When it comes to discussions about Florida’s offensive line for 2016, there are two dominating schools of thought – (1) The Billy Donovan Theory and (2) The Eternal Optimist Theory.
The Donovan Theory actually was invented for the Florida basketball team by the future Hall of Fame coach back in 2009 after the freshman-laden Gators had followed up back-to-back NCAA championships with a Final Four trip to Madison Square Garden for the Nobody’s Interested Tournament. The theory goes like this: “Just because you’re one year older doesn’t mean you’re one year better.” Donovan thought his 2009-10 basketball team thought it would surely make the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament simply because they had gone to the Final Four of the NIT the year before, so he made that statement because he didn’t see the improvement he expected when practice began.
The 2016 Gators return eight of the ten O-linemen (including three starters) who got almost all the minutes last year. The pessimist will tell you that’s both the good news and the bad news. The pessimist will tell you that just because Florida returns all those guys with experience doesn’t necessarily mean they will be any better than they were last year.
The Eternal Optimist first looks at last year’s numbers – a running game that averaged only 3.48 yards per carry and 45 sacks that lost 274 yards – and say, “This is good; we hit rock bottom last year so there is only one way to go and that’s up.”
For a moment, forget whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist and apply some very real logic to the situation a day before the Gators take the field for their first of 15 practices in the spring.
When the 2015 season began, the Gators had only one lineman with starting experience in the SEC – Trip Thurman, who had 10 starts at left guard in 2014. There was graduate transfer Mason Halter, a D1AA All-American, whose two years of starting experience at Fordham did very little to prepare him for blocking SEC rush ends coming off the edge. Otherwise, no one had started a game since high school.
So here’s what’s coming back:
LT David Sharpe (6-6, 355, JR): Played six games in 2014; played in 14 games in 2015 with 13 starts in 2015.
RT/LG Martez Ivey (6-5, 302, SO): Played in 12 games in 2015 with 8 starts, mostly at LG.
C Cameron Dillard (6-4, 308, RJR): Redshirted 2013, played in four games in 2014, played in 13 games in 2015 with 12 starts.
RG Tyler Jordan (6-4, 292, SO): Played in 14 games with 3 starts as a true freshman in 2015.
RT Fred Johnson (6-6, 305, SO): Played in 8 games with 2 starts as a true freshman in 2015.
RG Antonio Riles (6-4, 322, RJR): Played in 4 games in 2014; played in 11 games with 6 starts in 2015.
G Travaris Dorsey (6-2, 318, RSO): Played in 10 games in 2015.
T Andrew Mike (6-6, 302, RSO): Played in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2015.
T Kavaris Harkless (6-5, 300, RSO): Redshirted in 2014; did not play in a game in 2015.
C T.J. McCoy (6-1, 302, RFR)
G Nick Buchanan (6-2, 285, RFR)
G Brandon Sandifer (6-3, 357, RFR)
T Donovan Welch (6-4, 286, RFR)
T/G Richerd Desir-Jones (6-4, 290, RFR)
T Stone Forsythe (6-7, 309, FR)
1. The Gators have a combined 44 starts and eight linemen with game experience, a significant improvement over last season.
2. The Gators have the making of an outstanding left side of the O-line with David Sharpe and Martez Ivey, who could very well swap positions.
3. Strength was an issue last year but things should be improved this year after a second year under Mike Kent.
4. Tyler Jordan is good enough to start at center and might make the move inside if Antonio Riles or Travaris Dorsey make a big move in the spring.
5. Redshirt freshmen T.J. McCoy and Brandon Sandifer could be movers and shakers on the O-line in the spring.
6. The O-line will benefit greatly if the four scholarship QBs can do a better job of getting rid of the ball in a hurry than Treon Harris did in the last half of the 2015 season.
7. There is a correlation between improved QB play and improvement on the offensive line from year two to year one in previous stops at Alabama (where he was OC) and Colorado State (where he was HBC). Based on what history tells us, we should expect a measure of improvement in 2016.
CALLAWAY, HARRIS SUSPENDED
Wide receiver Antonio Callaway and former QB expected to be WR Treon Harris won’t be participating in Florida’s spring drills. They’ve been suspended from the team since January although neither have appeared on GPD or UFPD arrest blotters. Expectations are that both players will be reinstated to the team between now and August.
