Now that we’ve reached the midpoint of the 2019 season, time to assess what we’ve observed so far.
But first, a quick water break. Seems only fitting
We never figured FSU’s hydration practices would prevail as an early-season story line. We also didn’t project Miami fans having to sweat through Central Michigan, and didn’t envision USF’s newfangled offense remaining parched for most of September.
This calls for replenishment, and reflection. Here’s a look at the good, bad and ugly of the season’s opening half, plus some quick thoughts on what happens next:
Yes, USF is No. 1
The Bulls recorded 13 more stops behind the line of scrimmage against BYU, and now lead the nation in that category (10.3 per game). They’ve recorded at least 10 in each of their last four contests. Linebackers Dwayne Boyles (8.5) and Patrick Macon (8) are pacing USF in this category.
Mullen’s QB magic
Losing a veteran starting quarterback like Feleipe Franks would be devastating for most teams. Not Florida. The Gators are No. 21 in the nation in passing efficiency (159.82) and haven’t dipped much since Franks fractured/dislocated his ankle at Kentucky. That’s a credit to Kyle Trask and Emory Jones, of course, but also to coach Dan Mullen, who deserves his reputation as a quarterback whisperer.
FSU baby steps
Willie Taggart’s Seminoles are scoring more (8.1 more points per game) and gaining more yards per play (from 5.1 to 5.7) in Year 2 than they did in Year 1. In advanced metrics, Florida State is up 13 spots from last year to No. 58. FSU fans rightfully have higher expectations than the Pinstripe Bowl, but there are signs of progress.
Miami’s defense, in some ways, is better than the 2017 unit that carried the Hurricanes to the Orange Bowl. UM is 25th in scoring defense (allowing 2 fewer points per game than ’17) and 17th in yards per play allowed (0.2 less better than ’17). The propensity for turnovers isn’t the same, nor is the record, but Manny Diaz is still coaching a premier defense.
The transfer portal
Even if you don’t like what it represents, the transfer portal has had an undeniable impact. Gators defensive end Jonathan Greenard (Louisville transfer) is playing at an All-America level. Three of USF’s top eight tacklers (Patrick Macon, Devin Studstill, KJ Sails) are portal acquisitions, and FSU might not be in position to make a bowl without former Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
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All of the O-lines
FSU, USF and Miami all rank in the bottom seven nationally in sacks allowed per game. The Hurricanes’ figure (4.67 per game) is on pace to be the worst by any Division I-A team in seven years. FSU and UM also rank in the bottom six in tackles for loss allowed per game, while the Gators’ leaky line is why Florida is averaging only 4.2 yards per carry (No. 78 in the country). Can’t anyone block in this state?
Despite a brawnier roster and heralded new offense, USF’s six-game skid to end 2018 ultimately stretched to eight. The Bulls (3-3) suffered a nationally televised 49-0 home humiliation against Wisconsin on opening night, and didn’t score their first touchdown until the season’s eighth quarter. During that stretch, the run game never materialized and the Bulls changed QBs. Since then, however, they appear to have rounded the learning curve of new coordinator Kerwin Bell’s offense. USF’s 27-23 win Saturday against BYU was its first against a Division I-A team not named Connecticut in nearly a calendar year.
Somewhere, Colley Matrix mourns
With losses at Pitt and Cincinnati, UCF is no longer the cream of the Group of Five crop. The Knights might not even win their own division this year. A dip was inevitable given the AAC’s parity, but there will be no mythical national championships. At least the Knights won the final edition of the Civil ConFLiCT.
Every Saturday’s flag day
USF’s annual blemish remains chronic as ever. The Bulls were penalized 11 times for 105 yards against BYU, and enter Saturday’s game at Navy as the American Athletic Conference’s third-most penalized team (81.5 yards per game). Navy, by contrast, is the least-penalized (44.2)
No, the Florida-Miami opener in Orlando didn’t really set college football back 150 years, as pundits joked afterward. But only Rutgers and Princeton could have loved a game where the teams combined for 11 sacks and five turnovers while finishing 4-of-23 on third down. Now let us never speak of this game again.
Miami in the clutch
Yes, the Hurricanes have one-score wins over Virginia and Central Michigan (which should never have been that close), but their three losses were by a combined 14 points. The ’Canes were driving late with a chance to beat Florida but couldn’t, despite the Gators gifting them multiple opportunities. They let North Carolina convert on fourth and 17 and missed a field goal in the closing seconds, and even a bonus play couldn’t help them top Virginia Tech.
Fourth quarter fails
FSU’s season-opening collapse to Boise State was apparently just the beginning. Opponents have outscored FSU 116-73 in the second half, and only seven teams in the nation are allowing more fourth-quarter points than the Seminoles, who choked away second-half leads in their first four games (but held on to beat Louisiana Monroe and Louisville). Maybe it is something in the water after all?
Despite a resurgence the last two weeks, USF’s bowl hopes remain imperiled by its wretched 1-3 start. Even if the Bulls win their final two games in October (trips to Navy and East Carolina), they’d have to pick off one of their final three home opponents (Temple, Memphis, Cincinnati) or win at UCF on Black Friday. Could fans be in for a sequel to the season-ending skid of ‘18?
With trips to 5-1 Temple and 5-1 Tulane looming, we wouldn’t be shocked to see UCF drop a third game before hosting the Bulls. Could the Knights actually be the darlings of the Cure Bowl instead of the Colley Matrix this winter?
The Seminoles will almost certainly restart their bowl streak, and an 8-4 finish in a weak ACC isn’t out of the question. But 7-5 seems more likely, with FSU losing at UF and dropping one of the coin-flip games at Wake Forest this weekend or against Miami next month.
Prediction sure to go wrong: Despite an 0-2 ACC start, Miami is in contention to win the Coastal Division in the final weekend of the season.
Another prediction sure to go wrong: The Gators finish the regular season 10-2 to go to the Citrus Bowl. UF, thankfully, avoids another matchup with Michigan but crushes a Big Ten team to finish just outside the top five.