Archive for the ‘Florida Gators’ Category

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.

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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?

No.

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?

 

Gator fans, yeah it’s time be to be worried.

I’m not just talking about Saturday’s loss to Georgia. I’m not just taking about this season.

I’m talking about the direction of your football program, and that means I’m talking about your young rookie head coach, Will Muschamp. Obviously it is much too early to pass judgment on Muschamp as a head coach, but it is impossible to ignore the bad vibes he’s created.

The Gators have now lost four straight. In doing so they’ve looked more like Vanderbilt than Florida. Losses to Alabama and LSU can be explained. They may be the two best teams in the country. But it’s how they lost, not being competitive, that jumps out. Losing at Auburn is acceptable but worrisome. Losing to Georgia is cause for alarm.

What all the losses have in common is how the Gators have lacked discipline, lacked composure and looked ill prepared. For the record, the Gators are not THAT void of talent.

The Gators were flagged for 14 penalties against Georgia to increase their lead as the nation’s most penalized team. There was apparent miscommunication numerous times. Receivers went one way, the ball went the other. Blocking assignments were missed. There were delay of game penalties. Players lined up incorrectly. The use of timeouts was laughable – if you were wearing red and black. Best example: Gators lined up as if they’re going for it on 4th down. Then they called timeout. Then they lined up and tried to draw the Bulldogs offside to no avail. Then they punted, which is obviously what they intended to do all along. It looked liked Larry, Curly, Moe and Will.

To those problems you can throw in a handful of physical errors. Chris Rainey had two throws go right through his hands. Quarterback John Brantley, clearly not fully recovered from a lower leg injury, repeatedly misfired, particularly in the second half.

The head coach has to be held accountable for many of the problems.

The hiring of Muschamp was a risky move by Athletic Director Jeremy Foley. Although he’d earned a stellar reputation as a defensive coach and was the Texas head-coach-in-waiting, he’d never been a head coach. Certainly the Florida program “isn’t too big to fail” — to put a different spin on a Wall Street slogan – but it does seem big enough where it doesn’t have to allow on-the-job training for its CEO.

Foley was following the current trend with the hiring of Muschamp. Schools are going more than ever for the young, ultra intense coaches who can better relate to the athletes and have the energy to recruit 24-7/365.

Muschamp was in demand. He reportedly said no to Tennessee. Texas wanted to keep him so badly it gave him a huge raise and the coach-in-waiting title. Reportedly, his alma mater, Georgia, let him know if he was patient he’d be in line to replace Mark Richt, who’ll likely be gone after this season.

The Florida offer, understandably, was too good to turn down. So a risky move was made by Florida. The risk looks greater now, and more than just this season is at stake. If Muschamp turns out to be a bad hire, the Gators will be paying the price for another two or three years, maybe longer.

Yeah, Gator fans, you should be worried.

Johnny B. cocking the gun

Admit it, Gator fans, many of you have wanted Jeff Driskel to be your starting quarterback since February. You have no faith in John Brantley. Even during the 4-0 start against Larry, Curley, Moe and Smoky, you whined about the Gators not throwing the ball down field. Yeah, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were great, running around those patsies. All Brantley did was dump off short passes and let the Dynamic Duo do their thing.

Sure, most of you had some sympathy for Brantley. He clearly was the square peg trying to fit into a round hole in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. But the bottom line is he didn’t look anything like you expected when he signed with Florida in 2006 as the top rated high school passing quarterback in the nation. Hell, he broke Tim Tebow’s state prep record for touchdown passes while playing at Ocala Trinity Catholic High. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

A year earlier you were angry, confused or both when he gave a verbal commitment to play at Texas. John IV was considered a traitor because he and his family were lifelong Gators. Daddy, John III, even quarterbacked Florida (1977-78). Uncle Scot was an All-American linebacker for the Gators (1976-79). You were thrilled when he changed his mind. Urban wanted him and, therefore, he obviously would fit in just fine in Urban’s offense.

The last five years haven’t been kind to John IV the football player. He had to wait behind Tebow for three years. He thought he might not start even as a redshirt junior because of a guy named Cam Newton, but Newton gave him clear sailing by leaving school (not by his choosing). When he was finally a starter, Michael Pouncey couldn’t execute the shotgun center snap and Urban stubbornly wouldn’t modify the spread. He wound up sharing the quarterback duties with two other guys, usually being inserted on third-and-long when everyone knew a pass play was coming. Hell, Johnny Unitas would have struggled under such circumstances.

Finally, this season, John IV was the man. A new coach was installing a pro-style offense. It was going to be “bombs away” in Gator Nation. But along the way the Gators forgot to recruit wide receivers. They have athletes galore, but no polished wide receivers.

Then Alabama comes to town and the Tide won’t allow the Gators to run the ball. John IV responds by having his best half as a passing Gator QB. Then, in the second quarter, the Tide rush gets to John IV. He’s slammed to the ground. His right ankle is badly twisted.

He’s out for at least two weeks, maybe longer. He could be done for the season, which means a career as a Gator.

Enter Driskel. He didn’t have a chance, of course, against ‘Bama. Now mighty LSU awaits. But this time Driskel has a week to prepare. Your hearts are fluttering. Don’t be embarrassed. The newest, hottest, can’t-miss QB gets his opportunity.

Warning: Be careful what you wish for.

Quik pix: LSU’s defense too much for visiting Gators, but it’ll be closer than last week; Georgia can’t stop host Tennessee’s passing attack, loses and the fire gets hotter for Coach Mark Richt; Miami struggled for a half against Bethune-Cookman and gets spanked at Virginia Tech; Texas shocks Oklahoma in Dallas; Arkansas celebrates again, visiting Auburn doesn’t. Last week: 4-1 (13-7).