Spring football practice is starting to wind down at the University of Florida and while some of the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, there are still several high priority questions that must be answered.
Here are three prominent questions that beg answers:
1. Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask at QB? Franks has been the number one guy all spring but he’s not as accurate as Trask. Trask, on the other hand, hasn’t been a starting QB. They are both redshirt freshmen so neither has experience at the collegiate level. Do you sacrifice accuracy because there is experience or do you overlook experience because there is accuracy?
2. For years we’ve been complaining about having enough speed at the wide receiver position. For whatever reason, Will Muschamp couldn’t seem to convince fast wide receivers to come to UF. Speed is not an issue anymore but catching the football is. Can Jim McElwain find receivers who can both stretch the field and hold onto the football when it hits their hands?
3. This is the third year for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Even though the Gators haven’t fielded a top 100 offense in the two previous seasons, Mac hasn’t wavered in his support of Nussmeier as his play caller. Reports out of practice are that the ball is being thrown downfield more often and the offense is opening up. Will this be a breakout year for Nussmeier or are the Gators going to wallow in offensive mediocrity again?
SPRING FOOTBALL QUESTIONS FOR THE OTHER 13 SEC TEAMS
Alabama: Alabama has elite running backs like Bo Scarbrough and one of the best running quarterbacks in the country in Jalen Hurts. The Tide also has outstanding receivers like Calvin Ridley. But can they throw the ball well enough so that opponents can’t stack the box like Clemson did in the national championship game?
Arkansas: In all four years he’s been the head coach, Bret Bielema has shown he can put a serious offense on the field, but the Razorbacks just can’t stop anybody. Bielema and long time defensive coordinator Robb Smith parted ways, opening the door for former Auburn DC and Iowa State HBC Paul Rhoads to take over. Can Rhoads transform the Hogs into a serious enough defensive team that (a) Bielema’s no longer on thin ice and (b) they can contend for the SEC West?
Auburn: The problem with going to the national championship game in his first year was that Gus Malzahn raised expectations so high that Auburn fans can’t understand why the Tigers haven’t won the in the three years since. Malzahn has brought in a stud quarterback, changed his offensive coordinator and seems to be transforming Auburn’s offense from a run first to a more wide open attack. Is Baylor transfer QB Jarrett Stidham the answer for Auburn and will he be the missing link that can save Malzahn’s job?
Georgia: It is Georgia and Georgia fans and the media are hyping 2017 as THE year because Jacob Eason returns at QB and the defense returns nearly intact. Will this be a breakout year for Kirby Smart or are Georgia fans and the media simply drinking their usual Kool-Aid and deluding themselves?
Kentucky: Kentucky played very well in the last half of the season and went to its first bowl game in five years, which got everyone excited. It also raised the expectations of fans to believe they could not only go to a second straight bowl game in 2017 but maybe win 8-9 games. Are Kentucky fans rational and should they expect to be even better or will the Wildcats go back to normal and lose … again?
LSU: All the elements are in place for LSU to be a challenger for both the SEC and national championships. There are great athletes just about anywhere you look at Coach O has outstanding coordinators in Todd Canada (offense) and Dave Aranda (defense) but then there is Coach O. He’s been a successful interim coach at Southern Cal and LSU, but in his previous work as a full time HBC he failed miserably at Ole Miss. Now that he’s a full time HBC again, does Coach O have what it takes to at least achieve the 9-10 wins a year that Les Miles gave LSU or possibly do better than Les?
Mississippi State: There is no doubt Dan Mullen is a QB guru and his latest protégé Nick Fitzgerald established himself as a worthy heir to Dak Prescott last season. The problems for Mullen are all on the defensive side of the ball where he hired Todd Grantham away from Louisville to run the show. Can Grantham make enough of a difference to elevate Mississippi State into a 9-10 win team and possibly an SEC West contender?
Missouri: With the youngest O-line in Division I last year, the Tigers gave up only 14 sacks in 12 games and the offense averaged 500.5 yards per game. If offensive coordinator Josh Heupel can repeat those numbers this year he will be somebody’s HBC for 2018. The questions are all about the defense that gave up 479.7 yards and 31.5 points a game last year. The Tigers lack personnel so it’s going to take smoke and mirrors for the defense to show significant improvement. Can Mizzou make enough improvement on defense to become bowl eligible in 2017?
Ole Miss: Ole Miss will have its up close and personal encounter with the NCAA very soon and there is rampant speculation that the Men in Blue Suits will demand the head of Hugh Freeze on a platter for any semblance of leniency, particularly given the history of Ole Miss and cheating. Ole Miss fans think they’ve done nothing different than other SEC schools do with recruiting so they think the NCAA is just picking on them for winning a lot of football games and beating Alabama two straight years. Will Ole Miss survive the encounter with the Committee on Infractions without a devastating hit and will Hugh Freeze be the football coach in the fall of 2017?
South Carolina: When Will Muschamp pulled the redshirt off true freshman QB Jake Bentley, who should have been a senior in high school last year, the Gamecocks suddenly found scoring punch and became bowl eligible. Bentley has a big arm and a serious football IQ. He’s capable of becoming a top tier QB who can light up even the best defenses. By nature Muschamp is conservative. Will Muschamp loosen up and let Bentley be what he can be or will his conservative nature kick in?