GATORS 6, NORTH FLORIDA 2: The #1-ranked Florida baseball team rallied for four runs in the top of the eighth and got three innings of perfect relief from lefty Kirby Snead for a 6-2 win over North Florida in Jacksonville. Tied at 2-2 in the top of the eighth, JJ Schwarz singled home what proved to be the game-winning run. That was followed by an RBI double by Peter Alonso and a 2-run single by Mike Rivera to put the game away. Snead came on for starter Dane Dunning in the seventh and set down all nine batters he faced, getting four on fly balls and five on ground outs.
The win improved the Gators to 13-1 on the season. UF plays host to North Florida tonight at McKethan Stadium.
MEN’S GOLF MOVES UP IN LAS VEGAS: The 2nd-ranked Gators moved up from seventh place into a tie for third at the second round of the Southern Highlands Intercollegiate tournament in Las Vegas. The Gators trail first place Southern Cal by nine and second place Arizona State by two shots. Freshman Sam Horsfield shot a 70 for a two-day total of 139, one shot behind co-leaders Sean Crocker (Southern Cal) and John Rahm (Arizona State).
UF IN SPRING SPORTS RANKINGS
Baseball: The Gators remain #1 in the USAToday top 25 coaches poll. Also in the top 25 from the SEC are (2) Vanderbilt, (3) Texas A&M, (8) LSU, (13) Ole Miss, (14) Arkansas, (16) South Carolina, (23) Mississippi State and (25) Alabama. Miami is #6 and FSU is #15.
Softball: The Gators (22-0) remain #1 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball top 25. Also in the rankings from the SEC are (3) Auburn, (4) Alabama, (6) LSU, (10) Texas A&M, (12) Georgia, (13) Missouri, (15) Kentucky and (19) Tennessee. Florida State is #11.
Women’s Indoor Track: The Gators have overtaken Oregon for the #1 spot in the final regular season poll. Also ranked from the SEC are (3) Georgia, (4) Arkansas, (9) Tennessee, (10) LSU, (17) Texas A&M and (18) Kentucky. Miami is ranked #21.
Gymnastics: The Gators have the highest team score in the country (197.175) but remain #2 behind Oklahoma by a 197.514-197.411 margin (gymnastics rankings determined by the average weekly score). Also ranked from the SEC are (3) LSU, (4) Alabama, (7) Auburn, (9) Georgia, (11) Arkansas, (15) Missouri and (21) Kentucky.
Lacrosse: The Gators (7-0) moved up one spot to #2 in the Inside Lacrosse Poll. The Gators have wins over then #13 Loyola, #2 North Carolina, #2 Syracuse and #10 Stony Brook.
Men’s Golf: The Gators have moved all the way up to #2 nationally in the Golf Week poll. Also ranked from the SEC are (3) Auburn, (4) Alabama, (7) Georgia, (12) Vanderbilt, (20) LSU, (24) South Carolina, (26) Kentucky, (29 Arkansas and (37) Texas A&M. Others ranked are (6) FSU, (16) South Florida and (36) North Florida.
Men’s Indoor Track: The Gators moved up one spot to #3 in the final regular season poll. Also ranked from the SEC are (2) Arkansas, (4) Texas A&M, (5) LSU, (6) Tennessee and (8) Georgia.
Men’s Swimming: The Gators are ranked #3 in the CSCAA Swimming Poll, up from #5. Also ranked from the SEC are (4) Georgia, (60 Auburn, (10) Alabama, (12) Missouri, (14) Tennessee and (22) South Carolina.
Women’s Golf: The Gators are #8 in the Golf Week poll. Also ranked from the SEC are (3) Georgia, (6) Arkansas, (7) Alabama, (18) Tennessee, (19) Texas A&M, (23) Missouri, (30) South Carolina, (40) Vanderbilt and (50) LSU. Others ranked are (21) Florida State and (35) Miami.
Women’s Swimming: The Gators remained #9 in the latest CSCAA Swimming Poll. Also ranked from the SEC are (2) Georgia, (8) Texas A&M, (11) Auburn, (16) Tennessee, (20) LSU and (24) South Carolina.
Women’s Tennis: Despite a 2-0 week against SEC opponents, the Gators dropped three spots in the ITA poll to #18. Also ranked from the SEC are (3) Georgia, (5) Vanderbilt, (11) Auburn, (12) South Carolina, (15) LSU, (16) Texas A&M and (19) Kentucky. Miami is ranked #9.
Men’s Tennis: Even though the Gators split two SEC matches last week, they moved up five spots in the ITA poll to #25. Also ranked from the SEC are (7) Texas A&M, (12) Kentucky, (17) Georgia and (22) Ole Miss. South Florida is ranked #16.
