Saturday Football: Nick Saban vs. Lane Kiffin, the Florida Kyles and a Miami-Clemson preview
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! It’s time to start looking ahead to this weekend’s slate of games across the country. We’ve got a big matchup in the ACC between No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami that we’ll preview today, but that’s far from the only important game. We even have some Thursday football this week, as Houston (possibly, hopefully) gets to take the field for the first time this season against Tulane.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll also discuss the Florida Gators and their two superstars named Kyle (Trask and Pitts). Then, we’ll dive into the back-and-forths already taking place between Alabama and Ole Miss as Nick Saban prepares to face off against his former assistant, Lane Kiffin. Let’s get started!
KYLE TO KYLE
Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts are the most lethal connection in college football. How far can they take the Gators?
The Florida Gators haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver in a long time. They also haven’t had a player catch 10 touchdown passes in a single season in a while. (That’s what we in the business call a tease, as that’s going to be the subject of today’s quiz. Scroll down for that.) However, this year, QB Kyle Trask and TE Kyle Pitts have formed an exciting Kyle-to-Kyle connection. Through two games, Pitts has 227 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. He might have 10 touchdown receptions by the end of Florida’s Week 3 matchup against Texas A&M at this rate!
Both Trask and Pitts are firmly in the Heisman race at this point, but they’d likely both tell you that team success is far more important. So, what’s being said about this dynamic duo? And, how far can they take the Gators? Let’s discuss:
- The two Kyles are both very much in the mix for the Heisman. Though Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence still looms large as the frontrunner, ESPN’s Heisman Watch has Trask at No. 2 and Pitts at No. 5 as of right now. Meanwhile, Saturday Down South’s Neil Blackmon has both Kyles in the top 3 of his rankings of best players in the SEC thus far. Trask is also rocketing up Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board for the 2021 NFL Draft.
- Yes, Florida’s offense has been awesome, but is it enough? There have been holes on the defense thus far. Yes, the offense has scored 89 points, but the defense has allowed 59. That’s the most points the Florida defense has allowed in the first two games of a season since 1965. However, coach Dan Mullen has a couple of explanations for that. First, he said the offense didn’t put the defense in great positions late against South Carolina, going three-and-out twice in the fourth quarter. He added that the Gators seemed to be going through the motions after building a big lead. So, he wants Trask and Pitts to play harder all game? That’s great for their potential Heisman cases!
- It’s not just Trask and Pitts doing everything offensively, though. Trask has also formed strong connections with Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes and others. And, his stable of talented receivers just got bigger on Monday. That’s because Texas transfer Jordan Pouncey seemed to reveal on social media that he had been cleared to play right away by the NCAA.
ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives Florida a 70.6% chance to win at Texas A&M on Saturday. In fact, FPI has Florida projected to win all but one game this season (a 33.3% chance to win in Jacksonville against Georgia). If the Gators are going to win the SEC East and compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, Trask and Pitts are going to need to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Whenever they step on the field together, they’re must-see TV.
TOP 2021 RECRUITING CLASSES
We are now a week into October, and both high school and college football have started up around the country in most places. Yes, we’re still waiting for the Big Ten, Pac-12 and others to join the party, but for now, there’s football being played across the country on Fridays and Saturdays (and Sundays with the NFL).
So, as players in the 2021 recruiting class go through their final high school seasons, which college programs are putting together the best groups of commits? Here’s a look at the current top 10 recruiting classes in the 2021 cycle (via the 247Sports composite rankings):
- Alabama — 21 players, 4 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- Ohio State — 20 players, 4 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- Oregon — 21 players, 1 5-star, 14 4-stars
- LSU — 18 players, 0 5-stars, 14 4-stars
- Clemson — 17 players, 1 5-star, 14 4-stars
- Tennessee — 25 players, 1 5-star, 11 4-stars
- Florida — 24 players, 0 5-stars, 13 4-stars
- Miami — 20 players, 0 5-stars, 14 4-stars
- Notre Dame — 19 players, 0 5-stars, 10 4-stars
- Miami — 22 players, 2 5-stars, 10 4-stars
The NCAA recruiting dead period is in effect through at least Jan. 1, so players can’t take official visits. For now, though, this is a good look at where things stand on the recruiting trails. Who will have a big month of October and climb in the rankings? Check back in November to find out!
