VETTEL: Gators Begin 2nd Half Of Baseball Race

Pat McMahon has his baseball team just where he'd like to have it at the midpoint of this year's SEC race. Right on top, alone in first place with 15 games to go. The Gators begin the second half of the season in Auburn this weekend looking to continue to set the pace in the conference.

This team is one of those that to me appears to be greater than the sum of its parts: meaning Florida probably does not have the best talent in the league but might well have the best team. That theory will be tested over the final five weekends in a couple of ways. First, Florida has three of the final five weekends away from McKeithen stadium where the Gators enjoy a 23-6 record. Second, the Gators have already played the two teams (Kentucky, Georgia) with the worst records in conference play.

The SEC couldn't be much more jammed up. Florida has the best record at 10-5 while Vanderbilt is in tenth place at 7-8. When the tenth place team can catch the first place team in a single weekend, that's a close race. Florida needs to stay near the front of this race to have the best possible shot at hosting an NCAA Regional and perhaps a Super Regional as well.

Future Shaping up Well

While there's much to look forward to this season, looking ahead looks pretty good for the Gator program as well. Only one of Florida's top ten hitters is a senior. Jeff Corsaletti (.421 6 HR, 35 RBI) is having a superb final year in Gainesville but the others could all return in '05. Two will have pro options in front of them. Justin Tordi doesn't have great physical tools or special stats (.298 3 HR, 27 RBI), but he's a helluva ballplayer. His future may be at second base rather than shortstop, but he'll have a choice to make.

The more interesting situation involves Gavin Dickey (.371 2 HR, 13 RBI) who faces a myriad of possibilities. Dickey is likely to be drafted well above what his college performances might indicate due to his athleticism and potential. But he also has the option of playing college football for two more seasons. Gavin insists he hasn't spent much time thinking about it but I find that hard to believe. He could play both sports in upcoming school year; he could turn pro; or he could try to sign in baseball while maintaining his college football eligibility. The last option might be the least likely since major league baseball is avoiding combo athletes as much as possible.

Still it leaves Dickey in a great situation since he has all those options for two more years. He can insist upon an inflated price for his services in pro ball or he could try another year of double-duty in Orange and Blue. My guess is pro baseball meets his price since the declining number of black players in the majors is a huge concern of the powers that be.

As for the future on the mound, Florida loses Conner Falkenbach (2-1, 3 saves, 3.03), Tommy Boss (4-2, 4.66) and Mike Pete (2-0, 3.97). The key for next year will be what happens with juniors Brian Ball (5-1, 2.22), Alan Horne (3-2, 4.30) and Darren O'Day (5-3, four saves, 2.48). Horne, a former first round pick has the most potential but has shown only glimpses of the form which made him the 27th pick of the 2001 draft.

Gymnasts Sixth, but not in Super Six

For the second time in three years the Gator gymnastics team posts the sixth best score in the NCAA Championships, only to be left out of the "Super Six." It used to be that the top six scores advanced, but the NCAA changed that after complaints the evening session had an advantage in getting higher scores. So now the top three in each session advance regardless of scores.

Thus Florida's 196.225 is only good for seventh place, while Nebraska's 195.875 gets them a shot at the title and no worse than a sixth-place finish. LSU joined the Gators in having disappointing performances and not advancing. At least the Tigers earned their early exit, finishing behind Nebraska in the morning session.

One Dull Draft Day for Me

I'll admit it, I became an NFL raft junkie in recent years, hosting parties with picks contests and having a pretty good idea who I wanted my teams (NY Giants, NY Jets) to grab in each round. That, plus the excitement of seeing Gator players get the prestige and riches of being first rounders, made draft day one of the top ten sports days of the year.

But not this year.

Neither the Jets nor the Giants will pick in round one, and most likely no Gator will be among the first 32 picks either. That means the first six hours will be more than a little on the dull side for yours truly. Oh, I'm curious to see what the Dolphins do with pick two and the Bucs at number five. But unless there's a trade it looks like they'll each get a running back from Auburn --- now that's fascinating. (If they ask, I'd tell the Dolphins to take Braylon Edwards, the Bucs to grab the RB they like best). Then later at # 21 the Jaguars pick and should grab Washington tackle Kaleef Barnes.

One of the riskiest projected first-round picks is FSU offensive tackle Alex Barron who projects in the 12-18 range. Barron is immense physically, but I thought he was heavy and much less productive last year. He could be an All-Pro or a bust. That said, 'Noles corner Bryant McFadden is coming on strong and may have worked himself into the top half of the second round.

My pick for most underrated is Georgia safety Thomas Davis. Some projections list him as a second rounder since he is a strong safety/linebacker tweener. Nonsense! Davis is a tremendous player and maybe the hardest hitter in the draft. He reminds me of Derrick Brooks and is clearly a linebacker at the next level. If he slides, someone is getting a steal.

What About '06 For Gators?

I wouldn't be surprised if four Gator offensive linemen are drafted next year with Mike Degory and Lance Butler having a chance to be first day selections. I don't see either as a first rounder, however, and that got me wondering who will be the next Gator first round pick in the NFL Draft?

It's an intriguing question which I hope will generate plenty of chatter on this site. I don't think it'll be a senior on this year's team. I think it will be one of three juniors: Earl Everett, Chad Jackson or Chris Leak. Of the three, I pick Jackson who has the physique, speed and explosiveness to be special. He has a long way to go, as they all do, but he's my pick. Who's yours?

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