Saturday Football: Mac Jones' draft stock, Florida's future schedule and Hoosiers on the rise
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Good morning and happy Thursday! For those of you desperate for some more football after Sunday’s Super Bowl, you’re in luck! The FCS spring season kicks off on Saturday with McNeese State taking on Tarleton State. Then, there are 20 games next weekend.
But, before we get there, there’s plenty to discuss in today’s newsletter. We’ll dive into Alabama QB Mac Jones’ draft stock and whether he will go in Round 1 or not. Then, we’ll talk about the Indiana Hoosiers, who seem to be becoming a football school. Finally, we’ll look at Florida’s loaded upcoming nonconference schedules and what that might mean for College Football Playoff expansion. Let’s get started!
MAC JONES’ DRAFT STOCK
Mac Jones had an outstanding 2020 season. How high will the Alabama QB go in the 2021 NFL Draft?
When it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, the only thing that seems certain is that Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 overall pick, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars. From there, analysts can’t agree on who QB2 will be. It looked like Ohio State’s Justin Fields would be that guy, but in recent weeks, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and BYU’s Zach Wilson have risen in some mock drafts.
So, where does that leave Alabama QB Mac Jones? Some analysts have Jones going solidly in Round 1. Some have him slipping out of the first 32 picks entirely. Here’s the latest on the Alabama star’s draft stock:
- Jones had a great performance at the Senior Bowl. In the practices ahead of the game, Jones stood out, drawing rave reviews from Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule. However, he suffered a minor ankle injury that kept him from playing in the actual game. Jones said the Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots were among the teams he met with at the Senior Bowl. Jones was asked about his interest in the Patriots, and cited Nick Saban’s relationship with Bill Belichick as one reason he would love to end up in New England.
- Jones has quickly become one of the most talked about prospects. Former NFL GM Mike Tannenbaum said he can’t imagine Jones slipping past the No. 8 pick (which belongs to the Panthers). Seth Galina of Pro Football Focus explains why Jones is just as good of an NFL prospect as Tua Tagovailoa was last year. Former Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian discussed what sets Jones apart from other draft prospects. Fansided’s Dakota Cox took a look at the six NFL teams that would be good landing spots for Jones.
- Finally, let’s see what some mock drafts have to say about Jones. Chad Reuter of the NFL Network has Jones going No. 14 overall to the Washington Football Team. His NFL Network colleague Lance Zierlein doesn’t have Jones in Round 1 at all. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Jones going No. 12 to the Chicago Bears. McShay adds that he’s heard teams are trying to trade up to land Jones. Josh Edwards of CBS Sports slots Jones into the No. 28 spot, going to the New Orleans Saints.
It doesn’t seem like any analysts know what exactly is going to happen with Jones at this point, but that’s what makes the buildup to the draft so interesting each year. With no traditional NFL Combine this year, players will have to bring their all to Pro Days around the country. We’ll see how much Jones does at Alabama’s Pro Day and whether or not he can do enough to improve his stock even further.
- Patrick Mahomes was running for his life during the Super Bowl. That’s largely because the Chiefs were dealing with injuries along the offensive line. So, why did the Chiefs’ performance remind Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara of the Texas A&M Aggies? Well, he explains that A&M has to replace four of its five starters from 2020, which will be no easy task considering how well the Aggies’ line (the “Maroon Goons”) played this past season.
- Ohio State made it to the CFP title game, but came up short. Now, the Buckeyes have several key players heading to the 2021 NFL Draft, including star QB Justin Fields. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan Clark takes us through the 5 biggest roster holes the Buckeyes need to fill before the 2021 season kicks off.
- There are plenty of big-name stars returning to the field in 2021. From Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma to JT Daniels at Georgia and beyond, there will be familiar faces across the FBS level this fall. So, who will win each conference’s Player of the Year award? Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon makes his predictions.
- We all know that speed is the name of the game in college football. In recent years, we’ve seen speedy receivers like Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III dominate for Alabama. Defensive backs like Derek Stingley Jr. have been getting faster, too, to keep up. So, who are the fastest guys heading into 2021? Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard names the 10 fastest players in college football for this upcoming campaign.
INDIANA’S NEW ADDITIONS
Indiana recently made some big-time hires in the offseason. Are the Hoosiers here to stay?
Indiana is coming off a season in which it finished 6-2, was ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings and ended decades-long losing streaks to Michigan and Wisconsin. Somehow, though, the biggest successes over the past few months for the Hoosiers might be their offseason moves.
Tom Allen brought in former Georgia DB coach Charlton Warren to be the defensive coordinator after Kane Wommack left to be the head coach at South Alabama. When Mike Hart departed Bloomington to join Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan, the Hoosiers landed former Kansas City Chiefs RB coach Deland McCullough. What do those new additions mean for the future of IU?
- Bringing Warren in from an SEC program is a big deal. Traditionally, Indiana has been a place coaches land as a last resort, hoping to strike gold before moving onto another job. Now, it’s become a place for opportunity. When Warren accepted the job, he told reporters that Allen’s “LEO” mantra and the energy the head coach brought to the locker room was contagious. With Warren’s arrival, Indiana gets an experienced defensive mind who’s coached in the SEC for premier programs Florida and Georgia. Plus, he’s an excellent recruiter, ranking in the top 25 of 247Sports’ rankings.
