Archive for the ‘Florida Gators’ Category

Crystal Ball Friday, Week No. 1:

Each Friday I will predict selected college and pro football games. I’ll always include the Jaguars game. Florida and FSU games will be included when they play respectable opponents.

Florida (1-0) at Texas A&M (0-0) – It’s difficult to imagine the Gators looking as bad as they did in their opener. The Aggies have a new coach in Kevin Sumlin, an offensive whiz, as they begin play in the SEC. The Aggies are worried about their defense, but can the Gators score enough against any major team? A&M, favored by 1½, win 24-10.

Georgia (1-0) at Missouri (1-0) – The Bulldogs give their host a rude welcoming to the SEC. Missouri has some talented skill player, but it will get pounded on the line of scrimmage. Georgia, favored by 3½, wins 35-17.

Vanderbilt (0-1) at Northwestern (1-0) — An SEC bottom feeder is better than a Big Ten bottom feeder. Vandy, favored by 3½, wins 28-24.

Auburn (0-1) at Mississippi State (1-0) – The War Eagles fall continues. The Bulldogs win the battle as the SEC West’s fourth best team. Miss State, favored by 3, wins 27-20.

North Carolina (1-0) at Wake Forest (1-0) – The Tar Heels are on probation for a reason. They cheated. Good news is cheating helped them get talent, more than Deacons. UNC, favored by 8½, wins 35-14.

Jaguars (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0) – These are considered two of the NFL’s weakest teams and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. Jags seem headed in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. I just can’t get the image out of my head of Viking DE Jared Allen crushing Jag QB Blaine Gabbert time after time. Vikings, favored by 1½, win 21-17.

49ers (0-0) at Packers (0-0) – Many expect a rematch for the NFC title. It’s classic defense (49ers) vs. offense (Packers). It is an offensive game now, but I see an upset because the 49ers have improved more on offense than the Packers have on defense. The 49ers, 5½ underdogs, win 28-27.

Steelers (0-0) at Broncos (0-0) – Peyton Manning’s is back, albeit in a strange uniform. I’m betting he looks almost as good as a Bronco as he did all those years as a Colt. The Steelers’ once ferocious defense has gotten old quickly. Broncos, favored by 2, win 27-21.


Unless Bowling Green has a much better football team than I think it does, this will be another dreary season for the Gators. The current forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain – as in tears falling from the eyes of Gator fans.

Other than the fact the Gators won their season opener, 27-14, and showed a solid running game, there wasn’t much to cheer about for Florida fans.

The passing game was lousy even though Bowling Green dared the Gators to pass by playing an 8-man front. Quarterback Jeff Driskel missed open receivers, who had trouble getting open. The defense had tackling problems, particularly in the secondary.

The team looked unprepared, confused and nervous. The Gators were flagged for 14 penalties, and that reflects badly on Coach Will Muschamp and his staff.

If Bowling Green had a competent placekicker and hadn’t had several dropped passes . . . well, you get the picture.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the Gators’ problems more than the quarterback situation. While I’m not one who argues that the two-quarterback system is doomed to fail, it seems obvious that Muschamp’s dilemma is a lack of confidence in both quarterbacks, Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Even against what should be an outmanned opponent and against a defense geared to stop the run, Muschamp chose to pass the ball only 21 times.

Unless Driskel shows considerable improvement you have to expect Muschamp to give him the hook and go with Brissett. It isn’t a pretty situation.

To add to the Gators’ woes is the fact there were thousands of empty seats. You can argue Bowling Green isn’t a big draw, but it was the season opener. There was a time in the recent past when all the Gators had to do was suit up and The Swamp would be packed with 90,000-plus fans. Until the Gators start playing a lot better, you can expect less than sellout crowds except for Florida’s biggest games. And there aren’t many of those on this year’s home schedule, which consists of Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State. For the record, the Gators’ ticket office is open and looking for business.

Up next: a trip to Texas A&M, which I’m betting is a better team than Bowling Green.  The forecast could get worse before it gets better.

One of the biggest question marks for me entering the 2012 college football season is when will the fans of the state’s Big Three schools start hollering for their coaches’ jobs. Sadly, that’s the era we live in.

That’s even the case at Florida State where the expectations of a great season have many Seminole fans thinking national championship. Will 10-2, the ACC title and a BCS bowl bid be enough for Coach Jimbo Fisher to escape the wrath of FSU fans?

Probably not.

