BOZICH | Monday Muse: Kentucky still gets to 8-4; Jackson & Alexander NFL Draft outlook
Kentucky can still finish 8-4. NFL Mock Draft features Lamar Jackson and Jaire Alexander in first round. Breakout hoops candidates at U of L, UK and IU.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two weeks ago Louisville was the place to be in college football. Last Saturday it was Kroger Field for the Florida game that Kentucky should still be celebrating, not lamenting.
This week, Indiana gets its shot at glory. But the Hoosiers are booked for Penn State, a program they have defeated once in 20 tries.
Maybe this is a good time to play the Nittany Lions, a potential trap game after Penn State won at Iowa in the final seconds Saturday. But Indiana has never won at Happy Valley. The Hoosiers are dealing with injuries. Penn State is chasing a spot in the national playoff.
Better to be playing Murray State or Eastern Michigan. On to the Monday Muse.
1. Florida 28, Kentucky 27
I picked Kentucky to finish 8-4 this season. I predicted the Wildcats to topple Florida last Saturday.
I stand by the 8-4. Yes, I do. The next two, Eastern Michigan and Missouri, are gimmes. That's five. Beat two of these three (Ole Miss, Tennessee, Louisville) at home. Win at Vandy.
I still have not heard an acceptable explanation for why the Wildcats did not beat the Gators by double figures. Never mind the final minute. I said double figures because Kentucky was double figures better than Florida Saturday night.
There is no reasonable explanation why a team with a head coach with strong defensive credentials, a defensive coordinator, a defensive backs coach, an outside linebackers coach, a defensive line coach, two graduate assistants who focus on defense and a cast of thousand more on the sidelines gives up not one, but two touchdowns to Florida receivers that were completely uncovered.
Repeat: There is no reasonable explanation.
The challenge for Stoops is to make certain that one horrible, terrible, no-good loss does not translate into two or three defeats that undermine the arc of Kentucky's season.
The schedule is Kentucky's friend. Eastern Michigan and Missouri are the two most winnable games remaining. The Wildcats are favored by 14 against EMU. Jeff Sagarin's computer power ratings have Kentucky about 17 points better than sagging Missouri. Get to 5-1, although it will require a win over Ole Miss or Tennessee to get some of the grumblers back on board.
Oh, and make sure to keep 11 guys on the field.
2. Jackson & Alexander First-Round Profiles
Jaire Alexander has not played a snap for Louisville since his crafty attempt to run with a blocked punt backfired into a knee injury. Lamar Jackson completed only 50 percent of his throws against Clemson and committed three turnovers against Kent State.
Where do Bobby Petrino's top two players sit in the land of 2018 NFL Mock Drafts?
Still in the first round, according to this projection from FanSided.com? (The link.)
Yes. Jackson is pegged at No. 27, three spots after Alexander.
Both players are juniors. They can invest another season in college football, but few guys who are certain they'll be taken in the first round risk another year of injury at the college level.
Jackson has been the better college player, but Alexander certainly appears to be the better NFL prospect. Pro scouts are split on Jackson's ability to transition to an accurate pocket passer. Alexander can contribute in man-to-man coverage and on special teams.
There will by 1,000,001 more mock drafts before NFL teams start calling names next spring. But Jackson and Alexander are in the conversation.
3. Too Soon to Write Off Florida State
Be careful writing off Jimbo Fisher's Florida State football team after the Seminoles slipped to 0-2 and out of the Associated Press Top 25 for first time since 2011 following their home loss to N.C. State Saturday.
The Seminoles were forced to play a true freshman quarterback after losing Deondre Francois to a knee injury against Alabama. I can name 128 other programs that would have lost that season opener to the Crimson Tide and another 100 that would have stumbled against the Wolfpack after enduring two idle Saturdays in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Remember last season: The Seminoles looked good, but hardly great, while winning their season opener against Ole Miss. They were blitzed by Louisville. They stumbled at home against North Carolina.
Then Fisher's team finished 10-3, outlasting Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
Before you bury the Seminoles, remember this is how Scout.com ranked the Seminoles last five football recruiting classes:
2017 -- Sixth, with three 5-star prospects and 10 4-stars.
2016 -- Third, with three 5-stars and 13 4-stars.
2015 -- Third, with three 5-stars and 10 4-stars.
2014 -- Fourth, with two 5-stars and 16 4-stars.
2013 -- Eleventh, with 1 5-star and 10 4-stars.
Florida State has issues. But Florida State has players.
4. Conference Rankings
The spotlight has moved to conference play. But, first, one more look at how the Power Five leagues have performed in games against other Power Five conferences and Notre Dame. I'll make this the final snapshot.
1. Pac-12 (0-0 last week, 6-2 overall) -- Washington State remained unbeaten but Gilbert Corsey is the only person I know excited by a 45-7 victory over Nevada. With four teams ranked in the Top 20, the Pac-12 is extremely live in the playoff discussion.
2. SEC (1-0, 6-7) -- Better not to mention Tennessee's struggle with UMass or South Carolina rallying to defeat Louisiana Tech by a point. This league is on a collision course of Alabama vs. Georgia.
3. Big Ten (0-1, 7-6) -- Bad loss by Michigan State against Notre Dame. Worse loss by Maryland against Central Florida. Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin are parked in the Top 11.
4. Big 12 (0-0, 4-6) -- That unexpected Oklahoma State burp against TCU means the Horned Frogs and Oklahoma are the league's only playoff hopes.
5. ACC (0-1, 5-9) -- Syracuse made LSU sweat longer than anybody in Baton Rouge thought was tolerable. Virginia looked better blasting Boise State, but Virginia also lost at home to Indiana by 17. Clemson is king until somebody convinces me otherwise.