- The SEC is fresh off an interesting, exciting weekend of football. From Arkansas snapping a 20-game SEC losing streak to Georgia dominating Auburn, there was plenty to break down. Saturday Down South’s Matt Hinton writes that Mississippi State has already gotten the full Mike Leach experience. He also hands out some weekly superlatives in his in-depth Monday Down South column.
- Since some conferences haven’t started, there are many undefeated teams. The Big Ten and Pac-12 will resume play soon, as will the Mountain West and MAC (though the MAC has yet to release its schedule). Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller predicts when each undefeated team will lose its first game.
- John Chavis coached in the SEC from 1989 to 2019 at various schools. His defensive schemes helped lead the Tennessee Volunteers to the 1998 national title and the LSU Tigers to the 2011 SEC championship. Now, he’s coaching middle school football. ESPN’s Chris Low profiled the former SEC assistant and how much fun he’s having in his interesting new career path.
- Is Jimbo Fisher’s seat heating up at Texas A&M this year? After two lackluster efforts to start the season, Fisher faces an important game against Florida this weekend. In his weekly “First and 10” column, Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes breaks down why Fisher needs a big win against the Gators. He also ranks all 14 SEC squads.
NICK SABAN VS. LANE KIFFIN
The war of words has started between Ole Miss and Alabama. Can Lane Kiffin upset Nick Saban’s Tide?
This Saturday, No. 2 Alabama hits the road to take on Ole Miss. Yes, the same Ole Miss that is coached by Nick Saban’s former assistant, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin and Saban won the 2016 national championship together with Kiffin as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator. However, the following year, Kiffin was relieved of his duties prior to the national championship game against Clemson after accepting the Florida Atlantic head coaching position the prior month.
Kiffin often has lots of praise for Saban and the Crimson Tide, but he also isn’t afraid to take playful jabs at his former boss. So, since this marks the first meeting between the two since their time together in Tuscaloosa, it should be a lot of fun. Here are just a few storylines to get you ready for Saturday:
- First, let’s take a look at the backstory between Kiffin and Saban. From having the Alabama team bus leave without Kiffin on multiple occasions to trolling on Twitter to multiple “rat poison” references, ESPN’s Alex Scarborough breaks down all the drama between Saban and Kiffin over the years.
- Kiffin faces a tough task in taking down Saban and the Crimson Tide. The first-year Ole Miss coach is well aware that Saban is 20-0 against his former assistants, including last week’s rout of Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M. “If you (think) working for him gives you an advantage (against him), you’re not a very good gambler because 20-0 is a pretty strong record,” Kiffin said. Kiffin also had something to say about Alabama not having any opt-outs this year. “Guys around the country opting out but none are Alabama guys,” he said. “Coach must have had a great plan.” And there are more media sessions to come this week! Kiffin certainly keeps things interesting.
- So far, Nick Saban has stayed out of the talking, as usual. Instead, he’s offered praise to star Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, who is putting together a heck of a season thus far. In two games this year, he’s thrown for 715 yards, 7 touchdowns and only 1 interception. “He hurts people with his feet and extends plays, he makes a lot of explosive plays, very accurate with the ball, does a great job of executing their offense, you know, with the RPOs and the reads that he makes,” Saban said.
Alabama and Ole Miss kick off in Oxford at 6 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday night on ESPN. Will Kiffin make history and pull off the upset against the Crimson Tide? Or, will Saban leave Oxford with a 21-0 record against ex-assistants? We’ll find out soon enough, but we can probably expect more subtle jabs from Kiffin in the days leading up to the game.
JUST FOR FUN
As we mentioned in the first section of today’s newsletter, the Florida Gators haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver or a player with 10 touchdown grabs in quite some time. Even the most hardcore Gator fans might not recall who the last 10-touchdown receiver or 1,000-yard guy was. So, for today’s quiz, can you name Florida’s last 1,000-yard receiver and its last receiver with 10 touchdown catches? (Hint: They’re different players.) Bonus points if you can name the years, as well.
