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Penn State makes case for playoffs; Florida bowls nearly set

With Penn State’s thrilling 38-31 come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game on Saturday, the controversy over who gets the fourth spot in the College Football Playoffs (CFP) has already begun. While the four teams will be announced on Sunday, the debate will linger through the new year, no matter what happens.

Most are expecting the Nittany Lions (11-2) to head to the Rose Bowl to face Colorado with Wisconsin playing in the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. However, plenty believe Penn State should get the fourth CFP spot over Ohio State and they have some sound reasoning to back up the claim.

The Nittany Lions are the champions of a Power Five conference while Ohio State was unable to even reach the title game. The Buckeyes (11-1) were denied that opportunity when they lost to Penn State on October 23.

The job of the CFP selection committee would have been much easier if Clemson had lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game in Orlando. Despite a spirited comeback, the Hokies fell just short, 42-35, locking in the Tigers for one of the four spots.

If Penn State somehow earns the selection to the playoffs, Ohio State would head to Pasadena, Calif. for the Rose Bowl. No matter what happens, one side or the other will believe they were robbed.

If Ohio State is selected, calls to change the rules will begin Sunday afternoon. More than a few hold the belief that CFP participants must be conference champions.

Saturday began with even more uncertainty surrounding bowls. There was concern that if Navy won the American Athletic Conference championship, several bowl assignments would be delayed while waiting to see if Navy could qualify for the Cotton Bowl bid. Temple’s 34-10 defeat of the Midshipmen in the American Conference Championship Game ended that concern.

With Saturday’s results, Florida’s nine bowls are now taking shape. While the projections are just that, the matchups are likely set.

Florida is expected to play Nebraska in the Outback Bowl while Florida State and Michigan are pointed toward an Orange Bowl showdown. Georgia Tech and Tennessee look to tangle in Jacksonville’s TaxSlayer Bowl and LSU is expected to come to Orlando to face Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.

Miami and West Virginia will meet in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando while Houston and Western Kentucky are slated for the Boca Raton Bowl. Houston was a top 15 team at one point before hitting a late-season tailspin.

South Florida is likely to remain close to home in the St. Petersburg Bowl to face Army. UCF will also remain near its fan base where it will face South Alabama in the Cure Bowl. Memphis and Central Michigan will play in the Miami Beach Bowl.

It promises to be an interesting Sunday afternoon in college football.

Alabama swamps Florida in SEC Championship game

The University of Alabama defense was too good for Florida quarterback Austin Appleby to overcome Saturday afternoon.

Appleby threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns against the Tide, but he also threw three interceptions and the Tide rolled over the Gators, 54-16, Saturday. The Tide, the only major unbeaten team in the country, outscored Florida 21-0 in the second half to pull away.

On this night, it is hard to believe that Florida’s greatest quarterbacks — Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel or Tim Tebow — would have dented the Alabama defense very much.

Is this how second place feels? Or is this how, say, Kentucky feels?

Alabama had been a 24-point favorite going into the game. It turns out that wasn’t enough.

Florida took a quick 7-0 lead, but the Gators were overwhelmed by an Alabama team that scored on offense, on defense and on special teams in the victory.

The Gators ran the ball 32 times, but had zero yards rushing (counting sacks, which counts against the run in college football).

“Obviously, you’re not going to beat anybody giving them the ball four times,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “Especially against the team Nick Saban has put together. which I feel is the best top-to-bottom he’s put together.”

McElwain agreed the Gators have to find a quarterback. “It’s something we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to make sure it happens sooner or later.”

Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough had 91 yards and two scores. As a team, the Tide outrushed Florida 234-0.

The Tide has been considered to be one of the best teams of all-time. They led the nation in defense and rushing defense this season.

“I was really proud of the way our guys came out in the second half and played,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told CBS after the game. “This was a great win for our team. Florida’s got a good team. They got a little worn out in the game. Jim (McElwain) is doing a great job there.”

McElwain still has to break through against top-flight competition, however. He is 2-7 against ranked team.

“You don’t always get what you want in life, but you mostly get what you deserve,” Saban said. “And these guys have done a fantastic job all season long in winning 13 games and deserve to win the SEC.”

The 54 points were the second-most ever given up by Florida, behind only Nebraska in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl.

Alabama will probably be the top seed going into the playoffs, announced today. Florida will hope for a good bowl game.

The Predictions: Florida can’t score enough to stay with Bama

The way analysts talk about the Alabama Crimson Tide, you don’t know whether they are preparing for the College Football Playoffs or the ones reserved for the NFL.

They may be the best team ever, say some analysts. They are so No. 1 that their second-string may be No. 2. They are bulletproof and can stop speeding trains.

