Takeaway Thursday: Policies, perception and playoffs

With FSU’s last two games against Virginia and Clemson having been postponed there hasn’t been much to take away on the football field of late when it comes to Seminole football. However, it has been a busy week off the field in regards to the addition of games against Duke at home on Dec. 12 and at Wake Forest on Dec. 19.

There have also been a number of players opt-out for the remainder of the 2020 season since FSU’s last game against NC State. And of course the ACC has changed its Covid-19 protocols to help ensure there are no more day-of-game postponements or cancellations. The last test of the week will now take place on Thursday to ensure teams are traveling to a game on Friday that will actually be played.

Of course, there was plenty of football played outside of Tallahassee the last two weeks while the off-the-field drama continued to surround FSU’s football program. All of these things have given us some things to think about and here are some of my observations from the last week and a half.

  1. Florida State coach Mike Norvell said on his Monday coach’s show that he was not made aware of the positive test on his team until 11:30 p.m. the night before the Virginia game. I think it is absolutely ridiculous the ACC’s testing protocols led this to happen. Whether the responsibility for these testing protocols lies with the administrators at the conference level or on the university level someone should have seen this coming a mile away. A conference official, a university official, a medical advisor from either level or even a head coach. Teams never should have been allowed to travel prior to knowing about their own test results and those of their opponent. Playing football this season was always going to be a challenge but this was a huge oversight by men and women who are paid handsomely to consider these kinds of things. And it has come at the expense of FSU’s and Mike Norvell’s reputations. There were bound to be things that would need to be changed as we learned more about Covid-19 but it is hard for me to believe that no one said at some point before or during the season, “Wait, what happens if we don’t get the test results back before a team travels?” On Monday, nine weeks into the season, the ACC finally changed its thinking and modified its protocol — now testing on Thursday rather than Friday afternoon — so the results will be known before teams board planes.
  2. The original protocol led some of the most powerful voices in college football to insinuate FSU and other teams (some called out by name) were ducking opponents. One of those guys was ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who was about as unprofessional as it gets on his network’s college football rankings show. While he didn’t mention FSU by name, all you had to do was follow the bread crumbs. He has sons who play for Clemson and you didn’t have to be Einstein (and I am not) to figure out he agrees with Dr. Dabo that the Seminoles were ducking the Tigers. He went one step further and blatantly accused Michigan of planning to cancel its upcoming game against rival Ohio State, which happens to be his alma mater. Like it or not Herbstreit’s voice has significant impact on how teams are perceived, correctly or not, and his personal football politics got in the way of his professionalism. I think his apology was insincere at best, saying he misspoke, and he has earned the right to sit this next college football weekend out. It won’t happen, but his insinuations and accusations lacked proof and he should be reprimanded.
  3. Because of the flaw in the ACC protocols, and the perception created by people like Herbstreit and Dabo about FSU’s desire to play, I think it was vitally important the Seminoles were able to schedule two December games (not to mention FSU’s budgetary need to play these games). I have had several conversations over the last several days (prior to the announcement of the Duke and Wake games) from some of the most loyal Seminoles I know, who said in some form or fashion, they thought Norvell and FSU didn’t want to play. And that line of thinking from those individuals concerned me greatly. Now those concerns can be tossed aside as FSU’s storied football program continues on with its 2020 season as disappointing as it might be.
  4. We as fans, and/or members of the media, like to think we have the pulse on what is going on with our favorite teams and sports. And the more doubt I heard in the voices of my Seminole friends about FSU’s desire, or lack thereof, to play out the season in its totality the more I felt the need to get the pulse of the people actually in the “know,” college coaches from across the southeast. Coaches are a tight-knit group and as busy as they are in-season, they also do take time to communicate with their brethren on other coaching staffs. Here are what two of the half dozen or so coaches I talked to had to say about the ACC testing protocol and whether or not FSU was ducking Clemson and Virginia.

A former FBS head coach said: “ACC protocols requiring third-party testing, apparently due to schools not trusting each other, led to unintended consequences, teams traveling not knowing the results. This does not have to occur and it should not happen. Other conferences, even those outside the Power 5, test on Fridays and wait to leave after the results are released because they can process their own tests. This is too easy to get right, even among the paranoid that would believe other schools would not be honest and don’t trust each other.”

A current FBS assistant said: “I don’t think Mike and those guys are trying to duck anybody. This is a throw away year … I think they are trying to play as much as they can. I can’t see that, college coaches aren’t wired that way. I just have a hard time believing that is the case.”

