You would think a year would make quite a difference. A year ago, the Florida Gators were on no one’s preseason top 25 radar but they shocked everybody by winning the SEC East and finishing 10-4 in Jim McElwain’s first year on the job. You would think that winning the East for the first time since 2009 even with an offense that went to the elephant boneyard after Will Grier was suspended would be worthy of some respect, but there isn’t a whole lot of love for the Gators this year. Only Athlon Sports, whose preseason magazine hits the stands on May 24, has the Gators on the radar, starting the season at #21.
That’s actually a good place to begin since UF has to replace two NFL first rounders in the secondary (Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal), a third rounder and a seventh rounder on the D-line (Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCalister) and a fourth rounder at middle linebacker (Antonio Morrison) plus break in a new quarterback (Luke Del Rio). If the talent pool had been drained by those losses, you could understand UF out of everyone’s preseason top 25, but there’s hardly a lack of talent.
Even with the losses and even with a new QB, Florida has more depth, more speed and more experience than last season. Add in the fact that McElwain’s history shows significant offensive improvement in year two at his stops along the way as both a coordinator and head coach and a #21 preseason ranking doesn’t seem so far fetched. There is a distinct possibility that #21 could be way too low although Fox Sports, ESPN.com, Sporting News and CBSSports.com don’t agree. The Gators didn’t even make a dent in any of their all-too-early preseason predictions.
Here is the Athlon Preseason top 25.
2. Florida State
3. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
10. Ole Miss
13. Michigan State
22. North Carolina
23. Southern Cal
25. Oklahoma State
My thoughts: This is going to be a recurring theme today – why all the love for Tennessee and Georgia? Tennessee has started the season with high hopes and disappointed in each of the last two years while Georgia lost more talent than Florida and is breaking in a new coach and QB. I can’t argue with either Alabama at #1 or FSU at #2. Believe it or not, FSU was actually younger and more inexperienced than the Gators last year and has nearly everyone back. I think Ohio State is a top ten but not necessarily a top four team. I think both LSU and Oklahoma could crack the final four. I’m not at all surprised that Athlon and everybody else is predicting Oregon to continue to slide backward. The talent Chip Kelly recruited has dried up and now the Ducks have to sink or swim with Mark Helfrich’s recruiting. Everybody has North Carolina in their top 25. With Gene Chizik calling the defense, leaving Larry Fedora to handle the offense, the Tar Heels might shock everyone and finish top ten.
FOX SPORTS ALL-TOO-EARLY TOP 25 FOR 2016
Bruce Feldman made the picks for Fox Sports.
4. Florida State
9. Ohio State
10. Notre Dame
15. Texas A&M
18. Ole Miss
20. Michigan State
22. Washington State
23. Southern Cal
24. North Carolina
My thoughts: I believe those will be the four top teams in the country for a good portion of the season and perhaps all the way through 2016. I think Houston is going to be good enough that nobody in his right mind in the Power 5 would play them unless forced to. I understand that everyone is enamored with Tennessee but I can’t shake the belief that Butch Jones will figure out a way to lose at least a couple of games that he should win. And, until the Vols prove they can beat Florida, they shouldn’t be ranked in anybody’s top ten. I think the Aggies and Georgia have no business in anybody’s top 25. I think Louisville could crack the top ten and unless the NCAA derails the Rebels, Ole Miss is going to be a team nobody wants to play.
ESPN.COM ALL-TOO-EARLY TOP 25 FOR 2016
Mark Schlabach picks for ESPN.com.
4. Florida State
9. Notre Dame
10. Ohio State
12. Southern Cal
14. Ole Miss
15. Oklahoma State
16. Michigan State
19. North Carolina
21. Texas A&M
My thoughts: I think Michigan will be top ten but a year away. When Harbaugh has a QB that’s been with him a couple of years, then you can really sweat about Michigan. I find it hard to imagine Georgia finishing in the top 25 much less #13, but then again, Schlabach graduated from Georgia so that explains things. He’s got the Aggies top 25 and I can’t see that happening. Miami is down there at #25 which I think is too low with that QB (Brad Kaaya) and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson is going to drive defensive coordinators nuts while running and passing the Cardinals into the top ten.
SPORTING NEWS ALL-TOO-EARLY TOP 25 FOR 2016
Bill Bender picks for The Sporting News.
4. Ohio State
6. Florida State
7. Ole Miss
10. Notre Dame
11. Michigan State
15. Southern Cal
16. Oklahoma State
My thoughts: I think if J.T. Barrett stays healthy Ohio State will be one of the top five teams in the country. I can’t see FSU finishing outside the top four, not with all their talent and experience. I think Ole Miss could be a top ten team with Chad Kelly at QB and I cannot, under any circumstance, see LSU finishing outside the top 6-7 teams in the country. Another preseason poll with Georgia top 25. I do not see that happening. I agree that Arkansas will make the top 25 and this will be the year Charlie Strong gets Texas back on track.
CBSSPORTS.COM ALL-TOO-EARLY TOP 25 FOR 2016
Selected by Dennis Dodd
7. Notre Dame
9. Michigan State
11. Oklahoma State
13. Florida State
14. Southern Cal
18. Ohio State
21. Ole Miss
24. San Diego State
25. Washington State
My thoughts: I can’t see Florida State finishing out of the top eight teams in the country nor can I see Ohio State finishing out of the top ten. I think there is way too much love for Baylor, Tennessee and Georgia and not nearly enough for Ole Miss and Louisville.
