By midday on National Signing Day 1999, doom and gloom engulfed the Gator Nation. Anquan Boldin and Nick Maddox had signed with Florida State and consensus was without these two guys, Steve Spurrier and his staff had rolled snake eyes. The future was bleak or so Gator fans were telling us.
Boldin had a great career at FSU and has put together a tremendous NFL career. He believed the FSU propaganda that Spurrier would never give him a chance to play quarterback, so he went to FSU where he was immediately moved to wide receiver. Nick “The Not So Quick” Maddox was a complete and total bust. It turns out he wasn’t durable enough to run between the tackles and wasn’t quick enough to get to the edge, minor little details for a running back.
Meanwhile, Florida “settled” for Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney, Lito Sheppard and nine other players who wound up in the NFL. Not bad for a class that some Gator fans claimed “sucked” when Boldin and Maddox elected to sign with FSU.
The 1999 class helped the Gators win the SEC East in 1999), the SEC championship in 2000 and the Orange Bowl in 2001. Does anyone doubt that if Spurrier had been the coach in 2002 that Gaffney and Sheppard would have stayed along with 1998 recruit Reche Caldwell that the Gators would have won the SEC?
Here’s a look at that 1999 class: Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney, Lito Sheppard, Keiwan Ratliff, Daryl Dixon Taylor Jacobs, Tron LaFavor, Bobby McCray, Clint Mitchell, Bam Hardmon, Ran Carthon, Tony Charles, Matt Farrior, Elgin Hicks, Dwright Jackson, Arpedge Rolle, Roderick Royal, Marshall Schaap, Chris Stephens, Roy Williams
All-Americans (4): Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney, Lito Sheppard, * Keiwan Ratliff
* Ratliff didn’t qualify in 1999, but enrolled at UF in 2000 and became an All-SEC and All-America cornerback/punt returner.
All SEC First or Second Team (7): Grossman, Gaffney, Sheppard, Ratliff, Dixon, Jacobs, McCray
NFL Draft Picks of free agents who spent at least 1 year in the NFL (12): Grossman, Gaffney, Sheppard, Dixon, Ratliff, Jacobs, McCray, LaFavor, Mitchell, Nattiel, Hardmon, Ran Carthon
Started two or more seasons (10): Grossman, Gaffney, Sheppard, Hardmon, Jacobs, McCray, Mitchell, Nattiel, Ratiliff, Dixon
Class MVP: Grossman
Class surprise: Gaffney
Total bust: Charles
Never qualified: Williams
Transferred out or dismissed (5): Charles, Hicks, Royal, Schaap, Stephens
It’s important to mention classes such as 1999 as National Signing Day approaches because it is proof positive that there is no way to judge a class until it actually takes the field. Getting great players is important but is it more important than finding players who best fit your system? The 1999 class may not have had the big names, but the players fit Steve Spurrier’s system. Had Spurrier stayed for the 2002 season, Gaffney and Sheppard would have stayed as would Reche Caldwell from the 1998 class. Do any of you doubt the Gators would have won the SEC if those guys had stayed a year?
And since we’re on the subject of finding players that fit the system, compare the recruiting classes the last four years of Alabama and Clemson. Alabama has had the consensus top recruiting class nationally all four years. Clemson hasn’t had a single top 10 class. If it were simply about who recruited the top ranked players, then Alabama should have won the 2016 national championship game and it shouldn’t have been close. We know how that turned out.
On paper, it is looking like Florida’s 2017 recruiting class might not measure up but the proof will be what these guys do on the field. If they fit the system and the coaching is good, they might surprise you. If they are bad fits and either don’t respond to the coaching or are poorly coached, then this class will be rated a bust.
But we won’t know until they actually play the games in the future.
A GOOD WEEK WAS HAD BY ALL
Maybe losing those two games to South Carolina and Vanderbilt will turn out to be a blessing for Mike White and the Gators (16-5, 6-2). Perhaps it took losing two in a row to humble the team and get them back in White’s good graces. They played like a totally different team while going 2-0 last week. In blowing the doors off LSU, they showed what happens when everybody is on the same page offensively. Against Oklahoma, they showed what happens when everyone is on the same page defensively and that the people off the bench can carry the load when the starters are off their game.
Against Oklahoma, the reserves contributed 39 points with Kevarrius Hayes scoring a career-high 20 and Canyon Barry adding 15. Hayes and starting center John Egbunu combined for 27 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocked shots. If the Gators can get that kind of production out of the post, they’re going to be very difficult to beat the rest of the season. Barry probably needs to shoot more but he’s the ultimate team player.
This was also an exceptional game for point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza, who combined for 12 points and 12 assists with only 2 turnovers.
This bodes well for the week ahead. Missouri (5-15, 0-8 SEC) should be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage Thursday night, which is fortunate considering Kentucky (17-4, 7-1 SEC) comes to town Saturday night. Florida is certainly capable of knocking off the mighty Wildcats but the margin for error is rather slim. The Gators will have to hit shots from the outside to force the Wildcats out of the paint to defend and when that happens, they’re going to have to prove they can take it all the way to the rack and finish. Defensively, the Gators are going to have to take a page out of the Tennessee and Kansas playbooks and force Malik Monk to take shots from uncomfortable positions. If the Gators let Monk get hot, they’ve got real trouble on their hands. The second key will be to force UK point guard DeAaron Fox to kill his dribble out beyond the 3-point line. When Fox gets into the paint he’s lethal, either finishing or getting the ball to one of Kentucky’s bigs for a dunk.
