Because it’s Michigan and Jim Harbaugh and not the usual flag football all-stars the Gators open their season with, there is going to be a tendency to cast Florida as an underdog on September 2 at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas.
Without question, this will be Florida’s toughest season opener since 1987 when the Galen Hall-coached Gators were flattened by Miami, which would go on to win the national championship, 31-4. Since that game, the Gators have faced enough cupcakes to cause a blood sugar spike in the fan base. How could we ever forget San Jose State (1991, 59-21), New Mexico State (1994, 70-20), Southwestern Louisiana (1996, 59-21), UAB (2002, 51-3), San Jose State (again, 2003, 65-3), Charleston Southern (2009, 62-3) or New Mexico State (again, 2015, 61-13)?
Michigan certainly won’t be a cupcake, but if the Gators are going to venture out of the bakery for a season opener, then this is definitely a year to open with Harbaugh and the Wolverines, who lost 17 starters including 10 on a defensive unit that gave up only 14.1 points and 261.8 yards per game in 2016.
The Wolverines gave up 119.23 rushing yards per game and 3.22 per carry last year. The only returning starter on the front seven is defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who had 33 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. The Wolverines gave up only 142.5 yards per game passing last year, but this year’s secondary will be brand new.
Over on the offensive side, the Wolverines return last year’s starting QB, Wilton Speight, who threw for 2,538 yards (7.7 yards per attempt) and 18 TDs but there isn’t a wide receiver returning who caught more than five passes last year. While the Wolverines have a couple of outstanding returning runners in Chris Evans (614 yards, 4 TDs) and Karan Higdon (425 yards, 6 TDs), they’re replacing three of their five starters from an offensive line that struggled to run block down the stretch (98 rushing yards against Iowa, 91 against Ohio State and 89 against FSU in the Orange Bowl) and was susceptible to speed off the edge.
There will be a new punter and placekicker as well.
Now, because it’s Michigan and because it’s Harbaugh, we know the Wolverines will be very well coached and they will have good athletes, but this is a Michigan team that could struggle to find consistency out of the gate only to get on a roll later in the season. In other words, if the Gators are going to play Michigan, game one is the time to do it. I like Randy Shannon’s defense and I do believe the Gators finally have the weapons to force defenses out of their comfort zone. The Wolverines are a big blitzing team so it will be critical for UF’s offensive line to play well and for whoever is playing quarterback to get the ball away and avoid sacks.
TCU SCOUTING REPORT
The final matchup of the first round of the College World Series will pit the #3 seed Gators (48-17) against #6 seed TCU (47-16) Sunday at 7 p.m. The Gators are likely to start Brady Singer (7-5, 3.29 ERA) while TCU is expected to counter with Jared Janczak (9-0, 1.97 ERA).
The Horned Frogs come into the game with a team batting average of .272 and a team ERA of 3.99.
Their most dangerous hitter is catcher Evan Skoug (.277, 20 homers, 67 RBI), who has hit four home runs and driven in 12 games in TCU’s five NCAA tournament games so far. The Horned Frogs have been without their most dangerous hitter Luken Baker (.317, 8 home runs, 41 RBI) since late May after he suffered an arm injury that required surgery. Leadoff hitter and right fielder Wade Austen leads the team with a .342 average (5 homers, 37 RBI). Center fielder Nolan Brown (.293, 3 homers, 35 RBI) hits in the fifth slot and is the top base running threat with 26 steals in 28 attempts.
For long relief the Frogs go with Sean Wymer (5-4, 2.37 ERA). The closer is Durbin Feltman (2-2, 3.90 ERA) who has saved 17 games.
This is the 14th season for TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle, who has a 612-270 career record. He’s taken the Horned Frogs to the NCAA Tournament 13 of their 15 times in school history and all five of their trips to the College World Series.
BYRNE 1ST TEAM ALL-AMERICA; FAEDO 2ND TEAM
The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Perfect Game named Florida closer Michael Byrne (3-5, 1.83 ERA, 16 saves) first team All-American on Wednesday. Named to the second team was staff ace Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.55 ERA).