Will fans of Florida and Miami be understanding of another six- loss season for their second-year head coaches, Will Muschamp and Al Golden?


I don’t expect any to lose his job, but it won’t be pretty.

Strangely, Golden may hear the fewest boo birds because not much is expected of the Hurricanes and their fair weather fans don’t move the needle very high when it comes to passion and numbers.

Muschamp is in the biggest danger of having his ears blasted by unhappy fans. Even the youngest Gator fans still remember national championships in ’06 and ’08. They also remember Florida losing six of its last eight regular season games last fall. Thus far, the young first-time head coach has been given a pass. Former coach Urban Meyer caught most of the fans’ ire for last season.

Gators fans won’t be as forgiving this season. Rebuilding is a dirty word for fans of elite programs. They pay their coaches millions and give them every resource imaginable and they expect quick dividends.

I don’t expect much improvement from the Gators. I see a 7-5 record, and I think things go bad early. A loss in Game 2 at Texas A&M will set the tone for another year of mediocrity. The real bummer will come the week after a home loss to LSU when the despondent Gators lose at Vanderbilt. To make things worse, I see losses to Florida’s two biggest rivals, Georgia and FSU.

The Seminoles are talented enough to win the national title but quarterback E.J. Manuel has to, one, stay healthy and, two, play better than he ever has. After a 5-0 start, FSU’s national hopes will disappear with a loss at N.C. State. Then there’s that Thursday night trip to Blacksburg, Va., in early November. Why would FSU play another Thursday night road game? Past experiences haven’t been pleasant and this one won’t be either.

As for the ‘Canes, I think the road continues to be bumpy. They simply lack talent, particularly at the line of scrimmage. How about three straight home losses to UNC, FSU and Virginia Tech? Miami finishes 5-7.

In summary, 2012 will not be a year to remember for state’s Big Three.

With the college football season only hours away and the NFL only 10 days away, there are two storylines I’d like to share with you.

First . . .

I understand how excitable and passionate Gator and Seminole fans are. I know you’ve been chomping and chopping at the proverbial bit for a new season. I get it. But understand you will learn nothing about the upcoming season this Saturday.

The Gators quarterbacks will look much improved. The Gator receivers will get open. The Gators will gain yards running between the tackles. Your defense will be dominant.

Remember, you’re playing Bowling Green. This game is a freebie and is a resume builder you’re your coach.

The Seminoles think they’ll be in the national championship. They may be. It really is up to senior quarterback E.J. Manuel. If he finally plays anything like what FSU expected when he became Coach Jimbo Fisher’s first super blue chip recruit, the Noles have a real shot. Their defense may be great. There are a bunch of future NFL players among the receivers and defensive backs.

Manuel will sparkle this week. Remember, you’re playing Murray State.

Second . . .

Maurice, will you please hurry up and end this silly holdout. I’m tired of talking about it but that’s all anybody asks me about these days.

You tried to make a point that the Jaguars couldn’t live without you. Well, you’re wrong. They are, indeed, moving on and, like your new owner said, you’d better jump on ‘cause the train is leaving.

Yeah, you’ve taken a major PR hit, but it isn’t a fatal blow. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Report now, act humble and get to work. If you play well, the fans will forgive you. If the team wins, the fans will forgive you. If you play well and the team wins, you’ll be a bigger star and celebrity than ever.

If not . . . well, let’s not go there right now.

For the record, I’m calling you Maurice until this absurd holdout ends. MJD and MoJo were nicknames of endearment and, frankly, there’s nothing endearing about someone who acts like a spoiled – not to mention misinformed – brat.

Florida football fans have seen better days.

For 20 years – dating back to the arrival of Steve Spurrier and lasting until the departure of Urban Meyer – the Gators were the kingpins of the SEC. Now they are battling to stay relevant not just in the conference but in their own division. The Gators are fighting to catch up with Georgia and South Carolina and stay ahead of Tennessee. I won’t even mention how far they’ve fallen behind SEC West powers Alabama, LSU and, yes, Arkansas.

The Gators are not only struggling on the field, but in receiving media coverage as well. They’ve become an afterthought for the national media. To add insult to injury, the Gators are even suffering on the home front. Have you noticed the lack of coverage the Gators – for years the top priority of radio, TV and newspaper sports department through out the state — are getting from the local media?

Apparently Coach Will Muschamp likes it that way because he makes covering the Gators next to impossible. It’s easier getting top secret information from the Pentagon than it is any information from the Florida football program.