5. The Most Surprising Unbeatens
Clemson has become the Go-To team for ESPN's College GameDay. The Tigers were the backdrop when Lee Corso and friends visited Louisville and they'll serve in that role again Saturday when Clemson visits unbeaten Virginia Tech.
Clemson and Virginia Tech are both unbeaten but that's no reason for a text alert.
This is reason for a text alert: Duke and Wake Forest are also unbeaten. Each has won its first four.
How many times has that happened?
It's never happened.
It wasn't supposed to happen this season. College football guru Phil Steele had the Demon Deacons slotted to finish sixth in the ACC Atlantic and Duke sixth in the ACC Coastal.
Critical disclaimer: Neither team has a Top 25 win. Wake was favored in three of its four victories but beat Boston College by 24 in a game that was considered a tossup. That will have to serve as Wake's signature win.
Duke has more fiber in its record. The Blue Devils scored as underdogs against Northwestern and North Carolina. The ACC has learned to expect this from David Cutcliffe's teams.
Can Wake and Duke make it to 5-0?
Vegas said the fun stops here. Duke is a 5-point home underdog against Miami Friday night while Wake is getting 7 ½ points at home about winless Florida State.
6. Everybody Loves Barkley
Remember when everybody in America was writing about Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson last season in the aftermath of Jackson's dazzling performances against Syracuse and Florida State?
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is That Guy this season. Type "Saquon Barkley, Heisman" into your favorite search engine and you'll get results from Sports Illustrated, 247Sports, The Sporting News, the Chicago Tribune, Deadspin and beyond. (One example.)
Barkley bashed his way to the front by rolling to 211 yards against Iowa as the Nittany Lions moved to 4-0 as they await a visit from Indiana Saturday. Yes, he's only 11th in the nation in rushing but Penn State is a national playoff contender and Barkley has looked the part of a guy who can get the tough yards or bust through any crease, while averaging nearly 7.9 yards per carry.
With USC quarterback Sam Darnold throwing seven interceptions, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield carrying on like a 12-year-old and Jackson enduring an off game against Clemson, Barkley is That Guy this season.
7. Who's Breaking Out in College Hoops?
You hear the chatter before every season.
Wayne Blackshear had a phenomenal summer. He's looking like a McDonald's all-American again. Joe Crawford has been killing people in open gym. Nobody can guard him. Will Sheehey has fixed his shooting stroke. He'll average 15 points per game for Indiana.
Here we go again. Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com has worked his college basketball connections and shared his list of the 20 players most likely to deliver breakout seasons. (The link.)
Players from Kentucky, Louisville and Indiana are represented.
In fact, Wenyen Gabriel of Kentucky is the first player that Rothstein praised. He is followed by Ray Spalding of Louisville and Juwan Morgan of Indiana.
As the only returning Wildcat with legitimate experience, Gabriel is the sensible choice. But I've got alternate picks for the Cardinals and Hoosiers.
For Louisville, give me V.J. King, who will make a major jump as he gets consistent minutes from Rick Pitino. Spalding is a better rebounder and defender, but King has the skills to get points in bunches.
At Indiana, I'll take De'Ron Davis. He's got tremendous hands. His post moves are solid. He's an excellent finisher. What Davis lacked last season was conditioning and the ability to avoid foul trouble. He's in shape. With Thomas Bryant gone, Davis is poised to average 25-30 minutes a game. If he can stay on the floor that long, Davis should average 10-to-12 points per game.
8. DeAngelo Russell: The Face of New York, New York
DeAngelo Russell needed a reset. The Brooklyn Nets have provided one. Now Russell has a chance to become the face of the NBA in the New York market. Let's see if he can take advantage to an opportunity that became grander after the New York Knicks shipped Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City.
Russell, a Louisville native who played one season at Central High School, can become the guy who makes the Nets relevant after a 20-win season.
Russell was shipped to New York by the Lakers after Magic Johnson saw enough during a 26-win slumber last April. Russell had that immature moment with Nick Young. He fussed with former Lakers coach Byron Scott. Johnson, the ultimate Lakers' leader, said the team needed a leader -- and then shipped his point guard to Brooklyn.
Russell is a bright, energetic, talented player. This is his chance to become a star in America's biggest market. With the Knicks trading Anthony, the Nets might win more games this winter.
It's a great reset for Russell. He is 21. In simpler times Russell would be starting his senior season at Ohio State.
Here's hoping Russell takes advantage.
9. Nobody Beats Benetti
If you're looking for the next star in the TV play-by-play business, here is my nominee:
Jason Benetti of the Chicago White Sox and ESPN.
Some guys are comfortable with the faster pace of football. Others excel with the story telling and banter a three-hour baseball game demands. The challenge of football demands memorizing longer rosters while identifying tacklers and understanding strategy.
Benetti is a triple-threat. He excels at all three sports -- and has a work ethic that will make you feel like a slacker.
Consider this: From 8 p.m. (EDT) Friday through 5 p.m. Sunday, Benetti worked four games in 45 hours -- three Royals-White Sox games in Chicago and the N.C. State-Florida State game in Tallahassee.
He left the South Side of Chicago late Friday night, flew a private plane to Tallahassee, slept for several hours, reported to FSU to call the Wolfpack's upset, flew back to Chicago and returned to call most of the Royals-White Sox game Saturday night. Benetti was at the park Sunday morning, eager to call nine more innings.
Benetti, 34, has beaten cerebral palsy. Jet lag had no chance of stopping him.
10. Poll Results
What's the Number One Fix the University of Louisville football team must make?
Improved pass defense 74.2 percent
Stronger commitment to running game 25.8 percent
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