Phil Steele makes no bones about it. He believes it's going to be a very good year for Florida football fans. He's got the Gators ranked 24th in his top 25 and predicts they will be the second most improved team in the nation, ranking only behind TCU, which he thinks is due to have a breakout season in the Big 12. Steele says the combination of 14 returning starters and all the young guys who got playing time as a result of that devastating string of injuries that turned the Gators into a shell of the team they began with in September, is a strong enough foundation to get the Gators back on the road toward rejoining the elite of the Southeastern Conference. Steele rates Florida's defense the fourth best in the country heading into the 2014 season and he's very high on quarterback Jeff Driskel, who he predicts will make third team All-SEC. I think the defense will be one of the best in the country. If he's right about Driskel, then Florida will indeed be vastly improved. The Gators will go only as far as Driskel will take them this fall.
Probably the biggest concern about the upcoming season is the schedule. There's no way to describe it except brutal. There are three gimme wins in Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Division IAA Eastern Kentucky plus eight SEC games and Florida State in Tallahassee. The Gators will have to play Alabama in Tuscaloosa but LSU, Missouri and South Carolina will all be played in the friendly confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The critical game on the schedule will be Tennessee. That's in Knoxville the week after the trip to Tuscaloosa. If the Gators emerge from the Alabama game without much in the way of injuries and their pride pretty much intact, then they should kick Tennessee all over Neyland Stadium. But, if the Gators struggle at Alabama and are physically beaten up, that Tennessee game could be dicey, particularly since the next three games are LSU, Missouri and Georgia in Jacksonville. The Gators have to beat Tennessee if they're going to have any kind of impact on the SEC East race and redeem themselves for last year's 4-8 debacle. I'll stick with my prediction here: 8-4 is realistic and 9-3 is do-able but the Gators will have to catch a couple of breaks, particularly in the injury department. They can't have another year like last year when it comes to injuries.
That's what his dad says. Jameis Winston's dad says Tallahassee's most famous crab legs chef will spend the next two years at Florida State, earn his college degree, then move on to the NFL. Really now? It sounds noble, but staying in school beyond the 2014 season could prove costly on two fronts. First off, there is that chance of injury or that some other hotshot quarterback or two comes along, resulting in Winston's draft stock taking a dip that could cost millions. Second, if we've learned anything about the kid in his two previous years in Tallahassee it is that he's a trouble magnet. You have to wonder how long before Winston and trouble collide with big bang trouble repercussions that even the TPD can't cover? Winston has managed to squirm his way out of trouble so far but how long can that last? From a physical standpoint, Jameis might not lose too much in the way of the draft even if injured but one more serious incident off the field might cast enough doubt on his character that even the NFL wouldn't touch him in the first round. So, do you think for one second he stays two years? Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?
If you've ever gotten hold of a copy of the 153 pages of demands the NFL puts on prospective Super Bowl host cities, then you have had a crash course in hostage taking. The NFL rakes in $9 billion a year, which is no surprise if you read what they get from host cities in exchange for the privilege of being a host city. Here are five of the top demands: (1) The NFL must have a full tax exemption from state, country, county, city and local taxes. In other words, the host city agrees to pay the NFL's taxes. (2) The NFL gets 100% of the ticket revenue and has the right to charge whatever it wants for tickets. (3) The NFL demands that only NFL-approved ATMs are in the stadium. Unapproved ATMs have to be removed or covered. Of course, the NFL gets a cut of the ATM fee. (4) The NFL gets free security. The host city has to pay the cost of all police and anti-terrorist teams. (5) The NFL gets one hotel and all its rooms free for 19 days prior to the game and until the Monday after the game. There's more. The NFL gets three golf courses to use for its own use without green or cart fees. If weather interferes or if the Super Bowl is at a cold weather venue, then the NFL gets use of these courses in the spring.
In proving that he has a functioning heart, Bobby Petrino has actually made the kind of statement that makes one believe he's serious about putting down roots in Louisville. Thursday the Bobby Petrino Family Foundation gave more than $1 million to the Kosair Children's Hospital Trauma Program, a scholarship program for needy students and a donation to the uniform fund for the Louisville marching band. Skeptics will call it a PR stunt for a coach whose image has taken enough torpedoes to the bow to sink two or three Titanics, but unless you have more money than brains you don't plunk down a cool million in a community unless you're serious about staying. Petrino couldn't ask for a better opportunity to redeem himself than the one he's got now. He's got a program that is good enough to compete at the highest levels of the ACC, the second best facilities top to bottom in the entire league and an athletic director (Tom Jurich) who ranks only behind Jeremy Foley as the best in the country. If he screws this up, he will never be a head coach anywhere ever again. People who know him say he's serious about making Louisville his final stop.
Most of the experts say the trial has reached the halfway point but apparently this is going to be like the Spurs sitting on a 40-point lead at the half if the experts are to be believed. One email will tell you why. Written in 2010, NCAA executive Wally Renfro wrote to NCAA president Mark Emmert, "The notion that athletes are students is the great hypocrisy of intercollegiate sports." That is the smoking gun and the NCAA has nothing it can use to counter the damage of that one email. The NCAA is going to lose this trial, probably worse than anyone could have expected. It might be time for the power conferences to huddle up with their lawyers and start Plan B in motion, the one that will allow them to form their own organization free of the NCAA as quickly as possible. Another possibility is that athletic departments will pick out two or three men's sports, five or six women's sports and make everything else non-scholarship like Division III. You can figure that college sports as we know them now are about to die.
Do you think Jameis Winston hangs around for two more years or do you expect him to bolt for the NFL the moment the 2014 season ends?
Driving back from Larry Dupree's funeral Thursday afternoon, I got a bit nostalgic, which meant the 60s channel on Sirius XM. About halfway between Macclenny and Raiford on State Road 121 I heard "Oh, Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison, always one of my favorite songs. I had to pull off the side of the road and find my CD of "The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison" and sing along all the way back to Gainesville. Do you remember the first time you ever heard "Oh, Pretty Woman"? I heard it on WAPE riding back to Gainesville from my grandparents' home on Kingsley Lake where I had spent the better part of a week water skiing. It was August of 1964 and school was going to start in a couple of weeks.