GATORS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL DRAFT
The Major League Baseball Draft is over and while the Gators will lose a few players to the professional ranks, all things considered it was a good three days for the University of Florida. Figure the seven players taken in the first seven rounds are likely to sign contracts because the money is just too good to turn down. Signee Tommy Mace was taken in the 12th round by Cincinnati
Round 1: Alex Faedo, RHP, Detroit – He’s got a $3.2 million signing bonus waiting. He’s a goner.
Round 2: Signee Sam Carlson, RHP, Seattle – It’s doubtful Carlson will walk away from a $1.2 million signing bonus, but Brady Singer did two years ago. It’s
Round 5: Signee Sam McMillan, C, Detroit – All indications are that he’s going to take the $319,900 signing bonus.
Round 6: Dalton Guthrie, SS, Philadelphia – He’ll get a $266,800 bonus and there is no guarantee he would be drafted higher next year.
Round 6: Signee Zack Jackson, C, St. Louis – He gets $243,500 bonus money and gets to sign with one of the two or three best organizations in Major League Baseball. Figure he’s a goner.
Round 6: Mike Rivera, C, Cleveland – He’s like Guthrie in that there is no guarantee he would be drafted higher if he came back a year. It would be a shocker if he doesn’t take the $228,000.
Round 7: Mark Kolozsvary, C, Cincinnati – Talk about someone who made the most of his opportunity. When Rivera got hurt, Kolozsvary got a chance to play every day and his stock soared. It would be foolish for him to turn down $218,800 cold hard cash.
Round 12: Signee Tommy Mace, RHP, Cincinnati – The Reds have only so much money to sign draft picks from rounds 11-40. To keep Mace from going to college they’ll need six figures at least and that might be hard to come by. He’s 6-6 and a skinny 190. Figure his 90-91 mph fast ball will get better with added strength.
Round 27: David Lee, P, Pittsburgh – He pitched two innings this year. Whatever the Pirates offer, he should take it.
Round 29: Deacon Liput, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers – He’s had a dismal 2017 after such a solid freshman year. If he has any consistency next season he should go in the first 15 rounds. Figure he will be back.
Round 29: Frank Rubio, P, San Francisco – He’s a senior and despite the 4.05 ERA, has potential if he concentrates on dropping down and throwing submarine.
Round 32: Signee Hunter Ruth, RHP, Chicago Cubs – If not for Tommy John surgery, he would have gone in the first five rounds. Hit 97 on the gun before blowing out his elbow in April. He may need a redshirt season.
Round 33: Signee Brady McConnell, SS, Cincinnati – He was rated the #75 prospect in the nation by Baseball America. He lasted until the 33rd round because everyone figured he’s serious about his Florida commitment. Figure he will be UF’s starting shortstop from day one next year.
Round 34: Signee Jordan Butler, LHP, New York Yankees – He hit .451 with eight homers and was 9-2 with an 0.85 ERA on the mound. Best pitch is a heavy sinker that induces a lot of grounders and bad ball swinging third strikes. If he develops and fills out (6-2 and a skinny 190), he could be a top ten pick in three years.
Round 38: JJ Schwarz, C/1B, Tampa Bay – Really, are there 1,128 better baseball players in the country? His stock dropped like a rock, perhaps because he told the scouts he wants to come back for his senior year?
Round 39: Signee Jack Leftwich, RHP, Detroit – Baseball America had him as the #169 draft-eligible player in the country. He dropped all the way to the 39th because he’s a lock to come to UF. He’s got a 4.38 GPA and could have gotten in school on his own. Throws in the mid-90s.
FLORIDA’S NON-DRAFTED SIGNEES
Connor Churchill (6-4, 195, Palm Harbor, FL East Lake): Big strong righthander who throws a lot of strikes in the high 80s. A year in the weight room will do wonders.
Jose Cicarello (5-10, 185, Tampa, FL Alonso): He slumped at the plate as a senior and that cost him a chance to be drafted. High school shortstop. Probably a second baseman at UF.
Justin Farmer (6-1, 195, Riverview, FL): He could be the center fielder of the future. Gap-to-gap coverage and an outstanding arm. Has to cut down on strikeouts. Potential 25 stolen base guy.
