There are six regular season games remaining on Florida’s schedule, but tonight’s battle with Georgia (14-9, 6-6 SEC) at Stegman Coliseum (9 p.m., ESPN) in Athens is about as close as it gets to a must win situation. Mike White can’t afford for the Gators to play like a desperate team because desperate teams tend to lose their poise at the worst possible moments, but the Gators (16-9, 7-5 SEC) have to play with tremendous urgency.
The Gators are coming off a horrendous, 61-55, loss to Alabama. That was a must game, too, and while a 6-point loss doesn’t sound like such a bad deal, the fact it was a home game and one UF should have won handily puts Florida into a bad circumstance. If the Gators entertain any hopes of making the NCAA Tournament without first getting to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, they have to figure out a way to win on the road, a place that hasn’t been kind all year. The Gators are 2-6 on the road and they’re heading to Stegman Coliseum, where Georgia is 12-3. Since there are only two home games remaining, getting to the 20-win mark in the regular season means winning a couple of roadies. There is no time like the present to start.
GATORS IN THE NATIONAL RANKINGS
Baseball: Preseason #1; season opens Friday vs. Florida Gulf Coast
Women’s softball: #1; Gators (4-0) face Jacksonville in their home opener Wednesday evening.
Women’s track and field: #1; The Gators jumped three spots to the #1 ranking; Florida is idle until February 26 when the SEC Indoor Championships begin in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Women’s gymnastics: #2; Gators are at #19 Missouri Friday night.
Women’s tennis: #3; The Gators (5-0) have the week off before heading west next week to face #1 California and #14 Stanford.
Men’s swimming: #5; The Gators are in Columbia, Missouri today for the start of the SEC championships.
Men’s golf: #5; The Gators will host the Sun Trust Invitational this weekend.
Women’s lacrosse: #7; The Gators (2-0) face the Welsh national team in a Thursday afternoon exhibition game and travel to Chapel Hill to face #2 North Carolina Saturday.
Women’s swimming: #9; The Gators are in Columbia, Missouri today for the start of the SEC championships.
Men’s track and field (indoor): #10; The Gators dropped all the way from #1 to #10. The Gators are off until the SEC Indoor Championships on February 26 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Women’s golf: #11; The Gators will be participating in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate Golf Championships in New Orleans starting Sunday.
Women’s basketball: #22; Gators (19-6) are at home Thursday against Vanderbilt and on the road to Georgia Saturday
Men’s tennis: #22; The Gators travel to Columbus Saturday to face Ohio State.
TUITION AT IMG ACADEMY: $72,900
There is a terrific story about IMG Academy, which is linked below from The Advocate, the Baton Rouge newspaper. If you’ve never seen IMG’s sprawling 500-acre campus in Bradenton, then you understand why professional athletes go there to train, but the academy has branched out the last three years into college football.
Not such a big deal you say?
Well, consider that IMG (International Management Group) was founded by Mark McCormack, the lawyer/agent who turned Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player into gozillionaires. The corporation still employs hundreds of agents and its Bradenton campus has been famous for years for turning out stud tennis players and golfers as well as baseball and soccer players. But, three years ago the company got into the college football business and it really is a big business. They train the athletes in the weight room, give then incredible nutrition and academic support. On National Signing Day, 16 of its football players signed Division I scholarships.
Tuition? A mere $72,900 a year. So, how do kids from disadvantaged backgrounds come up with that kind of money? Well, there are scholarships. Gatorade is a corporate sponsor. So is Under Armour. Am I the only one who sees a door open for corruption and cheating of the highest magnitude?
LIFE IN THE TRENCHES: RATING THE SEC PRE-SPRING D-LINES
1. Alabama: Alabama lost two starters but the D-line will be the least of Nick Saban’s concerns because so many players rotated in and out last season. The Tide might return only one starter (All-SEC DE Jonathan Allen, who had 12 sacks) but the backups would start for at least 10 of the 14 teams in the SEC. Last year Alabama gave up only 75.7 rushing yards per game and sacked QBs 52 times.
Returning starters: DE Jonathan Allen (6-3, 283, SR)
Experienced backups: NG Darron Payne (6-2, 315, SO); DE Dalvin Tomlinson (6-3, 294 RSR); Da’Shawn Hand (6-4, 273, JR); DT Joshua Frazier (6-4, 315, JR)
2. LSU: Coach O has his entire two-deep returning and they are big, fast and nasty, led by bookend pass rushers Lewis Neal (8 sacks in 2015) and Arden Key (5 sacks). The Tigers gave up only 122.2 rushing yards per game and got to the quarterback 34 times.