On the other hand, Alabama beat Ole Miss by five.

They beat LSU by 10.

So are they are unbeatable? Of course not. No one is. For Florida, which plays them in today’s SEC title game, that’s something.

Alabama had to rally from a 24-3 deficit to beat Ole Miss this year. They barely got to the end zone against LSU.

The keys to beating Alabama, of course, are to hit them early and often. It is to match their greatness on defense. It is to get turnovers and dominate field position. It is to put them into a rare dogfight and hope you can make the final play.

That may be hard for the Gators, who rank only 114th in total offense. Still, it would help Florida to try to strike early. It doesn’t want to get into a field position battle with the Tide, who have worn down most teams. They’ve scored 384 points this season.

With their No. 1-ranked defense, it’s doubtful if Florida can score enough to stay in the game for very long.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Florida 13

The Pros

Broncos at Jaguars

This was supposed to be a turnaround season for Gus Bradley and the Jags. Instead, the critics are asking for Bradley’s job. Unless the Jags can go 3-2, they won’t even equal last season’s totals. And playing the defending Super Bowl champions won’t help.

Prediction: Denver 24, Jacksonville 17

Dolphins at Ravens

Both teams have found their way after early season struggles. The Dolphins are in the playoff hunt at 7-4. The Ravens are tied in the AFC North with Pittsburgh. The thought here is that the Ravens will be able to control Jay Ajayi just enough to win at home.

Prediction: Baltimore 34, Miami 28

Tampa Bay at San Diego

The Bucs have been playing their best football in several seasons. Still, this one will be a chore with the diverse attack of the Chargers against their defense. Still, San Diego doesn’t play as well on the other side of the ball.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 23, San Diego 21

To be a complete team, Gators need to find a quarterback

Two years in, two championship games, and the Help Wanted sign remains out.

Now, more than ever, the University of Florida needs a quarterback.

With the Gators playing in the SEC Championship game Saturday afternoon, the Gators’ weakest position stands out the most. Who is there to guide the Gators toward the end zone? Who is there to have a breakout game to lead an upset?

Look around. Alabama has a great defensive line, but Florida’s good, too. If linebacker Jarrad Davis plays, the Gators can play some linebacker. Cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor are potential first round picks. Jordan Scarlett is a good running back. Receivers Antonio Callaway and Reggie Cleveland have speed.

But what about the quarterback?

Still?

Coach Jim McElwain has been at Florida for two seasons, and that’s the team’s biggest shortcoming. It simply hasn’t found a quarterback in the tradition of the great Florida quarterbacks. You know: Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Those guys. The Statue Guys.

Of course, Will Grier’s suspension and departure left a big hole for the Gators. It was bad enough when he tested positive for PEDs, but his jumping ship created a hole.

Can freshman Feleipe Franks grow into a solid quarterback? Can Kyle Trask? Is there a recruit in the distance?

Regardless, this much is clear. Florida will never be the team it needs to be until it has the quarterback it wants.

Questioning the Florida-Alabama game for the SEC Championship

Five things to ponder about Florida’s SEC title game against Alabama on Saturday.

Can the Gators give Alabama a better game than last year?

Unless Florida forces a lot of turnovers, it’s hard to see how. Most agree this Alabama team might be the school’s best, and might be as good as any team who has ever played. Florida, meanwhile, has played almost an identical season as to last year, from the sluggish offense to the spotty quarterbacking. Jordan Scarlett is an admirable back, but can he stand up against the Tide’s defense? Doubtful.

Will Florida be healthier this week?

Maybe. Both linebacker Jarrad Davis and guard Martez Ivey have returned to practice and should play.

Any truth to the rumors about coach Jim McElwain going to Oregon?

Mac says there isn’t. He says flatly that he hasn’t heard from the school (no word on whether his agent has) and that “it must be a slow news day.”

Said McElwain: “Look, I’ve got a heck of a job. In case anybody checked this is the University of Florida. We’re playing in what they call the SEC Championship Game. It really hasn’t crossed my mind.”

Which group of fans should be most disappointed to see the Gators play for the SEC title?

Oh, it’s fairly widespread. Tennessee, in particular, should be crestfallen. This should have been the Vols’ year, especially considering their victory over the Gators. All LSU had to do was move another yard to knock the Gators out. Georgia was one of the most underachieving teams in the league. It wasn’t the perfect season for the Gators, but leaving their opponents’ disappointed is something.

Where must the Gators improve from last year’s game?

Everywhere. For one thing, the Gators rushed for only 15 yards on the afternoon, and this Alabama defense is better. Then-quarterback Treon Harris had a rating of only 6.7 for the day.

