VETTEL: Random Thoughts On College Football

If there were any doubters about the sincerity and commitment Urban Meyer has to his approach to his student-athletes they should be converts by now. Florida's coach will not spend the week before his Gator coaching debut holed up in the video room plotting strategy. He'll spend it at the funeral of one of his former players, Thomas Herrion, who tragically passed away after the recent Denver-San Francisco exhibition game.

I think everyone in the country would understand if Meyer expressed his sympathies and condolences from a distance rather than making the trek to Fort Worth, Texas. But that's obviously not the way this guy operates.

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The injury situation for the Gators brings home the point that Florida's top three linebackers desperately need to stay healthy. With tight end Markell Thompson out for at least half the season and likely more, Florida has been tutoring Billy Latsko and Eric Rutledge at that position since Tate Casey is the only one left. Either Florida's freshmen linebackers are really coming on strong (I don't think so), or the Gators are not sold on Latsko and Rutledge playing significant snaps at linebacker. The Gators would love to utilize their depth at safety by playing a lot of nickel this fall. That goal won't be severely threatened in the first two games, but it's hard to see how the Gators can play a ton of nickel against Tennessee.

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For my money the team with the best chance to have a perfect season in college football this year is Louisville. Yes, Louisville. The Cardinals are not in the pre-season top ten, but did get one first-place vote from a writer in Raleigh for a very sound reason. You take a very good team and give them an incredibly weak schedule and good things are going to happen.

Louisville came within a dropped interception of beating Miami last year and that was their only loss. True, they gave up 40 or more points three times (Miami, Memphis, Boise St.) but they averaged scoring almost 50 a game! Brian Brohm is going to be a great college quarterback and he'll be protected by a good, experienced offensive line.

But the biggest reason I like Louisville to run the table is the schedule. Their toughest game may well be at West Virginia, which looks like a .500 team. Syracuse and Pittsburgh come to Louisville and the non-conference schedule includes Kentucky, FAU and a pedestrian Oregon State squad. Thing is they could be 11-0 and still not get into the title game. Louisville was relegated to the Liberty Bowl last year, and winning the extremely weak Big East may not be impressive enough to punch a ticket for Pasadena.

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Have you gotten a look at the 114-man panel that will comprise the Harris Poll for use in choosing the two teams for the BCS Championship Game? It looks like a cross between a "who's who" in college football (Terry Bradshaw, Anthony Munoz, Lee Roy Selmon and Rocket Ismail) and is he still alive? (Bill Battle, Lance McIlhenny, Bill Dooley, Homer Rice, etc). I mean this group has more seniors than the early bird special at Piccadilly!

The Harris Poll replaces the AP rankings for the BCS after the AP finally had a sudden attack of ethics and realized it was wholly inappropriate for members for the media to play a significant role in determining which teams got to play for the National Championship.

However that revelation didn't keep several media types from agreeing to participate in the Harris Poll. Why can't the BCS just come up with a selection committee to make the decision? At least then a select group of individuals would be accountable for the decision that was made.

There could be some testy situations in Knoxville this fall as Vols Coach Phillip Fulmer decides between Rick Clausen and Eric Ainge as his starter this season. Both saw plenty of action last year and their performances this fall have apparently been pretty similar. Personally, I would go with Ainge who is taller, has a bigger arm and three more years of eligibility. Ainge led the Vols on their winning drive against the Gators last year. He finished with 1,452 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Clausen got the ball later in the year and finished up with solid numbers (949, 8/5). Either guy will have plenty to play with. The Vols will have one of the SEC's top offensive lines led by Aaron Sears and Rob Smith. With Gerald Riggs (1,107 yards, 5.7, 6 td) returning at tailback and three of the top four receivers back as well, the Vols have the makings of an excellent offense.

That should be comforting to Fulmer who has spent more time with bail bondsmen than linemen this off-season. On July 9, sophomore linebacker Ryan Karl was cited for underage drinking making him the eighth player to have a brush with the law since January.

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Justin Tordi signing with the Cincinnati Reds is a bit of a setback for the Gator baseball team, but not fatal. While Tordi is a fine defensive shortstop (10 errors in 365 chances) he was last among Gator regulars at the plate (.238). Coach Pat McMahon will take a look at several options this fall, one of which might be to try second baseman Adam Davis at short with Matt Gaski at second. This is a place where a newcomer could also get a long look.

Florida is less surprised that the pitcher Alan Horne (10-2, 4.05) signed with the New York Yankees. The former first round pick will turn 23 in January and that's pretty late to be starting a pro career. Horne's departure leaves Florida with just three of the top six pitchers from last year. Darren O'Day (8-3, 7 saves, 2.87) Bryan Ball (7-6, 3.45) and Stephen Locke (5-2, 4.04) will be the foundation upon which McMahon will build his fifth UF pitching staff.

College baseball has long dealt with losing key players at the start of the school year when there is little if any chance of finding replacements, but that could change next year. Major League Baseball is considering a shift of the draft from early to late June and eliminating two rookie leagues. There is also a proposal to establish August 1 as a deadline for signing draft picks. A later draft and shorter negotiating period should benefit college programs.

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Mega-kudos to FSU President T.K. Wetherell for staring down the NCAA and its idiotic stance on "offensive" nicknames. Wetherell knew, like most do that the NCAA is just like most bullies. Stand up to them, and they back down. I still have issues with some mascots and nicknames, but I certainly don't think the NCAA is the place for that to be resolved. Here's hoping on opening night the 'Noles throw a flaming spear through the NCAA logo.

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Finally remember back on signing day when it looked like the Florida back court would need two or three balls to keep everyone happy? Well that's the least of Billy Donovan's concerns now. Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh have pro contracts and Cornelius Ingram is spending all of his time on the football field. At to that the revelation that Derwin Kitchen will not be able to enroll until January and you have four guys Florida could have had this fall that wont be there.

The chances are excellent Kitchen will join the Gators after the semester. All he needs is slightly increased scores on either the SAT, ACT or FCAT to be qualified. With his learning situation now fully understood and the time to focus in on these exams, the sharp shooting guard from Jacksonville is a pretty good bet to join the Gators at the end of the fall semester.

It still leaves the Gators very short at guard for early-season games. Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey will be backed up by freshmen Walter Hodge and David Huertas and walk-ons. One option for Donovan would be to go "big" with Corey Brewer at the shooting guard and Adrian Moss at the small forward. It's a lineup that would have matchup issues with teams that play three-guard alignments but would help buy the Gators some time.

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