As September closes out, we get a slate of four games involving the prominent state schools and all in conference play.
Noon- Florida vs. Vanderbilt ESPN
The Gators come off of dramatic last minute wins over Tennessee and Kentucky to get to 2-0 in SEC play. As we mentioned earlier in the week, Coach Jim McElwain is now 9-1 in SEC games decided by seven points or less. Meanwhile, Vandy scored an upset of Kansas State earlier this month, but comes off a humbling 59-0 destruction at the hands of Alabama last week. Needless to say, as our Josh Ciganek wrote, the Gators could be overlooking the ‘Doores this week, as LSU comes to Gainesville next week. Florida will go to veteran Luke Del Rio to start the game at QB, after he relieved Feleipe Franks in the second half at Lexington last week.
Noon- USF at East Carolina CBS Sports Network
The Bulls travel to Greenville, NC, for their first conference road game of the year. USF comes off back to back routs of Illinois and Temple at home. Our Olivia Stacey wrote earlier in the week that the Bulls 4-0 start could be a bit of a mirage because of suspect competition. She also previewed this game for us on video, as well. The Bulls are heavily favored again, against the 1-3 Pirates. Will USF QB Quinton Flowers have a breakout game yardage and TD wise? We have yet to see that even in the four wins. We have seen the Bulls run it with D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice quite effectively. Look for more of that today.
3:30 p.m.- Florida State at Wake Forest ABC
Let’s face it. The Noles need a good showing here. After the three week layoff from Hurricane Irma cancelling one game and postponing the other with Miami, FSU was not sharp and was beaten in the ACC opener in Tallahassee by N.C. State. This will be the second start for freshman James Blackman and as our Jamil King wrote this week, the Noles running game needs to help. Wake is already 4-0 including an impressive conference win at BC and blowing out Utah State at home, as well. Seminoles better be on alert for Deacons QB John Wolford who has accounted for 11 TD’s already this year.
And finally, 7 p.m.- UCF vs. Memphis ESPN 2
This is a makeup game from Hurricane Irma three weeks ago, and there are some hard feelings. This, after the game was moved up 24 hours from Saturday to Friday night with Irma approaching and then, the Knights let Memphis’ team and travel party fly to Orlando Thursday evening before telling them upon landing that the game had now been cancelled altogether.
Well, it’s back on. UCF is 2-0 fresh off a blowout win at Maryland last week and will rely heavily on QB McKenzie Milton to spark them. Memphis is 3-0 having upset UCLA at home and having won it’s other two games over UL-Monroe and Southern Illinois. In all three games QB Riley Ferguson has been great for the Tigers, but the Memphis defense has been suspect, too. Look for a lot of points to be scored in this one for sure.
Coaches and rosters finalized for East-West Shrine Bowl
The NFL and the newly-renamed East-West Shrine Bowl are finalizing not only their player rosters, but their coaching staffs for next Saturday’s game in St Petersburg, FL.
Late this week, the longest running college all-star game, the East West Shrine Bowl, named its head coaches, both of whom have ties to the Tampa Bay Area.
Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will coach one of the teams, while former Buccaneers and current Falcons tight end coach, Ben Steele will be in charge of the other.
Caldwell, who came to the Buccaneers in Bruce Arians’ first season has been in the NFL for a total of 11 years and had previously served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Todd Bowles for 4 seasons.
Steele, who has coached in the NFL for seven seasons reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in Atlanta after previously having been his tight end coach in Tampa Bay last year.
Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl, said in a statement about the coaching selections,
“We’re very excited to have Mike Caldwell and Ben Steele as head coaches for our East-West Shrine Bowl all-stars,” said Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Ben was a coordinator for our 2019 game and both coaches have ties to the Tampa/St. Pete area. They will lead two strong staffs of NFL assistant coaches that will be invaluable to our players as they begin their own journey to the NFL”
Meanwhile, the rosters do have some Florida flair, as several noteworthy names will be on the East team. That’s led by speedy UCF running back Adrian Killins, Gators wide receiver Freddie Swain and USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox. On the East defensive squad, FAU linebacker Rashad Smith, Miami linebacker Shaq quarterman and UCF defensive back Neville Clark are part of the roster.
This will be the 95th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl and it boasts 71 Pro Football Hall of Famers that have played in their game. And, they also had more than 300 players who were on an NFL roster for Week 1 last year that have played in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The game also announced that there will be four legendary mentors working with the players in practices later this week in St Pete. Those include: Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields, Super Bowl Champion defensive end Willie McGinest, as well as, long time safety Bobby Taylor and long time wide receiver Amani Toomer.
The game will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays and televised nationally on the NFL Network at 3 p.m., Eastern Time next Saturday.
New Year’s Day has prominent teams in Florida Bowls
As the new year begins, traditional college football bowl games will be taking place. And even though there are no Florida teams battling on New Year’s Day, there are two prominent bowl games in the state.
First, two of college football’s “Blue Bloods” play Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines will do battle in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Both programs come off of disappointing end to their regular-season, as they both lost to their rivals. Alabama dropping a wild 48 – 45 game in the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Michigan losing badly 56-27 to Ohio State and their finale at home.
The Tide are without All American caliber quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who suffered a fractured hip late in the year. However, Nick Saban has arguably the best wide receiving corps in all of college football to compensate for Tagovailoa’s absence.
Michigan has perennially under-achieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but would love nothing better than to score a head-to-head win against Bama in this one.
Meanwhile across I-4 in Tampa, the 25th playing of the Outback Bowl will take place and it’s a first-time matchup between the SEC Auburn Tigers and the big Ten’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Gophers were Darlings of the Big Ten late in the year that they got to 9 – 0 for only the second time in program history before faltering with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin which knock them out of the Big Ten championship game. Their coach P.J. Fleck is the Big Ten coach of the year and has done an amazing job of making Minnesota nationally relevant.
As for the Tigers, we mentioned the victory over Alabama which was particularly sweet for Coach Gus Malzahn, who has been under fire in recent years for not living up to success earlier in the 2010s. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of the former Auburn star Patrick Nix, leads a high-powered attack that will look to finish the season on a winning note. The Tigers lost their three biggest games of the year to Florida, LSU, and Georgia, but wins over Alabama and Minnesota will help.
The Gophers have had their most important season since they played in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and would love nothing better than to upset the Tigers in this one.