With the Orange and Blue Game finishing up spring #2 of the Jim McElwain Era at the University of Florida, here are a five football observations:
1. The QB situation is so much better: Last spring the only two scholarship QBs were Treon Harris and Will Grier. All four of the available quarterbacks (Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby, Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask) have strong arms and high football IQs. The competition has been keen but it has been friendly. McElwain likes it that all four are learning from and feeding off each other.
2. The O-line is a year older and much deeper: There were only six scholarship linemen available last year and only one had ever started an SEC game. Even with Martez Ivey (surgery on both shoulders) out for the spring and Brandon Sandifer missing the final week (arthroscopic surgery), the Gators have been able to work with a two-deep and that can only make the O-line better in the fall. If there is a spring MVP on the O-line it’s Tyler Jordan, who has taken reps at guard (probable starter in the fall), tackle and center.
3. Dre Massey and Mark Thompson are playmakers with speed: With Brandon Powell out with hamstring problems, Dre Massey has moved into the slot and shown that he’s a legitimate threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball. Thompson is a 240-pound hammer at running back who has an extra gear when he gets to the second level. Other than Antonio Callaway, the Gators really didn’t have much in the way of playmakers last year. If Massey and Thompson are as good in the fall as they’ve been in the spring, the offense will be substantially better.
4. The defensive coaching staff is as good as you will find in the country: The addition of Torian Gray (secondary) gives UF a defensive coaching staff on par with any you will find anywhere. This isn’t taking anything away from Travaris Robinson but Gray is the best secondary coach the Gators have had since 2008 when Vance Bedford handled the corners and Chuck Heater the safeties. With Chris Rumph handling the D-line and Randy Shannon and DC Geoff Collins working the linebackers, this staff is solid, talented and innovative. Losing Jon Bullard, Antonio Morrison and Vernon Hargreaves III was a big loss, but even without those three, the UF defense will be better in 2016 because the coaching staff is that good.
5. It has been quiet, hasn’t it?: Have you noticed the lack of Gators on the police blotter lately? Now, the time you worry the most (June and July) looms and you always worry about players getting into trouble when there is the least amount of coach supervision, but I get the impression that Mac has his thumb on every situation and that a quiet summer is to be expected. I like Mac’s approach to discipline. He’s made it abundantly clear that it is indeed a privilege to play football at UF, not a right and with the privilege comes responsibility. Apparently he’s made sure everybody fully understands that you either play by his rules or you can find a new address to ply your football trade.
UF SPRING SPORTS
Baseball: Florida (28-3) continued its hot hitting ways Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium, pounding out 12 hits for a 7-2 win over Jacksonville. The #1-ranked Gators grabbed a 4-0 lead against the visiting Dolphins (17-11) then put the game away in the bottom of the eighth when Nick Maldonado hit his 5th homer of the season, a 2-run shot to left field. Maldonado, Jeremy Vasquez, Buddy Reed and Dalton Guthrie led the Gators with two hits each. Scott Moss, who got the start, pitched three hitless innings to earn his first career win as a Gator. Next up for the Gators is #10 Mississippi State (20-8-1, 6-3 SEC), which comes to McKethan Stadium for a 3-game series that starts Friday.
Softball: The Gators dropped to #3 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. Michigan (27-3), who the Gators beat the first weekend of the season, is #1 while Auburn (33-4), who the Gators beat two out of three the first SEC weekend, is #2. Alabama (31-7), which took two out of three from the Gators in Gainesville over the weekend, is #4. Other ranked SEC teams are #9 LSU (28-9), #10 Texas A&M (30-6), #11 Georgia (31-7), #14 Missouri (26-7), #15 Kentucky (31-8) and #19 Tennessee (27-10). Florida State (27-4) is #8 and South Florida (31-10) is #23.
The Gators face UCF in a non-conference game tonight and travel to Ole Miss for a 3-game series that starts Friday.
SATELLITE CAMPS: Unless the NCAA intervenes with legislation to squash them altogether, the Southeastern Conference will approve the coaches of its 14 member schools to guest coach at another school’s camp – and that includes colleges and high schools. Under current NCAA rules, football programs are allowed to hold camps on their campus, inside their state or within a 50-mile radius of campus, but coaches can guest coach at another school's camp all the way down to the high school level. Last year, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Penn State coach James pushed that envelope when they were guest coaches out of state. Harbaugh pushed the envelope even further in March by holding one week of Michigan’s spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton. Ohio State announced last week that Urban Meyer will do satellite camps in the south.
Since the SEC isn’t going to allow the Big Ten to keep making gains without fighting back in some way, here are some suggestions where SEC teams should hold at least one satellite camp.
Alabama: What better team to drive a wooden stake in the heart of Big Ten country than Alabama and what better place than Columbus, which is also a stone’s throw from Michigan.
Auburn: The Gus Malzahn offense requires a dual threat quarterback to make it work right. No state produces more dual threat QBs than Texas so Gus would be smart to set up shop in Houston.