5. Now to circle back to Ohio State and the Big Ten. They will likely get an undefeated Buckeyes’ team (currently 4-0) in the college football playoff but I don’t think that should happen. Whomever represents the ACC and SEC in the playoff will have played anywhere from 10-12 games depending on how the next several weeks play out. No team in the Big Ten including Ohio State has proven to me that they could go undefeated if they had chosen to play as many games as the ACC and SEC have chosen to play. They had to hang to beat a very solid Indiana (5-1 currently) by a touchdown. Who is to say if the Buckeyes had drawn Iowa (4-2), Wisconsin (2-1), Minnesota (2-3) and others in a 10-game regular season that they would have beaten all of them? I certainly can’t and for that reason I don’t think they should get in over a one-loss Texas A&M (currently 6-1) team or a one-loss Alabama team (currently 8-0) if Florida (currently 7-1) was to beat the Tide in the SEC Championship game. Still lots of football to be played so the variables will change but that is where I am on the the Big Ten right now.

6. It’s been a busy week and a half of opt-outs with the news of RB La’Damian Webb and LB/S Jaiden Lars-Woodbey. I think it is a very good thing that Webb has made his intentions to return to the field at FSU in the spring for two reasons. First, he is the best running back on the roster right now. Second, if he had left the program after six months it would have added to the off-field drama and questions about players buying in to Norvell’s program. Lars-Woodbey was an unselfish player for FSU and is a credit to this university, but after lining up at four different positions in his last two seasons as a Seminole, and not being able to ultimately settle into one spot, a fresh start may be just what he needs. He will leave FSU with a degree and will be an outstanding representative of his alma mater. We wish him the best wherever he lands to finish his playing career and I think he will be very successful in the game of life.

7. Osceola football analyst Mark Salva and I taped a podcast with former FSU quarterback Danny McManus on Wednesday and we had a blast and I think you will want to check it out. It was fun to listen to the two former teammates talk and we could have easily gone several hours talking to Danny but we covered a lot of ground in one hour with the FSU and CFL Hall of Famer.

8. Eleven ACC teams are in action this weekend and I think I will take UNC over Western Carolina, Notre Dame over Syracuse, Boston College over Virginia, NC State over Georgia Tech, Clemson over Virginia Tech and Miami over Duke.

9. Florida head coach Dan Mullen ripped his defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on Saturday after the Gators gave up a field goal in the second quarter to Kentucky, which gave it the last of the 10 points it would score in the game. Now Grantham is a very demonstrative guy on the sidelines and I have seen him rip players and assistant coaches the same way over his career. So maybe it’s karma but the camera focused on both men during the exchange and it was awkward. You hear all kinds of things on the sidelines and on the head phones during a game but Mullen continues to embarrass himself and his program on a regular basis this season. And as bad as the Gator defense has been at times this year, the irony is that a fumble by the offense late in the game in a loss to Texas A&M will likely keep them out of the college football playoff if they lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

10. I think it might be time to check in to see how other first-year head coaches are doing this season, where the struggle seems to be very real and because, you know, misery loves company. Jeff Scott is 1-8 at USF, Dave Aranda is 2-5 at Baylor, Mel Tucker is 2-3 at Michigan State, Greg Schiano is 2-4 at Rutgers, Sam Pittman is 3-5 at Arkansas and Mississippi State is 2-6 under Mike Leach. The only outliers in the Power 5 conferences for first-year head coaches who were hired to replace a fired coach are Lane Kiffin, who is 4-4 at Ole Miss, Eli Drinkwitz is 4-3 at Missouri and Jeff Hafley is 6-4 at Boston College. Just in case any of you are keeping track at home.

11. The Florida High School Football State Championship games will be held in Tallahassee at Doak Campbell Stadium from Dec. 16-19 with two games played each day. If you enjoy high school football, live close enough to Tallahassee and capacity allows for it, I would suggest you attend a game or two. The atmosphere at these games is very enjoyable and while most of the kids playing will be putting on a football uniform for the last time there will be some that we will be watching on Saturdays over the next four or five years.

12. I am not getting any younger and time only seems to move faster with each passing day but it seems like it has been a year since FSU last played a football game and I am looking forward to the last two games. But I think there is a part of me that is ready to close the book on all things 2020 and move on to 2021. But none of us will ever forget the year 2020 or the 2020 FSU football season. It has provided us with a lot to talk and think about this season and I am thankful we still have two more weeks to go. Fingers crossed.

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