SEC in Realtime RPI national rankings (as of Sunday morning): 8. Kentucky 17-4, 701 SEC; 9. FLORIDA 16-5, 6-2 SEC; 19. South Carolina 16-4, 7-1 SEC; 29. Arkansas 16-5, 5-3 SEC; 41. Tennessee 11-9, 4-4 SEC; 54. Georgia 12-8, 4-4 SEC; 60. Auburn 14-7, 3-5 SEC; 61. Vanderbilt 10-11, 3-5 SEC; 68. Ole Miss 12-9, 3-5 SEC; 70. Alabama 13-7, 6-2 SEC; 80. Texas A&M 11-9, 3-5 SEC; 123. Mississippi State 13-7, 4-4 SEC; 137. LSU 9-11, 1-7 SEC; 266. Missouri 5-15, 0-8 SEC.
Buzzards are circling: LSU coach Johnny Jones and Missouri coach Kim Anderson have one foot out the door already. After Arkansas had its doors blown off by Oklahoma State, Hog fans aren’t exactly pleased as punch with Mike Anderson, who has been there six years and still hasn’t restored Arkansas to national prominence (only one NCAA trip and just once to the NIT). Billy Kennedy is on shaky ground at Texas A&M, but he’s got enough talent to salvage another year in College Station if the Aggies will simply respond.
MEL KIPER’S FIRST MOCK DRAFT
Mel Kiper has three Gator defenders going in the first round of his first mock draft – corners Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson and linebacker Jarrad Davis. Altogether, Kiper has 14 SEC players going in the first round with Alabama leading the way with six.
1. Cleveland: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2. San Francisco: Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
3. Chicago: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
4. Jacksonville: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
5. Tennessee (from the LA Rams): Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
6. New York Jets: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
8. Carolina: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
9. Cincinnati: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
10. Buffalo: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
11. New Orleans: Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
12. Cleveland (from Philadelphia): Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
13. Arizona: Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
14. Philadelphia (from Minnesota): Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
15. Indianapolis: Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA
16. Baltimore: Jabril Peppers, S, Michigan
17. Washington: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
18. Tennessee: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
19. Tampa Bay: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
20. Denver: Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
21. Detroit: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
22. Miami: Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
23. New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
24. Oakland: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
25. Houston: Budda Baker, S, Washington
26. Seattle: Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
27. Kansas City: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
28. Dallas: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
29. Green Bay: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
30. Pittsburgh: Charles Harris, OLB, Missouri
31. Atlanta: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
32. New England: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
RATING THE SUPER BOWL QUARTERBACKS
The Super Bowl is next Sunday, pitting Tom Brady, a shoo-in first ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame pick, and Matt Ryan of Atlanta, who could establish Hall of Fame bona fides with a Super Bowl win over Brady and New England. I’ve seen every single Super Bowl and here is how I would rate the ten best quarterbacks.
1. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh
2. Joe Montana, San Francisco
3. Tom Brady, New England
4. Joe Namath, New York Jets
5. Bart Starr, Green Bay
6. Troy Aikman, Dallas
7. John Elway, Denver
8. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis/Denver
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
10. Eli Manning, New York Giants
TOP 10 COACHES I’VE SEEN IN ANY SPORT
1. Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers (NFL)
2. John Wooden, UCLA (College Basketball)
3. Paul “Bear” Bryant, Alabama (College football)
4. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (NFL)
5. Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL)
6. Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles (MLB)
7. Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls/Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
8. Don Shula, Baltimore Colts/Miami Dolphins (NFL)
9. Dean Smith, North Carolina (College basketball)
10. Pat Riley, Los Angeles Lakers/Miami Heat (NBA)
Was it my imagination or did the folks in Orlando actually turn out in force for the Pro Bowl Sunday night? If the game had been played back in Hawaii I doubt 30,000 people would have showed up. But, then again, I’ve been to Hawaii. Given the choice of the beach and the Pro Bowl, the beach would win every time.
Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell were voted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Both were linked to steroid use. Frank Thomas, a Hall of Famer never accused of steroid use, says that if players linked to PEDs like Rodriguez and Bagwell are allowed in the Hall then maybe it’s time to let players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in, too. And, if baseball allows the juicers in, why not Pete Rose? Thomas says, “If you’re gonna let the PED guys in, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Kendal Briles might be gone before he ever calls his first play. Briles, formerly the OC at Baylor, was prominently mentioned in a Dallas Morning News investigative report that alleges there were 52 acts of rape including five gang rapes between 2011-14 involving Baylor football players.
Charles Shackleford, who was accused but never convicted of point shaving when he played basketball for Jim Valvano at North Carolina State, was found dead at his home in Kinston, North Carolina over the weekend. Shackleford steadfastly stood by his innocence of the point shaving allegations but admitted taking money from an agent. Shackleford, who once described his ability to use both hands as being “amphibious,” was at the heart of the investigation by the NCAA that forced Valvano to resign.
Only three of college basketball’s top ten teams made it through the week unscathed: Gonzaga, Arizona and Oregon. Since the Zags are the only unbeaten team still standing, it would be a shock if they aren’t the #1 team in the nation when the AP and Coaches polls come out.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
After a weekend in which the Gators secured three commitments, the Gators stand at #18 overall in Scout.com’s team rankings. Do you think Jim McElwain has established enough momentum to get the Gators close to a top ten finish?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I became a big Chrissie Hynde fan when I heard her belt out “Back on a Chain Gang” in 1982. She and The Pretenders had a nice run from 1982-94 then they kind of disappeared. I found this 2016 concert Sunday afternoon and Chrissie is still rocking at age 65.