What we learned on the Saturday before Thanksgiving:
1—For Florida and Dan Mullen, the season began to unravel with a 20-13 loss at Kentucky on Oct. 2.
Mullen was fired on Sunday after the Gators lost 24-23 in overtime at Missouri. The defeat left Florida at 2-6 in SEC play this season and 2-9 in Mullen’s last 11 games against FBS opponents.
It was a swift and chilling fall for a coach who appeared to be on the right track when the Gators lost 52-46 to Alabama, the eventual national champion, in the 2020 SEC championship game.
Things still looked good for Mullen when the Gators lost 31-29 to No. 1 Alabama in Gainesville on Sept. 18. Since then Florida has only beaten Tennessee (38-14) and Vanderbilt (42-0). Mullen was 0-7 in one-score games the past two seasons.
So what happened?
Theories abound but things did not look right during a 20-13 loss at Kentucky on Oct. 2 where Florida committed 15 penalties. The Gators were not a well-coached team that night and have looked disjointed since.
Florida had the ball and chance to win in regulation at Missouri with the score tied. But Mullen chose to run out the clock and take his chances in overtime. It didn’t work. His counterpart at Missouri, Eli Drinkwitz, went for a two-point conversion and the win. It worked.
It was clear after Saturday’s loss to Missouri that Mullen had run out answers.
“Dan is a very good football coach,” athletics director Scott Stricklin said during a press conference on Sunday in Gainesville. “He will have another opportunity to coach and he will be successful.”
Mullen is the 13th FBS coach to be released during the 2021 season. Among those schools competing with Florida for a new head coach are USC, LSU and, Virginia Tech. Among the early names being floated for the Florida job, considered to be one of the best in the nation, are former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin, and Louisiana head coach Billy Napier.
Mullen will receive a $12 million buyout that will come in seven payments. Half of that total will be paid in 30 days.
Mullen took Florida to three straight New Year’s Six Bowls. He spent nine seasons at Mississippi State where he led the Bulldogs to No. 1 national ranking.
2—The ACC and Pac-12 are out of the running for the College Football Playoffs. Cincinnati, I believe, will be in when the next set of rankings are released Tuesday night.
No. 3 Oregon got hammered by Utah 38-7 Saturday night which leaves the Ducks at 9-2 with a game remaining against Oregon State. No. 10 Wake Forest lost at Clemson 48-27 which gives the Deacons their second loss and knocks the ACC out of contention for the CFP.
One possible twist. The committee might move Ohio State ahead of Alabama to No. 2 based on the Buckeyes’ 56-7 win over No. 7 Michigan State and the Crimson Tide’s 42-35 win over Arkansas.
3—Georgia’s Kirby Smart should get serious consideration as SEC Coach of the Year:
Normally the COY goes to a coach who has exceeded expectations based on the talent level at hand. There’s a bunch of coaches in this conference who fit the bill including South Carolina’s Shane Beamer (6-5), Tennessee’s Josh Heupel (6-5), Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz (6-5), Mississippi State’s Mike Leach (7-4) and Sam Pittman of Arkansas (7-4). Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss (8-2) has also done a great coaching job this season.
But what about the coach who guides a talented team to a historic undefeated season?
Georgia is 11-0 for the first time since 1982 and has had only one 12-0 team in its history, the national championship team of 1980. Georgia will be heavily favored against Georgia Tech on Saturday and then plays in the SEC championship game (vs. Alabama) for the fourth time in five seasons.
He has built the team around a generational defense, an efficient offense and has beaten every opponent on the schedule (except Clemson in the opener) by 17 points or more.
Just something to think about.
4—A Heisman Trophy race that was wide open got a lot clearer on Saturday.
Alabama sophomore Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud put together games for the ages and has turned it into a two-man race for the Heisman.
Young, a sophomore, completed 31 of 40 passes for 559 yards (an Alabama record) and five touchdowns in a 42-35 win over Arkansas.
Stroud, a freshman, completed 29 of 31 passes in the FIRST HALF for 393 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-7 win over Michigan State.
Young (3,584 yards, 38 touchdowns, three interceptions) still has games remaining with Auburn and Georgia in the SEC championship game.
Stroud (3,468 yards, 36 touchdowns, five interceptions) faces No.6 Michigan on Saturday, where a win puts Ohio State into the Big Ten championship game.
5—There is also going to be some serious quarterback play in the Egg Bowl Thursday night in Starkville.
First of all, there aren’t two better coaches of quarterbacks in college football than Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss) and Mike Leach (Mississippi State). Here are the two quarterbacks they’ll put on the field on Thanksgiving night.
Will Rogers, Mississippi State: Rogers is the leading passer in the SEC having completed 76.1 percent of his passes for 4,115 yards, 34 touchdowns and only eight interceptions on 573 attempts.
Matt Corral, Ole Miss: Corral is the No. 3 passer in the SEC having completed 67.5 percent of is passes for 3,100 yards, 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 345 attempts.