Colton Gordon-Zimring (6-5, 214, St. Petersburg Beach, FL Lakewood Ranch): He’s a tall, lanky lefty with a high 80s fast ball that has topped out at 91. A little work on the mechanics and some strength could juice up that fast ball considerably.
Calvin Greenfield (6-1, 195, Jensen Beach, FL): He moved to Florida from Chicago before his senior year. It was surprising he wasn’t drafted considering his defense and strong arm. Holes in his swing but good power. He’s got a 4.5 GPA and could have gotten in school without athletics.
Hunter McMullen (6-3, 200, Ocala, FL Forest): He’s another outstanding student (4.6 GPA) and he’s got a 92 mph fast ball to boot. He’s the younger brother of UF freshman Kirby McMullen. Was 17-5 in his high school career with a 1.69 ERA.
Shane Shifflett (5-11, 170, Venice, FL): His future is shortstop or second base. He’s an excellent fielder and line drive hitter who doesn’t strike out much. He’s got excellent speed and shows good quickness in the field.
Brady Smith (6-1, 195, Niceville, FL/Longwood, FL TNXL Academy): He’s a former third baseman who converted to catcher. Excellent arm and good footwork behind the plate. Has always hit for average but lots of line drives and not a lot of power.
HOLLOWAY NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR
The United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named Florida’s Mike Holloway national coach of the year after leading the Gators to their second consecutive NCAA outdoor championship. Earlier in the year, the Florida men finished second in the NCAA indoor championships.
Since 2010, the Gators have won seven NCAA titles (three indoor and four outdoor). The Gators have finished in the top three in the outdoor championships nine consecutive years, the second best streak in history. Overall, the Gators have finished in the top three 17 of the last 18 years under Holloway’s direction.
The US Open begins today at the extra long Erin Hills course in Wisconsin. My pick to win the big trophy on Sunday is Dustin Johnson, who won it last year. Only Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange have won the Open in consecutive years since World War II, but because Erin Hills plays 7,741 yards it’s going to take someone who hits moonshots off the tee to win it and nobody hits them better than Johnson. My second choice is Jason Day, another boomer off the tee who won the PGA at nearby lengthy Whistling Straights in 2015. My longshot is Jason Dufner. He’s not a consistent putter but he’s coming off a win at The Memorial.
Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob can offer Stephen Curry a five-year contract extension worth $205 million. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to keep Steph here and happy,” Lacob told ESPN.
When he was named head coach at East Carolina in 2010, Ruffin McNeill took a chance and hired 26-year-old Lincoln Riley, who had never called plays in a game while working his way up from student assistant to wide receivers coach at Texas Tech, as his offensive coordinator. Thursday was Riley’s chance to say thank you when he hired McNeill to coach Oklahoma’s defensive tackles.
The Boston Celtics are said to be eyeing free agents Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward along with drafting Markelle Fultz with the #1 overall pick in the draft. If they can pull off that trifecta, the Celtics could be the preseason favorite to win the NBA East next year.
With Florida, LSU and Texas A&M Omaha-bound, the SEC has set a record with three teams in the College World Series for the ninth time.
Auburn fans are probably cringing at the latest from the droopy mouth of former coach and AD Pat Dye, who told Paul Finebaum, “We [Auburn] could play football for another 500 years and not catch up to Alabama’s tradition.”
There is more and more chatter coming out of Los Angeles that while the Los Angeles Lakers love Lonzo Ball’s talent the idea of dealing with his dad has them looking seriously at taking De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky or Josh Jackson of Kansas with the second pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. I wonder how LaVar will spin that if it happens?
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you like the idea of scheduling a tough out of conference game to start the football season or would you prefer a cupcake to give the Gators a chance to play a lot of players and get experience before the SEC schedule begins?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett had a brief but very successful run from 1967-72 when they put together tours featuring some of the best musicians in the world playing in the band. At times their band included Duane and Gregg Allman, Leon Russell, Gram Parsons, Rita Coolidge, George Harrison and Dave Mason. Their “On Tour with Eric Clapton” album of 1970 featured Clapton, Mason and Harrison on guitars with Billy Preston on keyboards.