The intensity of reactions to the frat row episode is rather startling to me, but it shows how the Gator Nation has become polarized regarding the Zook administration. And no matter how you feel about the Gators head coach, you have to acknowledge that the schism in the fan base is an extremely negative thing for the future well being of UF.
Having perused the incident reports, it is obvious there are two dramatically different accounts of what transpired on the night of September 16th. Just as there are about the incident the night before that ended up with Steve Rissler having his nose broken. But one thing is clear, Ron Zook should have gotten out of his car, barked at his players to get back to their residences at full speed, gotten back in his car and headed home. Engaging in a verbal "joust" was a no-win scenario, and having players watch their coach extend a confrontation may well make them less likely to back down and walk away when they face something. That is not a good thing.
Ron also showed his kids that he will back them up no matter what the personal risk might be. That is a good thing.
I suspect UF President Bernie Machen, or his designee will want to try and get the officers, the Dean on the scene and others into a room and try to figure out what the true nature of the incident was. It is doubtful all will agree because what one person considers a discussion, another considers a fight. What one might say is a harmless exchange, someone else could easily perceive as a threat.
That said, the four players who initiated the entire chain of events by parking themselves outside of the frat house in an obvious attempt to intimidate the members should be disciplined.
THIS DISTRACTION IS UNWELCOME
Having covered the Gators through multiple NCAA investigations and coaching changes, I have seen Florida teams take to the field with all kinds of distractions. Rarely does a team play anywhere near its best under such circumstances.
I think of 1984, when after the firing of Charley Pell, the Gators really struggled against Mississippi State. Later that year, after Florida's powerhouse squad had already clinched the conference title, the SEC voted to ban the Gators form the Sugar Bowl. A disheartened Florida squad stumbled past a pretty weak FSU team five days later.
I remember 1989 when rumors abounded that Steve Spurrier would be leaving Duke to replace UF interim Coach Gary Darnell. The players were told nothing as they prepared for the Freedom Bowl. They were not happy about the way it was communicated, or not communicated to them and laid an egg in losing to Washington 34-7.
Florida's challenge this week, is to put several issues out of their minds and focus on the game at hand. Those issues include the aftermath of the frat row incident, the aftermath of the LSU setback and the relatively weak and unexciting opponent.
HOW MANY WILL MAKE IT INTO THE SWAMP
If we were to add another "distraction" for Saturday, it would be the very strong possibility of a huge number of no shows at Florida Field. It has been a strange season indeed when it comes to attendance this year with games moved for hurricanes, re-scheduled for hurricanes, and so on. The LSU crowd was the only legit crowd of the season, and with this game not having been on the original schedule, Floridians still cleaning up and the frustration of two late-game losses, I suspect we will see perhaps 70,000 or thereabouts rather than 90,000.
WHAT ABOUT MIDDLE TENNESSEE
What we have learned about the Blue Raiders in their five games is that they are not very good. Middle has won two of five games, even though they have led in every one of them. Their strength is throwing the ball where lefty sophomore Clint Marks leads the nation, completing 77.4 % of his throws. The top receiver, Kerry Wright is having a good year (41-553, 13.5, 5 td) and is also a threat as a punt returner.
Defensively they are pretty good up front, not so good in the back seven, especially at corner where they play two freshmen.
They are coming off their best game, a 45-17 win over Arkansas State. While I don't think they can win this game, or even come close, I think it is important for the Gators to get off to a good start to make sure the fans who do make it to the game stay in a good mood. The Gators also need a blowout so they can get some guys on the field and get some good karma working for them for the next two weeks.
COULD GET TESTY IN TALLY
Florida State will play one of the three best teams on its schedule Saturday night when they host Virginia. The Cavaliers need this one to prove they are legit, and FSU needs one to stay in the conference race and BCS picture. For the 'Noles, it could also bring their quarterback situation to a full boil. Chris Rix is healthy and wants his job back. Wyatt Sexton has been running the offense with efficiency, though not spectacularly. Don't miss it… could be fun. Could also be a helluva game.
I like Louisville's chances against Miami tonight. If they spring the upset, Bobby Petrino moves into the upper echelon of candidates for elite openings. Jeff Tedford (California) and Urban Meyer (Utah) and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) are in that group… and you can make a case for Mike Leach (Texas Tech) Les Miles (Oklahoma St) and Rich Rodriguez (West Virginia).
(Editor's Note: We scheduled this story for posting this morning, not realizing Larry made a prediction on the Miami game. Oops! Our apologies, but it goes to show how close Larry nailed that one! -Ray)