Florida needs to start fast. It took a 7-2 lead a year ago, but Alabama is a team that wears its opponents down. The Tide doesn’t run as well as it did last year behind Derrick Henry (Damien Harris is only 72nd in rushing). The Tide’s defense was the only one in America to give up less than 3,000 yards this season. The Tide was first in total defense, first in rushing defense and 11th against the pass. It’ll be hard for the Gators to drive very far.

Alabama is a 24-point favorite. The game is at 4 p.m. in Atlanta.

Joe Henderson: What Democrats missed about Donald Trump, Rick Scott — it’s about jobs

We probably will never know what happened inside Trump Tower recently when Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with the president-elect.

It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if they talked about jobs the entire time.

I mention this because Donald Trump gave a preview this week of what he hopes are coming attractions. He announced that Carrier, the giant air conditioning manufacturer, had agreed to keep about 1,000 jobs in Indiana instead of shipping them to Mexico.

That is straight out of the playbook Scott used to run for governor in 2011, and then to be re-elected to a second term in 2015.

Neither Trump nor Carrier have disclosed details of the deal, but my guess is that none of the affected workers care. That’s where Trump — and Scott — have outfoxed the experts.

Scott has boasted of bringing 1 million jobs to Florida, a claim backed up by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Critics say, with some justification, that Scott and Florida benefited from an improving economy throughout the United States.

I’m a big one for giving credit (or blame) when something significant occurs on a governor’s watch. That’s what happened with Scott.

While his campaign had considerably more bombast than Florida’s taciturn governor, Donald Trump campaigned hard on the issue of jobs. He smartly targeted key Midwestern states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and, of course, Indiana.

There, he promised workers who lost manufacturing jobs that he had heard their cry and would do something to help them. The Carrier deal is no doubt an encouraging sign.

There is a long way to go, of course. The Washington Post reported that since 1969, Indiana has lost more than 235,000 manufacturing jobs. More pain may on the way, as several companies have announced intentions to migrate jobs to Mexico.

Reality says that even should Trump be successful in offering incentives for those companies to keep jobs here, they likely won’t pay as well as before. Once again, though, Trump can look at what Scott did.

Critics complained that many of those million-plus jobs the governor claimed credit for creating paid subsistence wages at best. They said his tax and incentives policies created wealth for corporate owners while barely paying workers enough to get by.

What all that missed, though, became the central point of the election — both in Florida and this year in the Rust Belt states. When a person doesn’t have a job, particularly someone in middle-age with kids and mortgage, they solely focus on being employed again.

Democrats missed that.

They missed it in Florida against Scott. They missed again with Trump. So, while Trump’s ridiculous tweet about jailing and stripping the citizenship of anyone who protests by burning the U.S. flag got headlines, his deal with Carrier resonated loudly with the people most responsible for putting him office.

As Rick Scott once said, let’s get to work.

 

Could the bowl season include a Jimbo Fisher-Jim Harbaugh match-up?

Would you be interested in seeing FSU’s Jimbo Fisher coach against LSU? It’s possible.

Or how about Fisher going head-to-head with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh? That’s possible, too.

Those are two of the possible scenarios for upcoming bowl season, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Brent McMurphy. Schlabach sees the Seminoles playing LSU in the Cirtrus Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 31. McMurphy sees them playing Michigan in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

This is the last week such speculation will be necessary. Bowl pairings will be announced Sunday.

Other match-ups that ESPN predicts include the Outback Bowl, where both writers see Florida playing Nebraska on Jan. 2. Both agree that USC will play in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29. Schlabach thinks the Bulls will play Vanderbilt, while McMurphy says it will be South Carolina.

The two agree that Miami will play West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28.

Schlabach has UCF playing against Toledo in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 19. McMurphy sees UCF playing against Louisiana Lafayette in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 17.

Once again, FSU ranks the near top in high school recruiting

At this point, the names are not written in ink. Still, it’s easy to see why Jimbo Fisher chose to remain at Florida State.

Once again, FSU is near the top of the rankings for high school recruits.

According to the recruiting website 247sports.com, FSU is second in America (to Alabama) when it comes to this season’s recruits. The Seminoles have one five-star recruing and 17 four-stars.

Other recruiting classes included Florida, who is 13th, and Miami, who is 21st. UCF is 61st and USF is 64th. Also in the state is Florida Atlantic (99th) and FIU (100th). The website included Bethune-Cookman (142nd) and FAMU (146th).

Last year, FSU was second and Florida 14th.

Donald Trump drama rolls on: Disputes, falsehoods hit transition

The drama, disputes and falsehoods that permeated Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign are now roiling his transition to the White House, forcing aides to defend his baseless assertions of illegal voting and sending internal fights spilling into public.

