VETTEL: Six-Pack To Watch This Spring

<b>1. MARKUS MANSON:</b> The cat-quick back from Alabama was most impressive in early workouts last fall and has the opportunity to race past more experienced teammates DeShawn Wynn and Skyler Thornton. Manson probably has the best speed of the three, but at his size stamina may be a question. Still in a very thin running back competition, he has the cleanest slate in terms of effort, attitude and academics.

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2. DAWAYNE GRACE: The biggest question on the Gator defense is the corner opposite Dee Webb. It's ironic that they were high school teammates under Dan Disch three years ago and now they have a chance to start together at UF. Grace should be able to outperform the other contenders in this crucial battle.

3. DERRICK HARVEY: If corner is the biggest question, you could argue a bona-fide edge rusher is the biggest need. Harvey has all the tools to be the guy who gives the Gators a constant threat in the pass rush and has wowed observers since the first of the year.

4. LANCE BUTLER: Florida's most versatile lineman might be the left tackle or he could play either guard spot. John Hevesy has the luxury of determining whether a tackle (Watkins, Washington, Medder or Trautwein) or a guard (Miller, Haupt) is his fifth-best lineman and plug in Butler accordingly along with Degory, Rissler and Hand. The sooner this becomes apparent the sooner Florida can start building the unit's group cohesiveness.

5. TODD McCULLOUGH: His new coach says he's a "nice guy" but the senior needs to be THE guy at one linebacker spot. Florida's reserve linebackers right now are two converted fullbacks (Latsko, Rutledge) and a well-traveled, rarely played fourth-year junior (Brian Crum).

6. MIKE MCINTOSH: I considered him the third best freshman last August behind Brandon Siler and Kyle Jackson (you could look it up). With this system he will be immediately thrust into the rotation. If there is a team with more athletic ability at WR than Florida I want to see it.

Baseball Team Begins SEC Slate

After playing 19 straight home games to open the season, the 15-4 Gator baseball team opens SEC play in Oxford, Mississippi Friday night with a three-game series against Ole Miss. The weekend promises to be difficult as most every SEC weekend is there days.

Last year the SEC was about as balanced as you could hope for. Ten of the twelve conference teams won between 12 and 19 games in SEC play, including Ole Miss (18-12) and Florida (17-13). Ole Miss actually was responsible for the low point in the season for the Gators last year, sweeping Florida at McKeithen Stadium by scores of 4-2, 3-1 and 10-9.

The sweep at the hands of Ole Miss sent the Gators into a late-season tailspin in which Florida lost seven of ten games heading into the NCAA Tournament.

The Gators will try to set the tone in game one with junior right hander Bryan Ball taking the mound. Ball has been outstanding so far this year with a 4-0 record and microscopic 1.34 ERA, quite an improvement over his career ERA of 4.85 after his first two seasons.

Ole Miss is led by junior lefty Stephen Head who won six games on the mound last year while batting .346 with 12 homers as a first baseman/DH. So far this season, Head is 3-0 on the mound while he already has five homers. Nine-game winner in 2004, Mark Holliman is also 3-0 while Matt Maloney is 4-0 so far. When the top three opposing pitchers are a combined 10-0, you know Florida hitters will have their hands full.

Offensively Ole Miss is led by a Floridian. Chris Coghlan from Palm Harbor is hitting .438 with four homers.

Swimmers Go For It At NCAA'S

This fall was a disappointing one for the Florida Gators in many ways, especially in terms of the All-Sports rankings nationally. But the Gators are making a move this spring. Both indoor track squads finished second at NCAA's and another high finish is virtually certain at this year's NCAA women's Swimming and Diving championships.

The Gators send 17 swimmers to West Lafayette, Indiana in an effort to improve on last year's fourth-place finish. Georgia is a clear favorite to repeat as National Champs while the Gators are gunning for Auburn and the number two spot. A one, two, three SEC finish would not be at all surprising… although Stanford, Texas and SMU have other ideas.

Individually Florida is looking for significant points from Caroline Burckle, Vipa Bernhardt, Leah Retrum and Maureen Farrell.

The third-ranked Gator men will take their shot at national glory next weekend in Minnesota.

Hoops got A Tough Draw, Good Opener

The Gator basketball team got an ideal opponent for Friday's NCAA first-round game. Ohio is an undersized team that struggles on the boards and fails to defend the perimeter. Those weaknesses just happen to coincide with the Gators' two greatest strengths. Ohio does not shoot the ball well from outside the arc and will try to create fouls by taking the ball to the basket. If Florida can get off to a good start shooting the ball and avoid early foul difficulties it should be a breeze.

Villanova is a very tough second round opponent --- if they get that far. I believe New Mexico is a prime candidate to post an early upset with stud forward Danny Granger. The Lobos have won 12 of 13 games since Granger returned form a knee injury, including two wins over Utah.

Either way, Florida will win twice this weekend I guarantee it.

Yes, I'm fully aware that my guarantee means absolutely nothing.

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Have a great week.

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