Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day June 23

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning...

THE ONLY WAY TO GO IS UP

Athlon's preseason SEC magazine rates Florida's offensive units like this: Quarterbacks: 8
Running backs: 10
Wide receivers/tight ends: 11
Offensive line: 12

It's fairly obvious that Athlon doesn't expect Florida's offense to be that much better in 2014 than it was last year. While it's not hard to see why Florida's quarterbacks would be rated #8 – Jeff Driskel has never been healthy an entire season and the backups are Skyler Mornhinweg and two freshmen – and of the receivers, only Quinton Dunbar has any real experience and his productivity is nothing to write home about. The #10 rating for the running backs seems a bit dubious, particularly if Matt Jones comes back healthy to join Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown. As for the offensive line, four of the five projected starters – D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, Tyler Moore and Max Garcia – have multiple starts in the SEC and while Trenton Brown lacks experience he makes up for it in size and brute strength at right guard.

Florida averaged 316.7 yards and 18.8 points per game for offensive coordinator Brent Pease last season when injuries wiped out the offensive line and the quarterback position. The Gators averaged only 4.79 yards per play. Meanwhile, at Duke with less talent and far less speed than he is working with now, Kurt Roper's offense averaged 32.8 points, 426.1 yards and 5.87 yards per play. Roper had five players with at least 300 rushing yards, a receiver (Jamison Crowder) with 108 catches (1,360 yards) and a tight end (Braxton Deaver) with 46. Based on what Roper did at Duke, you have to think the Gators are going to be much improved this season. This isn't a pie in the sky assessment, either. Consider this: The difference between 4-8 and 8-4 last year was 30 points. One touchdown in games against Miami, South Carolina and Georgia Southern and Florida would have been 7-5. The Gators came up 11 points short against LSU. It's not going to take a whole lot of offense for the Gators to improve. The only way to go is up.

BILLY BALL IN Colorado SPRINGS

Supposedly this is basketball, but the way Billy Donovan's Team USA is playing in the FIBA Americas 18-and-Under Championships, it's more like a track meet. In the third and final game of pool play, Team USA wasted Argentina, 118-64, Sunday in Colorado Springs at the US Olympic Training Center. The only reason it was that close is because Donovan called off the full court press in the second half after blowing out to a 63-26 lead at the intermission. In their three games, Team USA has outscored opponents in Group B by an astonishing 376-168. Donovan has gotten his team to buy into the concept of team defense and sharing the ball. They play smothering, full court pressure defense and the moment the ball goes up on the boards, they're off in a dead sprint to the other end of the floor where their fast break is a real thing of beauty due to extraordinary passing. This is truly Billy Ball at its best. Team USA advances to the medal round where it will face Dominican Republic in Tuesday's semifinals. Canada (3-0 in Group A) faces Argentina in the other Tuesday semifinal. This is the third straight year Donovan has coached an international team for USA Basketball. He's 21-0 and making a solid case that he will be the successor to Coach K to coach the US Olympic team when Coach K calls it a wrap after the 2016 games in Rio.

CONFERENCE CHAMPS WILL BE REWARDED AT PLAYOFF TIME

Based on what West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck says, it would seem unlikely that we'll get another scenario like the one we had in 2011 when Alabama didn't even win its division but got to play for (and win) the national championship game. Luck, who is one of the 13 members of the playoff committee said last week, "We are to reward conference championships no matter how they come about, whether it's a conference championship game, or in the Big 12 – that counts for something to win your conference. Those are standards, which are pretty straightforward." Based on those remarks, it would seem the playoff committee hopes to fill all four spots in the first national championship playoff with conference champions. ESPN probably threw a party the moment Luck uttered those words. Conference champs only almost certainly assures ESPN that it will have all four corners of the US covered for the semifinals.

COMMISSIONERS RESEARCH EARLY SIGNING PERIOD FOR FOOTBALL

Obscured by all the talk about the Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial going on in Oakland last week was the Collegiate Commissioners Association ordering research into an early signing period for football. This is not a new idea but it's starting to gain some traction. The only thing keeping this proposal from being a slam dunk is the timing. In most proposals, November and August have been the prominent dates mentioned for early signing but a November signing period would interfere with the season and an August signing period would keep coaches on campus all of July (their vacation time) as well as interfere with the start of fall practice. It would seem that the one time that would work for everyone would be the final week of June. This would allow coaches to hit the road in May and see prospects on campus in early to mid-June.

SHAKEUP AT THE DRAFT COULD GIVE MAGIC EMBIID

Just when Joel Embiid had overcome all the doubts about his back, it was discovered he has a stress fracture in his foot that will require surgery and keep him out for 4-6 months. Embiid's injury will greatly affect Thursday's NBA Draft. He was all set to go to Cleveland #1 before the injury but now the Cavaliers are said to be leaning toward Jabari Parker over Andrew Wiggins. Those two are almost certain to go 1-2. Philadelphia already has its center of the future in Nerlens Noel but needs a better rebounding power forward than Thaddeus Young which might make Noah Vonleh the likely choice. If Embiid is still available with the #4 pick, the Orlando Magic would be foolish to pass on Embiid. Even though he's had two significant injuries, he is thought to have the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft and had extremely good workouts leading up to the stress fracture discovery. If Embiid is available at #4 and the Magic pass on him, then hard core stupidity runs in that organization.

TIGER WILL BE BACK THIS WEEK

Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour this week after a 12-week absence for back surgery. He's still the most popular golfer in the world even though he hasn't been able to get back to the dominant level he was playing prior to the embarrassing 2009 fall from grace. It's a full six years since he last won a major and since that time he's had knee and back surgery plus multiple other injuries. Tiger will be 39 this year so recovering from injuries takes longer these days than it did when he was younger. Because he creates so much torque with his swing, it's going to be interesting to see if he can ever generate the same amount of power and distance that he did before the back surgery. Tiger no longer has the mystique he used to have when he was younger so if he can't hit still generate the power, it's just going to be one less reason for any golfer on the tour to fear him. That fear factor used to be worth at least four strokes a tournament.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Has the USA performance in the World Cup made you more of a soccer fan or are you still not convinced?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

Marvin Gaye's career ended much too soon. Gaye was shot and killed by his father while he was sitting at his mother's bedside in 1984, ending a remarkable career as both a solo artist and a sought after partner for duets. His best duets were done with Tammi Terrell with whom he did three albums in the 1960s including "You're All I Need" which produced the single "Ain't Nothing but the Real Thing" which rose to #8 on the Billboard chart and #1 on the rhythm and blues chart. This is one of my favorite duet songs of all time.


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