Scroll down to see the answers to today’s quiz.
Upsets have been the talk of the 2020 season. Does No. 7 Miami have what it takes to stun No. 1 Clemson?
When it’s all said and done, the 2020 season could be labeled as “The Year of the Upset.” We’re only a few weeks into the year and we’ve already seen an incredible number of highly-ranked teams fall. But if there’s been one constant in this still-young season, it’s that Clemson has looked every bit as good as anticipated.
The Tigers are about to face one of their toughest tests of the season, though. On Saturday, the seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes roll into South Carolina, hoping to prove they’re a worthy contender for the ACC title and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff. Both teams enter the game with perfect 3-0 records and College GameDay is rolling into town for pregame coverage. All eyes will be on Miami and Clemson this weekend:
- Miami gets a real chance to prove it’s “back.” As good as Miami has been in wins over UAB, Louisville and Florida State, there’s still something left for this program — and head coach Manny Diaz — to prove. As complimentary as Kirk Herbstreit has been about the Hurricanes so far this season, the ESPN analyst says Saturday will be an opportunity for QB D’Eriq King and OC Rhett Lashlee to show the world the Hurricanes aren’t the beneficiaries of a down year in the ACC. It’s also a chance to really swing the College Football Playoff conversation in an entirely new direction.
- Lashlee didn’t shy away from some comments about Clemson’s defense. The Miami offensive coordinator was very complimentary of the job Brent Venables has done during his time with the Tigers, calling him “the best defensive coordinator in college football the last five years.” But Lashlee also added a little fuel to the fire, saying Clemson is known for stealing signals. He acknowledged that Dabo Swinney’s bunch isn’t the only team that does it, but it’s something the Hurricanes must be aware of on Saturday night.
- Dabo Swinney is also tipping his cap to the ‘Canes. That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as the two-time national champion shares some level of concern about every opponent on the schedule. But Swinney said this weekend’s game against Miami will be the “stiffest test” Clemson has had to date. That’s really not saying much, as the Tigers have defeated Wake Forest, The Citadel and Virginia by at least three scores.
- But at least the QB battle will be (somewhat) fair. One of the biggest issues facing Miami in the past has been the lack of a playmaker under center. That’s not the case any longer. In three games, King has thrown for 736 yards, rushed for 157 more and accounted for 7 total touchdowns with no interceptions. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the Heisman Trophy favorite, is off to a strong start this season, as well. In his first three contests in 2020, Lawrence has 848 passing yards with 7 touchdown tosses and 3 rushing scores to his name. This game could not only have ACC and College Football Playoff implications, but have an impact on the Heisman Trophy race, as well. Currently, ESPN’s Heisman Watch has Lawrence at No. 1, with King close behind at No. 4.
Recent history has not been kind to Miami in this head-to-head series. In the last two matchups (2015, 2017), Clemson has outscored Miami 96-3. The last victory for the Hurricanes came in 2010. If 2020 has taught us anything, though, it’s to expect the unexpected.
The last time the Florida Gators had a player with 10 touchdown catches was back in 2006, when Dallas Baker had exactly 10. The Gators’ last 1,000-yard receiver? That would be Taylor Jacobs, who had 1,088 yards back in 2002. Kyle Pitts seems to be almost a lock to get to 10 touchdowns. Can he get to 1,000 yards, too?
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I think we’re making tons of progress. A lot of players that are making contributions are very young football players.”
– Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher drew some heat on social media for comments about the Aggies making progress. So far this year, A&M squeaked by Vanderbilt and got blown out by Alabama. Yes, the Aggies are young, but fans don’t necessarily agree with Fisher’s “tons of progress” assessment.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Georgia OL Ben Cleveland is one of the SEC’s top linemen. He also has a great nickname in “Big Country.” As Rusty Mansell of 247Sports explains in the above tweet, there’s a crazy story behind that nickname. Taking matters into his own hands!