Muschamp has the right to run the program as he sees fit, but his closed doors policies of closed practices and ultra limited availability to coaches and players make it difficult for the media to provide fans with news and even human interest stories.

Muschamp isn’t the only coach with such policies. It is a trend that started a decade ago and grown rapidly ever since. Coaches want total control of what information gets out. The media is partly to blame. Journalism isn’t what it used to be. Taking information out of context, blowing out of proportion every comment and sensationalism has become the norm in the age of social media.

At the same time, coaches such as Muschamp have become control freaks and, perhaps, a bit paranoid. They see spies behind every tree. They see “enemies of the program” every where. They see every bit of information getting out as putting their teams at a competitive disadvantage.

I’m not complaining. I’m not whining. I’m not making excuses for the media. I’m simply giving fans the reason for the lack of coverage of their beloved teams. Nowhere is it more obvious than in Gator Nation.

Gator fans are anxiously waiting to see who wins the quarterback job, Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Bissett. They’re nervously wondering if any of the highly recruited wide receivers will come close to living up to expectations. Can anyone run the ball? That’s another question searching for an answer.

Surely this season’s offense has to be better than last year’s, but will the new offense under coordinator Brent Pease be good enough for the Gators to beat Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC East and at least be competitive against SEC West defensive powerhouses Alabama and LSU?

And while the Gator defense was very good last year, it did give up 38 to Alabama and 41 to LSU.

But the biggest question for all Gators, even if they don’t know it, is can second-year head coach Will Muschamp get the job done of winning SEC championships and contending for a national championship.

Year One under Muschamp was full of excuses and most of the blame for a 7-6 record was placed at the doorstep of former coach Urban Meyer. Still, the Gator fans have to be more than a little concerned that the victories came against FAU, UAB, Furman, SEC weaklings Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt and an Ohio State team in turmoil (Gator Bowl).

While Muschamp was building an impressive resume as a defensive coordinator and getting on everyone’s hot list as a soon-to-be head coach, it was a bit of a surprise when he landed his first head job at a national powerhouse that had won two of last five national championships. Usually the “hot” coordinators get jobs at elite programs that are struggling.

Muschamp still must prove he can command respect and be a leader, handle the pressure, make the right hires for his staff and make winning game-day decisions.

I’m not suggesting Muschamp will fail. I’m simply pointing out that the Gators have a lot of unanswered questions, and nothing about the Gators is as unproven as their young head coach.

Is he another Ron Zook, a great recruiter and motivator but not a great head coach? Or something much better?


Will Muschamp made his annual Gator Gathering stop in Jacksonville last week and spoke joyously about how Gator Nation has stayed positive in light of back-to-back mediocre seasons.

I didn’t attend the Gathering but based on what I’ve heard and read, Muschamp seemed not only surprised but pleased with the response of the fans following his first season (7-6) as head football coach.

What I find noteworthy and a bit worrisome for Gator Nation is that the crowd was estimated to be “roughly 350 fans.” Indeed, the UF faithful do remain as avid as ever, but Gator Nation is shrinking. Past Jacksonville Gator Gatherings have attracted nearly four times as many fans as showed up this week.

It’s no surprise that losing has hurt enthusiasm and shrunk the fan base. But are there other reasons?

Once, Gator football was the undisputed biggest star in Jacksonville’s sport’s galaxy. Many newcomers to our growing city jumped on the Gator bandwagon. The Gators were THE sport’s team. Becoming a Gator was the cool thing to do. It was the smart thing to do from a business standpoint. Now many of those newcomers adopt the Jaguars.

That’s even truer among young fans. They are turning to the Jaguars and the NFL – as well as other sports. (Think X Games if you have any idea what X Games are.) I know it has only been two years since the Gators won a national championship but two years is a long, long time for a kid. Meanwhile, members of Gator Nation are growing older and literally dying.

The football Gators, once the unquestioned most popular sports topic in our town, have fallen below the Jaguars. And while the Gators remain a clear No. 2, they are losing ground.

Last season saw empty seats at Florida Field. The school’s ticket box office was actually open on some game days. Obviously TV has hurt attendance, particularly for some older Gator fans. Still, I remember 1979 when Florida went 0-10-1 and still packed Florida Field for nearly every game. Simply put, the Gators aren’t growing as many new fans as they once did.