ALL-SEC BASKETBALL TEAM
First team: Retin Obasohan, Alabama; Jamal Murray, Kentucky; Tyler Ulis, Kentucky; Ben Simmons, LSU; Stefan Moody, Ole Miss; Michael Carrera, South Carolina; Jalen Jones, Texas A&M; Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
Second team: Moses Kingsley, Arkansas; DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH, FLORIDA; J.J. Frazier, Georgia; Yante Maten, Georgia; Kevin Punter Jr., Tennessee; Alex Caruso, Texas A&M; Danuel House, Texas A&M; Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt
SEC All-Freshman Team: KEVAUGHN ALLEN, FLORIDA; Jamal Murray, Kentucky; Antonio Blakeney, LSU; Ben Simmons, LSU; Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State; Kevin Puryear, Missouri; Tyler Davis, Texas A&M; DJ Hogg, Texas A&M
SEC All-Defensive Team
Retin Obasohan, Alabama; Moses Kingsley, Arkansas; Tyler Ulis, Kentucky; Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; Alex Caruso, Texas A&M; Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
SEC Coach of the Year: Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
SEC Player of the Year: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Retin Obasohan, Alabama
SEC Freshman of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU
SEC Sixth Man of the Year: Duane Notice, South Carolina
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
MARCH MADNESS UPDATES
Ten years ago when the Florida Gators brought home the first of back-to-back NCAA championships, Matt McCall was Billy Donovan’s director of basketball operations, learning coaching from the ground up from one of the two or three best in the entire business. McCall parlayed that position into an assistant’s job working for Mike Jarvis at FAU and then returned home to Gainesville to work for Donovan as an assistant. That alone is quite a feat for a guy who got his start as a team manager.
McCall just won the Southern Conference regular season title and capped that Monday night with the SoCon Tournament championship. He’s taken the Mocs to a 29-5 record that includes wins on the road at Georgia and Dayton. The typical Southern Conference team is a one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament but people who’ve watched McCall’s team say the Mocs could be this year’s Florida Gulf Coast that shocks everyone by making it to the Sweet 16.
In so far:
Florida Gulf Coast (19-13)
Northern Iowa (22-12)
Austin Peay (18-17)
ESPN ALL-AMERICA BASKETBALL TEAM
First team: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma; Denzil Valentine, Michigan State; Jakob Poeltl, Utah; Tyler Ulis, Kentucky; Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Second team: Ben Simmons, LSU; Georges Niang, Iowa State; Brice Johnson, North Carolina; Yogi Ferrell, Indiana; Grayson Allen, Duke
Third team: Jarrod Uthogg, Iowa; Josh Hart, Villanova; Perry Ellis, Kansas; Kris Dunn, Providence; Jamal Murray, Kentucky
MY NEW FAVORITE COLLEGE BASKETBALL COACH
I don’t know anyone who has ever met Buzz Williams that doesn’t like him. People just gravitate to the Virginia Tech basketball coach, who has improved the Hokies from 11 wins in his first year on the job to 18 heading into today’s second round of the ACC Tournament.
Yesterday, I got an email with this quote by Williams and a video of him telling his Virginia Tech team that they were going to be respectful during the national anthem. Read the quote, watch the video and then tell me if Buzz Williams isn’t one of your favorite college basketball coaches.
“I think to myself about how a country boy from a rural, American town in Texas gets paid to coach college basketball, and just how lucky I am. Every facet of my life has changed because of this game. Every game day when they play our national anthem, I stand up, I look up to the flag, put my hand over my heart and sing because to me, it is more than just lyrics.”
David Shaw, whose recruiting is restricted somewhat because of Stanford’s strict academic admission standards, is the first coach I’ve heard to make a statement about some of the riff-raff that is taking over 7-on-7 summer football the way the AAU basketball circuit has been hijacked. Shaw says, “I will also never ever, ever have a recruiting conversation with a 7-on-7 coach. I talk to high school coaches, counselors and parents.” Oh, if college basketball coaches would take the same approach!
By losing to Florida State, 88-66, in the first round of the ACC Basketball Tournament, Boston College became the first team in league history to go 0-19 in league play for an entire season.
UAB won’t play football this season but the Blazers, who return to college football in 2017, are participating in spring drills with 67 players.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Are you optimistic that the Florida O-line will improve significantly in 2016 or are you one of those I’ll believe it when I see it types?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I first started listening to Steve Morse back in the 1970s when he was the front man for the Dixie Dregs. Since 1994 he’s been the lead guitarist for Deep Purple. Today’s music is a solo album by Morse entitled “Major Impacts II.” This guy is just seriously talented.