Returning starters: DE Lewis Neal (6-2, 264, SR); DT Davon Godchaux (6-4, 293, JR); DT Christian LaCouture (6-5, 307, SR); DE Arden Key (6-6, 240, SO);
Experienced backups: DE Tashawn Bower (6-5, 250, SR); DT Greg Gilmore (6-4, 313, JR); DT Frank Herron (6-4, 289, JR); DE Sione Teuhema (6-4, 251, JR)
3. FLORIDA: The Gators lost stud DT/DE Jonathan Bullard and pass rusher Alex McCalister, but this is a D-line with plenty of depth and a potential superstar in sophomore CeCe Jefferson. Bryan Cox Jr. doesn’t get the publicity but he’s developed into one of the better DEs in the SEC. The Gators gave up 126.9 yards per game on the ground last year but got to the QB 40 times.
Returning starters: NT Caleb Brantley (6-2, 314, RJR); DT Joey Ivie (6-3, 295, RJR); DE Bryan Cox Jr. (6-3, 268, RSR)
Experienced backups: DE Jordan Sherit (6-4, 250, RJR); DT Khairi Clark (6-2, 321, RFR); DE/DT Taven Bryan (6-5, 292, RSO); DE CeCe Jefferson (6-1, 275, SO)
4. Texas A&M: Sack machine Myles Garrett (24 sacks, 43.5 tackles for loss the last two years) is back for another year of terrorizing QBs before he goes on to a big NFL contract. Bookend Daeshon Hall got to the QB 7 times last year. The Aggies are fine off the edge. They have to step it up in the middle where nose tackle Daylon Mack needs to step it up as a sophomore. The Aggies got to opposing QBs 34 times but they gave up 169.1 rushing yards per game.
Returning starters: DE Myles Garrett (6-5, 262, JR); DE Daeshon Hall; NT Daylon Mack (6-1, 335, SO)
Experienced backups: DT Zaycoven Henderson (6-1, 297, JR); DE Qualen Cunningham (6-3, 240, JR); DE Jarrett Johnson (6-3, 260, JR); DT Hardreck Walker (6-2, 305, SR)
5. Tennessee: The Vols brought in former Vandy/Penn State DC Bob Shoop to patch up a defense that collapsed too often in the fourth quarter last year. Shoop doesn’t lack for experience as three starters and four backups return on the two-deep. The Vols gave up 151.6 rushing yards per game in 2015 and sack totals were down although DE Derek Barnett was good for 10 sacks.
Returning Starters: DE Corey Vereen (6-2, 249, SR); NT Kendal Vickers (6-3, 286, JR); DE Derek Barnett (6-3, 257, JR)
Experienced backups: DE LaTroy Lewis (6-4, 256, RSR); NT Danny O’Brien (6-2, 301, RSR); Kahlil McKenzie (6-3, 344, SO); DT Shy Tuttle (6-2, 311, SO)
6. Missouri: The return of Charles Harris is huge, but the key will be the anticipated return of DT Harold Brantley, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and DE Terry Beckner, who has some legal hoops to jump through before he will be allowed back on the team. Missouri gave up 132.8 rushing yards per game and got to the quarterback 30 times.
Returning Starters: DE Charles Harris; DT Josh Augusta; NT Rickey Hatley; DE Walter Brady
Experienced backups: DT Harold Brantley; DE Marcell Frazier; NT A.J. Logan
7. Arkansas: Arkansas expects to be one of the more improved DLs in the SEC this year. The Hogs have a stud DE in Deatrich Wise Jr. who got to the QB 8 times and forced 3 fumbles last year. Arkansas allowed only 116.5 rushing yards per game but only sacked the QB 20 times.
Returning starters: DE Tevin Beanum (6-4, 280, JR); DT Taiwan Johnson (6-2, 290, SR); DE Jeremiah Ledbetter (6-3, 280, SR); DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (6-5, 272, SR)
Experienced backups: DE JaMichael Winston (6-4, 282, SR); DT Bijhon Jackson (6-2, 325, JR)
8. Ole Miss: Ole Miss is vulnerable at the tackles but the Rebels should be terrors off the edge. There aren’t many left tackles in all of college football capable of handling Marquis Haynes (10 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, 8 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles) off the edge. The Rebels gave up 127.1 yards rushing and got to the QB 29 times last year.
Returning starters: DT Breeland Speaks (6-3, 313, SO); DE Marquis Haynes (6-3, 230, JR);
Experienced backups: DE/DT Fadol Brown (6-4, 280, SR); DT D.J. Jones (6-0, 324, SR); DE Gerrald McDowell (6-2, 240, SO); DE John Youngblood (6-3, 255, SR)
9. Mississippi State: The tough job will be replacing nose tackle Chris Jones, who bolted for the NFL, but there is plenty of experience and depth. DEs Johnathan Calvin and A.J. Jefferson (13.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) give the Bulldogs speed off the edge. The Bulldogs gave up 174.62 rushing yards per game and sacked opposing QBs 30 times.