UF SPRING SPORTS UPDATE
Men’s Golf: The Gators are tied with Idaho for the lead at -5 at the NCAA Kohler (Wisconsin) Regional after one round. Ryan Orr and Alejandro Tosti each carded a -2 while Jorge Garcia came in at -1 and Sam Horsfield was even par. Florida State is a shot off the pace while Arkansas is tied for 7th at +4.
Women’s Golf: The Gators are ranked #5 nationally as they head out to Eugene, Oregon for the NCAA Championships, which begin on Friday.
Baseball: By taking two out of three from Vanderbilt, the Gators (43-9, 18-8 SEC) held on to their #1 national ranking in both the D1 and NCBWA polls. The Gators also hold the nation’s #1 RPI. Also ranked from the SEC (D1 poll) are #2 Texas A&M (39-11, 18-9 SEC), #4 Mississippi State (37-14-1, 18-9 SEC), #7 Ole Miss (39-13, 17-10 SEC), #10 LSU (36-16, 17-10 SEC), #11 South Carolina (38-13, 17-9 SEC), and #12 Vanderbilt (37-15, 15-12 SEC).
Softball: You probably won’t see a lot of balls flying out of Katie Seashole Presley Stadium this weekend because the NCAA Gainesville Regional will feature the top three pitchers for earned run average (ERA) in the country in Florida’s Aleshia Ocasio (20-1, 0.70 ERA) and Delanie Gourley (18-3, 0.73 ERA) and Florida Atlantic’s Kylee Hanson (28-5, 0.73 ERA). Florida’s Kelly Barnhill (15-1, 1.37 ERA) has the #11 ERA. The #1 seeded Gators (53-5) have the top team ERA in the country at 0.90 while Florida Atlantic is third at 1.17 and UCF is 10th at 2.11.
The Gators, who have the top RPI in the country, will face Southwestern Athletic Conference champ Alabama State (28-25) in Friday’s first round action. Alabama State has a 4.26 team ERA and the #238 RPI in the country.
In Friday’s other contest, FAU (50-7) faces UCF (36-20). FAU comes into the tournament riding a 21-game winning streak. The Owls haven’t lost a game since April 2 when Louisiana Tech took a 5-2 win. The Owls are1-3 against teams in the NCAA Tournament and in their only game against a seeded team, lost 6-5 to #5 Oregon. UCF played an ambitious schedule, posting a 7-14 record against teams playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Knights have a win over #6 seed Alabama and losses to #1 seed Florida, #4 Auburn, #7 James Madison, #8 Florida State, #10 LSU, #11 Washington and #12 UCLA.
CALIPARI SAYS KENTUCKY IS HIS LAST STOP
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari’s name will be plastered across every NBA opening in the next month or so. Calipari says he has no intention of going anywhere. “I want this to be my final coaching position,” Calipari said Monday.
Prediction: If Billy Donovan wins an NBA championship this year – not likely but it could happen – and beats the Cleveland Cadavers (and LeBron James) in doing so, Cal will be the coach of the Cadavers next year. LeBron, World Wide Wes and Nike will make sure of that.
WHY TOM O’BRIEN ISN’T ANYONE’S HEAD COACH ANYMORE
Russell Wilson was playing baseball in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system when he called North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien to tell him he wanted to come back for his senior year. Recalled Russell while speaking to ESPN, “He told me I wasn’t coming back. He said, ‘Listen son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League. You’re too small. There’s no chance. You’ve got no shot. Give it up.’
“Of course, I’m on this side of the phone saying, ‘So you’re telling me I’m not coming back to NC State? I won’t see the field?’ He said, ‘No son, you won’t see the field.’”
All Wilson did was do his senior season at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to an 11-3 record and a Big Ten championship while completing 72.8% of his passes for 7,175 yards and 33 TDs.
Since then, Wilson has won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks and had the Seahawks within seconds of a second championship.
O’Brien, meanwhile, went 8-5 Wilson’s senior season at Wisconsin, 7-5 the next year and was dismissed after that.
Since he was fired from Notre Dame in 2009, Charlie Weis has been paid $16,912,123 and he’s still got one more year left on his buyout. Charlie got $2,054,744 last year. That’s nice work – or no work in Charlie’s case – if you can get it.
What a concept. North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham held a yard sale in which all the old uniforms, shoes, equipment, etc. were sold to the general public. The line formed at 4 a.m. Saturday. Some people camped out all night and others drove from 3-4 hours away to buy a piece of Tar Heel nostalgia. Prices ranged from $5-50 for the 12,000 items that were on sale.
CBS Sports reports that LSU stud running back Leonard Fournette has insurance policies totaling $20 million to cover him from catastrophic injuries that could keep him from playing in the NFL.
It’s going to cost Syracuse $105 million to put a new roof on the Carrier Dome. The school is spending another $100 million to upgrade the 36-year old stadium where the Orange play both football and basketball.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: If you had a vote would you pick Florida in your preseason top 25 and where would you place both Tennessee and Georgia?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I was one of the first in line at a record store in Richmond, Virginia in the fall of 1977 when Steely Dan released “Aja,” which would rise to #3 on the US album charts and become the band’s best seller of all time. There are only seven songs and just 39:58 of music but it remains a classic. Rolling Stone voted Aja #145 on its list of the 500 best albums of all time. It won the Grammy Award for the best engineered album of that year. I listened to the full album Monday after hearing “Deacon Blues” on the radio so I’m making it today’s music selection.