Tennessee: Remember that old Dionne Warwick song “Promises, Promises”? That’s how Vol fans are starting to feel about Butch Jones – all promises and no results. Yes, Tennessee has won more football games under Jones than his predecessor Derek Dooley (an earthworm could have done that), but UT fans believe they should contend for national championships every year. Can Butch win an SEC East and satisfy UT fans or will they run him off if he loses 4-5 games (likely) this year?
Texas A&M: The musical quarterbacks game continues at A&M where Kevin Sumlin have to choose between true freshman Kellen Mond and holdover Jake Hubenak, who has always been a backup. Sumlin has run off three 5-star QBs in the last three years and the Aggies have gone 8-5 in all three seasons. Can Sumlin make peace with his quarterbacks and get past that 8-5 bump in the road before Aggie fans revolt and elect to buy out his contract?
Vanderbilt: Derek Mason-coached teams will always be tough defensively, but can Vanderbilt improve enough offensively to be better than a .500 team in 2017? The results of Vandy’s spring showcase (no spring game, just a scrimmage) were underwhelming, especially in the passing game which netted all of 94 yards on 22 attempts.
UMASS HIRES MATT MCCALL
Ocala native Matt McCall has come a long, long way since he was a manager for Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. He worked his way up to Director of Basketball Operations, left to be an assistant at Florida Atlantic and then returned as an assistant to Donovan. He spent the last two years as the head coach at Chattanooga where he was 48-18 in two seasons. Wednesday he was hired by UMass to take over for Derek Kellogg, who was fired after nine seasons.
UMass plays in the tough Atlantic 10 Conference (Xavier is a former member; Dayton, Rhode Island, VCU and Richmond are consistent winners) and it’s the school that produced Dr. J and Rick Pitino and was the first coaching gig for John Calipari. This is a great stepping stone job for Matt, who can parlay consistent winning at UMass into a job at one of the power conferences.
GATORS DROP TO #2 IN ESPN/USA SOFTBALL POLL
Unbeaten Oregon (29-0) jumped Florida (30-2) in the most recent poll after the Gators had their 22-game winning streak snapped by Auburn in the third game of their weekend series. The Gators bounced back from the 1-0 loss to Auburn with a 15-7 win over Bethune-Cookman Wednesday night. The Gators answered a 3-run Bethune-Cookman top of the first with a 9-run bottom half of the inning highlighted by 3-run homers by Nicole DeWitt and freshman Jordan Roberts.
#3 UF LACROSSE FALLS TO MARYLAND 18-8
The Gators (8-2, 2-0 Big East) traveled to College Park Wednesday where their 8-game winning streak was halted by #1 Maryland, 18-8. The Gators return home Saturday to face Vanderbilt in a Big East Conference game.
FINAL FOUR MEANDERINGS
There is tall and then there is Gonzaga tall. The Zags (35-1), who face South Carolina Saturday in the first semifinal game at the Final Four, rotate 6-10 Johnathan Williams, 7-1 (300 pounds) Przemek (pronounced Shemmek … just like it’s spelled) Karnowski, 7-0 Zack Collins and 6-10 Killian Tillie in the front court. Those four are backed up by 7-1 Ryan Edwards, 6-10 Jacob Larson and 6-8 Rui Hachimura.
The hero of North Carolina’s thrilling win over Kentucky was sophomore Luke Maye, who hit the game winning shot with 0:00.3 seconds left. Maye, whose younger brother is a freshman pitcher for the Gators, was all set to walk on at UNC when he got a late spring call from Roy Williams offering him an unexpected scholarship. He’s averaging 12.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina starts three foreign born players – senior Duane Notice (Canada), sophomore Chris Silva (Gabon) and Maik Kotsar (Estonia – to go with homegrown talent Sindarius Thornwell (Lancaster) and PJ Dozier (Columbia).
Oregon coach Dana Altman is a graduate of Eastern New Mexico, same alma mater as Georgia coach Mark Fox. What are the odds a small Division II school in New Mexico would produce two high profile Division I basketball coaches?
It’s Thursday and I’m still sticking with the Zags to beat South Carolina. North Carolina over Oregon is shakier by the minute but I still go with the Tar Heels.
THE FLOOR FOR THE FINAL FOUR
From ESPN.com, this is what went into the floor that will be used for the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona this weekend:
It took 500 trees that became 418 panels of wood and 10 miles of boards.
To build the floor 125 workers spent 144 days or 207,360 minutes.
The 9,800 square foot floor has 14 different colors, 13.25 gallons of stain, 4.5 gallons of paint and 80.5 gallons of finish.
This is a very cool story that you can read here:
The Seattle Seahawks aren’t expected to trade Pro Bowl corner Richard Sherman but they are listening to trade offers. The Seahawks are also in talks with former Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch, who is considering the possibility of ending his retirement.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft says quarterback Tom Brady is certainly capable of playing another 6-7 years. Brady is 40. Meanwhile, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers says he’s quite capable of playing as long as Brady.
Kentucky basketball fans are touted as the best in all of college basketball. Apparently they are among the worst, too. After the Wildcats lost to North Carolina in the South Regional championship game in Memphis, Cat fans blamed the loss on the zebras and since then have inundated referee John Higgins with death threats.
The New England Patriots say they won’t draft Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon because of a domestic violence incident that happened three years ago.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
We’re almost through with spring football practice. What has encouraged you the most this spring and what concerns you the most as you look ahead to 2017?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The New Mastersounds have been around for 16 years, but I never heard of them until a friend sent me a video of a concert they played in Pittsburgh. This is a British soul/funk/jazz band that has recorded 15 albums, the most recent “The Nashville Sessions” from 2016.