Arkansas: When he was the head ball coach at Wisconsin, Bret Bielema used to land these wide bodies from in-state to play the O-line. Bielema still likes ground and pound and is still highly regarded in Wisconsin so setting up in Milwaukee would be beneficial.
FLORIDA: When you think of all the talent the Gators have landed out of the Charlotte area – Brandon Spikes, D.J. Humphrey, Mo Collins, Chris Leak, Jon Bullard and Larry Kennedy just to name a few – then this would be the ideal place to hold a camp.
Georgia: North Florida, and in particular Jacksonville, has been very good to Georgia throughout the years. Camping in Jacksonville would not only help the Bulldogs in Florida but would be convenient for talent-rich areas in south Georgia such as Valdosta, Waycross and Kingsland.
Kentucky: The Wildcats are only a couple of hours away from Cincinnati where there is plenty of talent and if they intend to be anything more than an SEC East bottom feeder they better infuse the roster with some serious talent.
LSU: Les Miles played football at Michigan and has at least twice turned down overtures to return as the HBC at his alma mater. Les might seem quirky in the SEC but he’s still highly regarded in Michigan.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen needs skill people and athleticism. He has recruited Louisiana well since he took over in Starkville. A satellite camp in the metro New Orleans area would be ideal.
Missouri: When Gary Pinkel had things going well at Mizzou he always had a lot of Texas kids on his roster and a good many of them hailed from Dallas.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has had success in Florida and at IMG Academy, so Bradenton would be ideal since it’s the home of IMG and just a short hop from talent-rich Tampa and Lakeland.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp, Travaris Robinson, Lance Thompson and Pat Washington all have strong ties to south Alabama and in particular Mobile, which always produces its share of Division I talent. Mobile would also open up the Mississippi Gulf Coast and West Florida.
Tennessee: Tennessee never produces enough D1 talent to allow the Vols to play at the highest levels in so recruiting metro Atlanta and north Georgia is a necessity for the Vols. A camp in the Atlanta area would fit their needs nicely.
Texas A&M: There is more talent than there are D1 scholarships in southern California. If the Aggies wanted to venture outside of Texas, their offense would sell well in metro LA.
Vanderbilt: Is there a place where there are lots of D1 prospects who have the kind of grades and academics to satisfy Vandy’s strict admissions department? Maybe the San Francisco Bay area would work.
UCONN WOMEN (YAWN) WIN ANOTHER TITLE
The UConn women won their 75th straight game and their fourth straight NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tuesday night when they beat Syracuse, 82-51. The Huskies were never challenged although they got bored in the third quarter and let Syracuse score 17 straight points to trim the UConn lead to 17 points. Breanna Stewart, who won her fourth consecutive tournament MVP award, was good for 24 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists, a fairly average game for a player who gets mentioned in the same breath with Cheryl Miller and Diana Taurasi.
To put things in perspective, the closest games were 10-point wins over Notre Dame and Maryland. During the regular season, UConn won six games by 10-19 points, three games by 20-29, one by 30-39, 13 by 40-49, five by 50-59 and three by 60 or more. In the NCAA Tournament, UConn’s winning margins were (lowest to highest) 21, 29, 31, 46, 52 and 60 points.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has now won 11 national titles as a coach and has a career record of 954-134 (87.7%).
Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere declared for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent. Labissiere was touted to be a game changer of a recruit when he signed with Kentucky but his freshman numbers were 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and he rarely made a difference. Some NBA team is going to draft him in the lottery and pay this kid millions. Personally, I think it’s a total waste of cash. Maybe Labissiere will shock me and become a great player but I think he’s light years away from being relevant. Still, the kid is from Haiti. This is a chance to make millions and
It’s way too early to be predicting the preseason Top 25 for next basketball season, but there was a rush to be the first with a top 25 Tuesday morning. The early top 25 from CBS and Gary Parrish, the best basketball writer in the country, has this top ten: (1) Duke; (2) Kentucky; (3) Villanova; (4) Kansas; (5) Xavier; (6) Michigan State; (7) North Carolina; (8) Oregon; (9) Arizona and (10) Virginia. Kentucky is the only SEC team that anyone is thinking top 25.
Roger Goodell says it’s “realistic” to think that London will get an NFL expansion franchise.
Tomorrow, the Masters tees off. My heart says Phil, my head says Jason Day or Bubba Watson. I just don’t think Rory McIlroy or Jordan Speith will win it. My longest of longshots is former Gator Billy Horschel.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If the SEC allows satellite camps, (a) should the Gators hold one and (b) where do they hold it?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The more I listen to Kevin Moore – better known by his stage name of Keb Mo – the more I know the Mississippi Delta style of blues will remain alive and well. He’s got the guitar, the voice and the style. Today’s music is a live recording of his 2008 performance at the Blue Balls Festival. I’m particularly fond of the first cut “More Than One Way Home” and the fifth, “Dangerous Mood.”