On Monday, a recount effort, led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton‘s campaign also marched on in three states, based partly on the Stein campaign’s unsubstantiated assertion that cyberhacking could have interfered with electronic voting machines. Wisconsin officials approved plans to begin a recount as early as Thursday. Stein also asked for a recount in Pennsylvania and was expected to do the same in Michigan, where officials certified Trump’s victory Monday.

Trump has angrily denounced the recounts and now claims without evidence that he, not Clinton, would have won the popular vote if it hadn’t been for “millions of people who voted illegally.” On Twitter, he singled out Virginia, California and New Hampshire.

There has been no indication of widespread election tampering or voter fraud in those states or any others, and Trump aides struggled Monday to back up their boss’ claim.

Spokesman Jason Miller said illegal voting was “an issue of concern.” But the only evidence he raised was a 2014 news report and a study on voting irregularities conducted before the 2016 election.

Trump met Monday with candidates for top Cabinet posts, including retired Gen. David Petraeus, a new contender for secretary of state. Trump is to meet Tuesday with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is also being considered more seriously for the diplomatic post, and Mitt Romney, who has become a symbol of the internal divisions agitating the transition team.

Petraeus said he spent about an hour with Trump, and he praised the president-elect for showing a “great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there.”

“Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said. A former CIA chief, Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information relating to documents he had provided to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort, teased “a number of very important announcements tomorrow” as he exited Trump Tower Monday night.

Pence is said to be among those backing Romney for State. Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign but is interested in the Cabinet position, and they discussed it during a lengthy meeting earlier this month.

Other top Trump allies, notably campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign to warn the president-elect that nominating Romney would be seen as a betrayal by his supporters. Conway’s comments stirred speculation that she is seeking to either force Trump’s hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.

Three people close to the transition team said Trump had been aware that Conway planned to voice her opinion, both on Twitter and in television interviews. They disputed reports that Trump was furious at her and suggested his decision to consider additional candidates instead highlighted her influence.

Conway served as Trump’s third campaign manager and largely succeeded in navigating the minefield of rivalries that ensnared other officials. Trump is said to have offered her a choice of White House jobs — either press secretary or communications director. But people with knowledge of Conway’s plans say she is more interested in serving as an outside political adviser, akin to the role President Barack Obama‘s campaign manager David Plouffe played following the 2008 election.

The wrangling over the State Department post appears to have slowed the announcements of other top jobs. Retired Gen. James Mattis, who impressed Trump during a pre-Thanksgiving meeting, was at the top of the list for Defense secretary, but a final decision had not been made.

Trump was also considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Homeland Security secretary, according to those close to the transition process. Giuliani was initially the front-runner for State and is still in the mix. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as the mayor’s public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.

Those close to the transition insisted on anonymity in commenting because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the private process.

Even as Trump weighs major decisions that will shape his presidency, he’s been unable to avoid being distracted by the recount effort. He spent Sunday on a 12-hour Twitter offensive that included quoting Clinton’s concession speech, in which she said the public owed Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead.”

His final tweets challenging the integrity of an election he won were reminiscent of his repeated, unsubstantiated assertions during the campaign that the contest might be rigged. Those previous comments sparked an outcry from both Clinton and some Republicans.

Clinton lawyer Marc Elias said the campaign has seen “no actionable evidence” of voting anomalies. But the campaign still plans to be involved in Stein’s recount to ensure its interests are legally represented.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. All three would need to flip to Clinton to upend the Republican’s victory, and Clinton’s team says Trump has a larger edge in all three states than has ever been overcome in a presidential recount.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

As Florida entered another SEC title game, have the Gators improved?

If the Florida Gators are the same-old football team, can this season’s SEC title game be any different?

Once again, the Gators are a heavy underdog to Alabama, which once again has a national title in its grasp. Once again, it’s easy to wonder if Florida has enough sizzle on offense to pull off an offense over over one of the Tide’s best defensive teams.

In some ways, this season was just a sequel to Jim McElwain’s first season with the Gators. He broke in one quarterback, then finished with another. The Gators were 10-3 and ranked 18th going into the game; this year, they’re 8-3 and ranked 15th.

Last year, the Gators were 111th in the nation in total offense; this year, they’re 114th. Last year, they were eighth in America on defense; this year, they’re sixth. Last year, they were 100th in scoring offense; this year, they’re 104th.

In other words, not much has changed for the Gators in a year. They still have a stubborn defense; they still have a sluggish offense.

Maybe that’s why Florida is an underdog by as many as 24 points.

“I don’t look at it as a mismatch at all,” McElwain said. “I look at it as an opportunity.”

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