PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
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Raines quarterback Ty'ren Randolph threw two touchdowns to lead the Vikings to victory in the 54th Northwest Classic. Raines dominated its rival Ribault in the 54th Northwest Classic on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. The Vikings lead the all-time series 40-14. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

SPORTS | November reflections on Jags, college and high school football

Published on November 5, 2023 at 8:59 pm
Jacksonville Today seeks to include a diverse set of perspectives that add context or unique insight to the news of the day. Regular opinion columnists are independent contractors who are not involved in news decisions. Want to submit your own column on a matter of public interest? Email pitches to jessica@jaxtoday.org.

The month of November is an important one for football fans. The NFL season has made the turn at the halfway point and it has become clear who the contenders are. In college football, the national championship race has taken shape, as has the battle for the Heisman Trophy. And in high school football, the playoffs arrive.

Here’s what fans at all levels in Jacksonville have learned this season so far.

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The Jaguars are a flawed team, but they have a way about them. They’ve found ways to win while not playing their best. Some of the credit must go to the once-maligned general manager Trent Baalke. So many of the players Baalke brought to town via free agency or the draft are contributing in a big way —and it’s not just the big-name players.

Cornerback Darious Williams is playing his best football. Linebacker Foye Oluokun could lead the league in tackles for the third straight season. Tight end Evan Engram continues to be a major contributor on offense. Plus, kicker Brandon McManus looks unflappable. It’s been a good run for Baalke, who once sat in the stadium as fans donned clown wigs and red noses to show their disdain for the direction of the franchise.

No more.

Now we’ll see what the Jaguars are really made of. In their final nine regular season games, Jacksonville will face three top playoff contenders, including hosting the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at EverBank Stadium.

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In college football, here’s what we’ve learned about the three schools with the biggest following in our area:

Georgia is a slow-starting team, but they know how to win. Even without All-American Brock Bowers, the Bulldogs keep piling up Ws, including handling Missouri on Saturday. The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs aren’t yet at the level of last year’s team, but they’re good enough to win another title.

Florida State hasn’t been tested by a fairly soft schedule this year, but the Seminoles could also potentially win a national championship. They have an experienced quarterback, Jordan Travis, and several playmakers on offense. The Noles will likely be underestimated if they win the ACC championship and earn one of the four playoff spots.

And Florida has a long way to go. Gator fans are hanging their hats on head coach Billy Napier’s recruiting acumen. Losing in overtime at home to Arkansas was a tough pill to swallow, and it shows how much further Napier has to build his team before they can even think about challenging Georgia in the SEC East.

And high school football in our area is outstanding: 28 teams qualified for the FHSAA playoffs. Raines, Trinity Christian, St. Augustine, and Bradford are all top seeds in their classifications. Chances are a team from our area will play for a state title. Don’t be surprised to see a local team come out of the 2M classification, where seven of the eight teams in the region are Duval County teams.  

Lead image: Raines quarterback Ty’ren Randolph during the 54th Northwest Classic on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. The Vikings lead the all-time series 40-14. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Cole Pepper has covered sports in Jacksonville since 1996, most recently for News4Jax. He is currently broadcast director for Sporting Club Jacksonville and has called play-by-play for a number of teams, including the Suns, Tomcats, Jacksonville University, Sharks and The Bolles School football. He also served as the studio host for the Jaguars Radio Network.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Cole Pepper has covered sports in Jacksonville since 1996, most recently for News4Jax. He is currently broadcast director for Sporting Club Jacksonville and has called play-by-play for a number of teams, including the Suns, Tomcats, Jacksonville University, Sharks and The Bolles School football. He also served as the studio host for the Jaguars Radio Network.


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