5 juiciest storylines for Week 3, starting with Jim McElwain’s future in Gainesville

Have a lot to say, so I’m jumping right in …

1. Dan Mullen vs. Jim McElwain

Mississippi State isn’t playing Florida today, but if the Bulldogs upset LSU and the Gators stumble at home against Tennessee, it’ll be yet another example of how Dan Mullen has completely outcoached Jim McElwain and continues to do so.

This isn’t a one-game opinion.

This is a three-year tutorial in how to make Electric Lemonade out of lemons.

It’s a fact that Florida has produced more NFL Draft picks than Mullen has. From 2014-17, the Gators’ advantage is 27-10.

It’s a fact that Florida has signed higher-rated quarterbacks than Mullen has.

It’s a fact that Dak Prescott was a lightly-regarded recruit, a 3-star ranked No. 601 overall.

It’s a fact that Nick Fitzgerald was even less-heralded, a 3-star ranked No. 1,566 overall.

It’s also a fact that Mullen couldn’t have cared less about any of that. He molded and developed what he had and made it work. He took Prescott and the Bulldogs to No. 1. He lost his Tebow, inserted another first-time starter nobody else wanted and the offense barely skipped a beat. He did all of this in the West, no less.

Cheers, boys. Serve up another round.

Meanwhile, Florida is still talking about Tebow, despite the fact that Will Grier and Feleipe Franks were both higher-rated recruits than anybody Mullen has signed.

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

McElwain completely botched the Grier situation. Completely. Let’s not forget the fact he actually chose Treon Harris to start over Grier initially. And his stubbornness in not welcoming him back ultimately could cost him his job. But also know this. Even if McElwain would have welcomed Grier back, which he absolutely should have done, he might still be in this position this season because Grier would have been eligible for the NFL Draft after last season.

Had Grier returned from suspension, lit it up and challenged Alabama in Atlanta, there’s zero guarantee he’d still be in Gainesville.

Quarterbacks of Grier’s caliber arrive on campus with one goal: to shake Roger Goodell’s hand as soon as possible, not their college head coach’s on Senior Night.

Which means: Mac still would have a 2017 mess of his making on his hands, but at least he would have bought himself some good will from a far better offensive showing in 2016.

It’s pretty simple now: If McElwain has any designs on restoring fans’ dwindling faith, he sticks with Franks, starting today, and develops him with one goal in mind: beat Florida State on Nov. 25.

With all of the suspensions to key playmakers (tangent: Is anybody paying any attention to anybody on that team?), thoughts of beating Michigan and winning a third consecutive division title were wasted energy. Some are pointing to today’s Tennessee game as a breaking point. Perhaps, but even if the Gators lose, they still won’t finish worse than 4-4 in the SEC.

McElwain’s fate will be determined in the home finale.

If McElwain still can’t beat FSU in a year where the ‘Noles’ QB situation is more dire than his, he likely won’t get a fourth shot.

It’s all-too-telling that Mullen can turn Prescott, an unheralded 3-star, into an NFL star, lose him, and still be almost as effective on offense with an even less-heralded 3-star quarterback in Fitzgerald.

And yet Florida, with a 4-star, early-enrollee starter in Franks who was ranked ahead of Jalen Hurts and Jake Bentley, is still talking about its quarterback woes.

That’s coaching. Or a serious lack thereof.

They say Nick Saban is the coach-killer in this league, but if Florida jettisons McElwain, don’t blame Saban. Blame the offensive guru who has done so much more with so much less in Starkville.

Then think seriously about hiring him.

2. South Carolina: Time to shine

Soon after Steve Spurrier resigned in 2015, I began writing that he might have stayed had he pursued and landed Mason Rudolph.

Rudolph, from Rock Hill, continues to tear it up for Oklahoma State, but what’s been interesting in the Gamecocks’ resurgence is … they weren’t really that far away.

Recruiting slipped a bit, sure, but the primary culprit in 2015 was shaky quarterback play, something Rudolph would have resolved. He went for 3,770 yards and 21 TDs that season for OK State. That yardage would have broken Dylan Thompson’s Carolina record, set in 2014; the TD total would have been fourth.

Remember, Deebo Samuel, Hayden Hurst … they were on the 2015 team, too.

The Gamecocks’ 2016 midseason turnaround was tied directly to … quarterback play.

Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Now Jake Bentley is rolling, as are the pieces around him. Many of those pieces that were there when Spurrier left. He needed a QB to make it go. Will Muschamp has that now.

The Gamecocks have a huge opportunity tonight against Kentucky. At home, under the lights. I’ve been to a night game at Williams-Brice. It’s vastly underrated. It’ll be electric, just like that offense.

Kentucky also is 2-0, but the Gamecocks seem much more ready to pounce into the driver’s seat in the SEC East.

3. LSU vs. Mississippi State

You realize Dan Mullen has scored more points against the Tigers in the past three years than Alabama has?

It’s true: 73 to the Tide’s 60.

Last year, in Nick Fitzgerald’s third career start, LSU’s front four dictated the action and outcome. Fitzgerald ran for just 13 yards. There’s no chance that happens Saturday.

The key question — and it’s usually one asked every week — is whether Fitzgerald will be able to stretch the field often or well enough to keep the safeties from crashing. That’s not his strong suit. Ten SEC QBs have completed more passes of 30 or more yards than Fitzgerald has (1) this season.

LSU, with complete trust in its corners to win one-on-one matchups, will give him opportunities, though.

And we already know Mullen will give him a plan.

4. The Shea Show

Set the DVR. It’s a late start, 10:30 p.m. ET, at Cal, which just gave up 431 yards passing to Weber State.

That’s an intermediate out route below what Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson is averaging this season.

Last week Patterson threw for a career-high 489, becoming the first SEC QB since Johnny Manziel to top 400 yards in consecutive games.

Saturday night, Patterson will try to become the first SEC QB to make it three straight in this century.


5. Playoff chase

Week 3 features just two games pitting Top 25 vs. Top 25. Florida vs. Tennessee is one, and it has no bearing on the the Playoff race. There’s nothing either of those two could do to tweak our thoughts about the East.

No. 3 Clemson at No. 14 Louisville is the other, and it certainly does.

I was all in on Louisville last year. The Ville’s back-and-forth clash at Clemson was the game of the year, regardless of conference. But I also saw the collapse, including the beatdown LSU handed Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. That image is difficult to erase, and I wasn’t the one being hit repeatedly by Arden Key or run over by Derrius Guice.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The winner, obviously, controls its Playoff destiny. FSU poses no threat to either, and the ACC Coastal is about as scary as the SEC East.

Despite the paucity of attractive games, there are a few others that could influence our perception of each Power 5 conference.

No. 9 Oklahoma State, for instance, can’t afford to stumble at Pitt. Oklahoma re-established the Big 12’s credibility last week, blasting Ohio State in Columbus. The Cowboys need to extend that momentum. Penn State beat Pitt (granted, at home) by 19. Comparisons are part of the process.

Likewise, No. 18 Kansas State has an interesting date at Vanderbilt. The ‘Dores are off to a feel-good start, but it’s next to impossible to judge their progress based on the quality of their first two opponents. We’ll know a lot more about Kyle Shurmur’s development after Saturday night.

The Pac-12 doesn’t really have a signature win to date, but it doesn’t have any embarrassing losses, either. No. 4 Southern Cal thumping Texas on Saturday won’t move the needle much, but a loss would be disastrous to the league’s perception and Playoff chances.

Remember, the Playoff committee is looking for a reason to kick you out. Don’t give them one.

Source: Saturday Down South

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