- McCullough was the one who called Allen, not the other way around. As soon as McCullough learned that Indiana had an opening for a running backs coach, he picked up the phone and spoke with Allen. He wanted to return to the place where he coached backs like Tevin Coleman, Jordan Howard and Devine Redding on Kevin Wilson’s staff from 2011-16. That speaks volumes to the culture Allen has built, considering McCullough’s stint with the Kansas City Chiefs has been incredibly successful. But McCullough told reporters that IU was where he wanted to be. Unfortunately for Indiana, McCullough won’t be bringing his son, 4-star RB and Ohio State commit Dasan McCullough, with him.
- Indiana was willing to shell out the money. No expense was spared to bring in the best assistants this offseason. Both Warren and McCullough are seeing sizable pay increases from their predecessors. Warren will make $700,000 in his first year with the Hoosiers, while McCullough is scheduled to receive a $515,000 salary.
- Are the Hoosiers here for the long haul? Shortly after the 2020 season came to an end, ESPN’s Heather Dinich included Indiana as one of the top 10 teams with a legitimate chance to reach next season’s College Football Playoff, thanks to the amount of returning talent. In 247Sports’ latest top 25, the Hoosiers were ranked inside the top 20, despite a less-than-impressive 2021 recruiting class. There was already a lot of confidence in IU before the new staff additions. With Warren and McCullough both on board, this looks like a team built for long-term success in the B1G.
Indiana may not quite be ready to challenge for a College Football Playoff spot or replace Penn State or Michigan among the B1G’s elite programs. But the Hoosiers are coming off back-to-back winning seasons, recruiting well and building a staff that compares to anyone in the league. There’s little doubt that this is the healthiest the Hoosiers have been in a very long time.
JUST FOR FUN
Being a top-tier college football coach is a lucrative business, with huge contracts being handed out on a yearly basis. So, for today’s quiz, let’s see how much you know about the highest-paid coaches from the 2020 season. Can you name the 10 highest-paid coaches from last year? (Hint: One of them was fired after the season.)
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
FLORIDA’S FUTURE SCHEDULE
Florida is loading up its future nonconference schedules. What does this mean for possible CFP expansion?
As we move toward the 2021 season, the days of cupcake nonconference schedules are quickly falling by the wayside. The Georgia Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers will open the 2021 campaign with a big-time matchup in Charlotte. Reigning champion Alabama opens against Miami in Atlanta.
But, even among this era of more aggressive nonconference scheduling, a move the Florida Gators made this week stands out. In case you missed it, the Gators scheduled a home-and-home with Notre Dame to be played in the 2031 and 2032 seasons. Why is this a big deal? Let’s take a look:
- The Gators’ 2031 nonconference schedule is now absolutely loaded. That year, Florida will play at Texas on Sept. 6, vs. Arizona State on Sept. 13, at Notre Dame on Nov. 15 and vs. annual rival Florida State on Nov. 29. SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic compared Florida’s 2031 nonconference slate to Georgia’s loaded 2030 schedule.
- Back to the Fighting Irish vs. the Gators for a second, though. This new home-and-home series will mark the second and third times the two storied programs have met on the gridiron (unless they meet in a bowl game or the College Football Playoff between now and then). The other meeting? That happened in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 1992. Fighting Irish Wire’s Nick Shepkowski took a look back at that game between No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 3 Florida. A young running back named Jerome Bettis ran for 3 touchdowns to lead the Irish to a 39-28 victory. He then, of course, became a Pro Football Hall of Famer, most notably helping the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XL.
- What does this home-and-home series mean for the Playoff? That’s what many are speculating about. As teams like Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and others load up their nonconference slates, it’s possible they’re preparing for an expanded Playoff field. ESPN’s Trevor Matich and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher are a couple of the more recent notable football personalities to call for an expanded Playoff.
Even if the Playoff is still at four teams a decade from now, fans are the big winners of these beefier nonconference schedules. Watching Georgia-Clemson and Florida-Notre Dame will be infinitely more entertaining than some cupcake games we’ve seen recently. Will the Playoff actually expand over the next decade, though? Well, it seems some of the bigger schools don’t want to be left behind if it does.
The 10 coaches who were paid the most during the 2020 season (according to the USA TODAY coaches salaries database) were:
- Nick Saban, Alabama — $9,300,000
- Ed Orgeron, LSU — $8,918,500
- Dabo Swinney, Clemson — $8,319,775
- Jim Harbaugh, Michigan — $8,036,179
- Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M — $7,500,000
- Kirby Smart, Georgia — $6,933,600
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn* — $6,927,589
- Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma — $6,202,726
- Gary Patterson, TCU — $6,130,937
- Dan Mullen, Florida — $6,070,000
* = Malzahn was fired after the 2020 season ended.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“My time with coach (Nick) Saban was tremendous. He’s a great mentor of mine. He’s a tremendous coach. He’s a tremendous leader. Obviously, we’re different people, with different niches. He’s a defensive guy, I’m an offensive guy, and the idea is that, hopefully, we are going into the same living room back-to-back nights competing for the same players off the field. And then the goal is that at the end of the college football season, we are competing on the field in the Playoff because that’s the standard here. And I know that’s the standard at Alabama, and we should be going toe-to-toe on a daily basis with recruits, and we should be going toe-to-toe on the field every season.”
– New Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian discussed working under Nick Saban at Alabama and how he hopes to recruit against the Crimson Tide for the best players in the country on a yearly basis.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has been connected to many jobs over the past couple of offseasons as he continues to do great work with the Cyclones. However, it seems he’ll be staying put in Ames for a while longer after signing a contract extension this week!