The Tigers’ highest-rated defensive signee in a well-regarded 2014 recruiting class, Adams had his best game yet in a win against Kentucky. He finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, plus he delivered the key block that sprung Tre'Davious White for a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.
What it means: Simply put, the energetic Adams is showing why those around the LSU program believe he is the next Eric Reid at safety. He is the Tigers’ leading tackler on special teams and is already a leader on their nickel and dime defensive groupings.
S Dominick Sanders, Georgia
What he did: Sanders started at safety for the seventh straight game and scored for the first time in his college career when he picked up a Brandon Allen fumble and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. Sanders’ touchdown just before halftime gave Georgia a 38-6 halftime lead.
What it means: Sanders, who also made four tackles against Arkansas, has been one of the more reliable performers in Georgia’s depth-deprived secondary. The Bulldogs still have plenty to clean up on pass defense, but the overall defense continues to make progress under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
WR Kendrick Edwards, Arkansas: Caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Razorbacks attempted a late rally against Georgia.
QB Treon Harris, Florida: Rotated at quarterback with Jeff Driskel and finished 8-for-12 for 98 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and also rushed eight times for 26 yards.
RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Ran 13 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.
WR Josh Malone, Tennessee: Caught five passes for 75 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught four passes for 32 yards and returned six kickoffs for 106 yards in a loss to Alabama.
- Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: A big body at linebacker who is just now beginning to scratch the surface of his ability. He'll be an integral part of stopping the run against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
- Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: Too obvious? The longer Todd Gurley is sidelined, the faster the freshman back's star rises.
- AJ Derby, TE, Arkansas: Bret Bielema told me this spring that the former QB had NFL talent as a tight end. We're starting to see more and more of that lately.
- Brandon Holloway, RB, Mississippi State: A shifty running back with blinding speed that can catch the ball out of the backfield, Holloway is the perfect change of pace to the bruising style of Josh Robinson.
2. The Head Ball Coach took the Florida question in stride. Steve Spurrier says he's not leaving South Carolina for The Swamp to replace Will Muschamp. "No," Spurrier told reporters on Tuesday. "I tell everybody my next move is going to be to Crescent Beach, Fla." It was fun to imagine Spurrier roaming the Florida sideline again, but at 69 years old you knew it wasn't likely, if not altogether impossible. He's comfortable at South Carolina. Things might not be perfect there right now, but the work pales in comparison to what must be done at Florida. The Gators, should they choose to part ways with Muschamp, need a long-term solution, not a splashy stop-gap they'd have to replace sooner than later.
3. Texas A&M is going back to the drawing board. Even the QB position is up for grabs, said coordinator Jake Spavital. But that's not what caught my attention on Tuesday. What piqued my interest was coach Kevin Sumlin's comments about how Saturday's loss at Alabama was an "eye-opener." He said, "This program was founded on three things -- play hard, play smart, be physical." Texas A&M has done none of those things recently. It started with Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but it ended with Alabama breaking its will. There was no aggressiveness from the Aggies' sideline, no fire to show in the second half they're better than the score indicated. They gave up. They wanted to go home. And if you're a coach, that's the worst possible thing you can see. What we're seeing from A&M is that you can't survive in this league on talent alone. You have to have those three things Sumlin discussed, but you have to have them in more than name only.
Tweet of the day
No. 7 OLB Jerome Baker Flips To Ohio St.
Final UAB 17 Arkansas 45 Final 1 Mississippi State 45 Kentucky 31 Final Vanderbilt 14 Missouri 24 Final 3 Ole Miss 7 24 LSU 10 Final South Carolina 35 5 Auburn 42 Final 4 Alabama 34 Tennessee 20