I’m not suggesting Gator football is in danger of becoming an afterthought in the foreseeable future. I can’t imagine the Gators not being one of the biggest sport’s stories in our city. Certainly the fan base will enjoy a growth spurt if Muschamp is successful in returning the Gators to elite status. But concerns remain.

Am I making too much of one night? That’s possible. But other storied college programs have suffered in the wake losing and the popularity of NFL. Every decline has a start. Losing and the NFL simple accelerate the trend.


The greatest coaches and athletes have bad games, and Florida’s Billy Donovan, who’s an outstanding basketball coach, had one Saturday.

Why’d Donovan slow down the pace of play with 8 minutes to play and the Gators leading Louisville by 11 points?

Why’d Donovan not make any adjustments when his mentor, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, switched from a zone defense to man-to-man?

Florida’s 72-68 loss in the Elite 8 wasn’t all Donovan’s fault. The Gators as a group couldn’t have picked a worse time to come down with a collective case of the jitters. In other words, the players choked. The basket shrunk. The heart rate quickened.

All in all, it was a good season for the Gators, who had some major flaws, but it was a horrible ending in a game they should have won by 15 points.

Actually, I thought Donovan had an up-and-down season. Clearly his best players with the exception of Patrick Young were perimeter players and the Gators often played with four of them on a court. But size does matter in basketball and I thought his should have used his “bigs” more often throughout the season. It also seemed at times that his veteran guards, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, didn’t mesh with the young guards. I don’t think they liked getting fewer shots.

When all is said and done, some things are obvious to me.

One, I’d be thrilled to have Donovan as my team’s coach.

Two, Even if the Gators had beaten Louisville, they weren’t going to win the national title. Kentucky is too talented; maybe both Ohio State and Kansas as well.

Three, it wasn’t football.


Regardless of how this college basketball season ends, Gator fans need to understand and appreciate how fortunate they are to have Billy Donovan as their coach.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel calls Donovan the greatest coach in the history of the state of Florida. I can’t go that far. That honor belongs to FSU’s Bobby Bowden, who took over a joke of a football program in a state not known for football and turned the Seminoles into a juggernaut.

Donovan, however, deserves nearly every accolade you can bestow upon him. Perhaps I appreciate what Donovan has done more than most having grown up loving my North Carolina Tar Heels. I know how difficult it is the win a national championship – much less back to back titles as Donovan did.

The fact that Donovan has turned Florida into a powerhouse program is even more impressive considering the apathy Gator fans have for the sport. No Gator coach – not Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer – has equaled his accomplishments.

I just thought Gator fans needed a reminder.


Now that the 2011 college football season has ended, it’s time to look ahead. I’ll start with the Florida Gators.

Will Muschamp makes me nervous.

One of his catchphrases these days is, “We’re building a program, not a team.” The Gators’ football coach leaves you with the impression he’s at Vanderbilt, not Florida. He makes it sound as if he inherited jalopy instead of a Rolls-Royce when he was hired 13 months ago.

Florida’s football program doesn’t need to be built. It is one of the top 10 programs in the nation and has been for a couple of decades. Clearly it needs tweaking. A 15-11 record over the last two seasons is, as Muschamp says, “unacceptable”.

The Gators’ main problem for the last two years has been coaching and a lack of stability. The whole Urban Meyer fiasco – resigning, then a change of heart and then resigning again in a matter 11 months – created a 15-11 record, not a broken program.

Getting the Gators back among the elite is not a daunting task. Top recruits still regard Florida as a one of the top destinations. Playing in the SEC is more attractive than ever.

The biggest question about the Florida program is whether or not Muschamp was the right hire. His credentials as a defensive coordinator and recruiter are outstanding, but his one year as a head coach raises concerns.

What concerns me the most is how the Gator team that won the Gator Bowl, beating Ohio State 24-17, looked like the same Gator team I saw throughout the 6-6 regular season. The offense was anemic with rotating quarterbacks (again), inconsistent running and invisible receivers. The defense was solid. The special teams were outstanding.

A sign of good coaching is teams improve as the season progresses. Weaknesses are identified and changes are made. Muschamp complained about the team’s lack of toughness. Doesn’t that problem rest at the feet of the coaches?

My advice to Muschamp is not to worry about the program, but to do some serious self evaluation of his performance and the performance of his staff. The departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis necessitates changes in the staff. That can only be a good thing considering how poorly the Gators played offense.

There’s no reason for panic in Gator Nation, but being a bit nervous is certainly understandable.