Returning Starters: DE Johnathan Calvin (6-3, 263, SR); DT Nelson Adams (6-3, 310, SR); DE A.J. Jefferson (6-3, 277, SR)
Experienced backups: DE Will Coleman (6-5, 250, SR); DT Torrey Dale (6-6, 275, SR); DT Nick James (6-5, 325, SR)
10. Georgia: The Bulldogs are pretty much starting all over again after losing all three DL starters and a key backup. Trenton Thompson was good but he didn’t live up to the hype as a freshman. He will be the man in the middle of Kirby Smart’s 3-4 alignment this year. Georgia gave up 149.5 rushing yards per game and sacked the QB only 21 times last year.
Returning starters: None
Experienced backups: DT Trenton Thompson (6-4, 307, SO); NT John Atkins (6-4, 300, JR)
11. Vanderbilt: The Vandy D-line rode the rollercoaster last year. When they were good, they were very good, but when they got worn down they had problems stopping opponents in the fourth quarter. They return five of their top six from the two-deep so improvement is expected. The Commodores allowed 154.7 yards per game rushing but got to opposing QBs 26 times.
Returning starters: DE Adam Butler (6-5, 300, SR); NT Jay Woods (6-3, 280, JR)
Experienced backups: DE Torrey Agee (6-4, 282, SR); DE Jonathan Wynn (6-4, 250, JR); NT Nifae Lealao (6-5, 315, JR)
12. Auburn: If sophomore Byron Cowart has the breakout year he’s expected to have and the Tigers figure out a way to stay healthy, Auburn could have one of the better front fours in the SEC. Carl Lawson has All-America potential and Montravius Adams will play on Sunday in the future. The Tigers allowed a whopping 182.5 rushing yards per game last year and sacked opposing QBs only 19 times.
Returning starters: DT Montravius Adams (6-4, 296, SR); DE Carl Lawson (6-2, 257; RJR; DT Dontravius Russell (6-3, 295)
Experienced backups: DT Devaroe Lawrence (6-2, 281, SR); DT Maurice Swain (6-5, 295, SR); DE Byron Cowart (6-3, 277, SO)
13. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost two starters and most of the experienced backups, but there is talent returning in a potential front four of Denzil Ware, Matt Elam, Reggie Meant and Courtney Miggins. Depth is going to be a huge issue.
Returning starters: NT Matt Elam (6-7, 360, JR); DE Denzil Ware (6-2, 255, SO)
Experienced backups: DT Reggie Meant (6-4, 302, JR); DE Courtney Miggins (6-5, 250, JR)
14. South Carolina: First order of business for Will Muschamp in the spring is to patch the holes in a rushing defense that gave up 217.4 yards per game last year. And while he’s about it, he needs to fix an anemic pass rush that got to the QB only 20 times. Make no mistake about it, this is a total rebuild job.
Returning Starters: DE Boosie Whitlow (6-3, 240, SO); DT Dante Sawyer (6-3, 291, JR); DE Marquavius Lewis (6-3, 264, SR)
Experienced backups: DE David Johnson (6-1, 240, JR); DT Taylor Stallworth (6-2, 308, JR); DE Darius English (6-6, 225, SR)
When ESPN reporter Holly Rowe underwent surgery recently to remove a tumor from her chest, she got plenty of prayers and encouragement from LSU coach Les Miles. “He called me five or six times the day before Signing Day to ask when I was going in and what he could do,” Rowe told Sports Illustrated. “Just unbelievable sweetness.”
Christian McCaffrey’s younger brother isn’t going to try to live up to the legacy of a stud older brother. The 2017 QB committed to Michigan over Stanford and Duke, where another older brother played college football.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson suggests the pregame coin toss should be replaced with a tug of war at midfield.
PEYTON MANNING BROUGHT UP IN TENNESSEE TITLE IX LAWSUIT
Peyton Manning’s image has taken another hit as his name is being brought up in the Title IX lawsuit against the Tennessee athletic department. Absolutely nothing will happen to Manning, who settled a lawsuit with former UT trainer Dr. Jamie Naughright a number of years ago, but it’s being mentioned as foundation for claims that Tennessee has fostered a culture of sexual abuse in its football program dating back more than 20 years.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Does IMG Academy push the rules way too far or is this just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what’s to come with collegiate athletics?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of the best bands to emerge in the past four years or so is Alabama Shakes. Their 2015 CD “Sound and Color” is a must add to your collection. When I listen to Brittany Howard sing, I can close my eyes and hear the kind of passion dripping from her voice that I haven’t heard since the late Otis Redding. The band will play the Cuban Club in Ybor City on April 29 and then at the St. Augustine Amphitheater on April 30. Today’s music is Alabama Shakes at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.