Friday, September 14, 2018
Hello, Miami, Florida and Florida State?
The top 20 misses you.
And needs you. Like, really needs you when the loudest college football stories in September are Alabama Coach Nick Saban berating a sideline interviewer and Ohio State's Urban Meyer lost in a scandal.
Saturday is coming, and I don't know what to tell everyone connecting the dots from unfortunate starts in Miami, Florida and Florida State to wondering where the Big Three will land moving forward.
Don't get me wrong: It's too early to say any season won't recover. But it's already late enough to be concerned. Miami was run off the field by LSU in disturbingly similar fashion to the final three, deflating games last year.
Florida, under new Coach Dan Mullen, lost to Kentucky at home for the first time in 32 meetings.
Florida State, starting the Willie Taggart era, couldn't compete against Virginia Tech before needing a stirring comeback to hold off Samford.
Florida State added to the clumsy start by also introducing the "turnover backpack," which isn't so much a copy of the Miami's "turnover chain," as the intersection of Steve Urkel and third grade.
"What is that, a Dora the Explorer backpack?" said Anthony John Machado, owner of A.J.'s Jewelry and creator of Miami's turnover chain. "I see there's a lot of imitations, a lot of copycats out there. But that backpack is a joke, to be honest with you."
Trash talk, turnover accessories style. That's what you get here, if anyone's listening.
Here's the larger point: Central Florida is back and winning for being ranked No. 18 in the season after it claimed a mythical national title. Bully for UCF. Everyone likes the underdog. But it's awkward trending to anarchy in the state when UCF is the main meal and not garnish on the side.
There's no need to summon those golden yesterdays when Florida State and Miami played for the top ranking and Florida jockeyed with the winner through the rankings. For now, Miami at No. 21 is the only ranked team.
It should move a couple of notches higher Saturday, though playing at Toledo isn't the pastry Savannah State was last week. Florida gets Colorado State, which just beat Arkansas. And Florida State is only a slight favorite against Syracuse. When Toledo, Colorado State and even Syracuse aren't gimmes, what gives?
For now, Mullen and Taggart can blame their predecessors with some merit.
"We knew coming in that [depth] was one area that we were thin at, and can't make no excuses, just got to get up and be ready to go and watch the film and see what we do wrong and try to improve," Taggart said this week in Tallahassee.
"I think our physicality is going to be something this team -- and we've talked about it constantly -- they have to continue to work on," Mullen said in Gainesville. "And it starts in practice."
Mullen and Taggart have something Richt doesn't: Deep pockets. That's why Richt is going to Toledo. In his first two years, Richt played at Appalachian State and was scheduled to in Arkansas State (Hurricane Irma won that weekend). Simply put, Miami can't afford the big money to get these schools to visit Hard Rock Stadium without a quid-pro-quo visit to them.
Toledo isn't a gimme. It won the Mid-American Conference last year, has been to four consecutive bowl games and is treating this like the biggest game in school history. Which it probably is.
"We don't look at it any other way than any team can whip our butt if we don't take care of business," Richt said.
That's the way every Miami, Florida and Florida State coach always has talked. But fans in Coral Gables, Gainesville and Tallahassee had a wink-wink understanding of such ideas. Now they don't. Now they're just trying to claw their way back to the top 20, which misses them. And needs them.
Leave the turnover backpack behind, though.
Sports on 09/14/2018
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