A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
FIVE PLAYERS WHO WILL HAVE A BREAKOUT 2021 FOOTBALL SEASON
Jacob Copeland, WR: I know, it’s about time, right? Some guys don’t mature as fast as others. This is Copeland’s fourth year in the system and he’s got a chance to be the featured receiver. This is a very receiver-friendly system and with a running quarterback who can change the dynamics in the secondary, Copeland is going to have his shot to be the star he was predicted to be coming out of high school. He has 45 catches for 724 yards (16.1 per catch) and five TDs in his UF career. Expect him to put up better numbers than those in a single season in 2021 when he becomes Florida’s consistent deep threat.
Josh Braun, OG/OT: He is an absolute beast who played in 11 games as a true freshman, almost exclusively at guard as he earned more and more playing time as the season progressed. He worked at right guard all spring and that’s where he will begin fall camp but if right tackle Jean Delance doesn’t show much-needed improvement as a pass blocker, don’t be surprised to see Braun move over to right tackle with Stewart Reese moving from center to right guard and Kingsley Eguakon moving in at center. Whether it’s at right guard or right tackle, however, Braun is going to contribute in a big, big way.
Nick Elksnis, TE: He will be wearing Kyle Pitts’ old 84 jersey in the fall but that’s where the comparison has to end. We may never see another tight end at Florida or anywhere else as good as Kyle Pitts, but that’s not to say Elksnis isn’t the real deal. He is. He was listed 6-6 and 237 as an early enrollee freshman in the spring. Expect him to be somewhere near 250 in the fall. He’s a tall, rangy long strider who has exceptional hands and a good feel for finding open space in the middle of the field. He’s going to be on the field from day one when the season opens and he’s going to catch a lot of passes.
Gervon Dexter, DT/DE: Throw out the tape on 2020. Dexter is a much better football player than we saw last year. He was a lost ball in the tall grass for much of the season as a true freshman last year and there wasn’t a lot of mentoring from older players to guide him through the difficult times. He’s got too much talent to waste another season and now he has a couple of mature guys in transfers Antonio Shelton and Daquan Newkirk to help him blossom into the dominator he’s capable of being.
Donovan McMillan, S: Here is everything you need to know about McMillan in a nutshell. This guy will flat out tattoo any receiver who dares to tread across the middle. He was a high school wrestler of some repute in a state (Pennsylvania) that goes bonkers over the sport. What that tells you is he’s (a) strong, (b) agile and (c) loves getting physical. He reportedly has a real nose for the football and knows how to make plays on the ball, something UF’s safeties have been lacking the last couple of years. He will be on the field from day one.
ARMSTRONG SAVES UF FROM A SWEEP
Just when it seemed the 10th-ranked Gators (21-11, 6-6 SEC) were going to go down in flames a third straight time in Knoxville to 6th-ranked Tennessee (9-3, 27-6 SEC), the bottom of the order came to the rescue. Trailing the Vols, 6-4, in the eighth, Josh Rivera singled and freshman Colby Halter followed with a double to right center field. Kevin O’Sullivan send Kris Armstrong to pinch hit and the big sophomore launched an 0-1 fast ball over the right field fence for his fourth home run of the season to give the Gators a 7-6 lead.
Christian Scott, who was ineffective in relief in the Friday night loss, shut the door on the Vols in the eighth and ninth to earn his first win of the season. Scott came on with one out in the fifth and shut the Vols out on one hit in the final 4-2/3 innings, giving up one hit while walking one and striking out six.
The Gators got two hits each from Jacob Young, Sterlin Thompson, Jordan Butler, Rivera and Halter.
The Gators will home Tuesday night to face 17th-ranked Florida State (16-12) at the Florida Ballpark. The Gators return to SEC action Friday when Missouri (11-19, 4-8 SEC) comes to Gainesville.
SEC baseball notes: No. 1 ranked Vanderbilt (25-5, 9-3 SEC East) lost two out of three to Georgia (20-11, 5-7 SEC East) over the weekend … No. 2 Arkansas (26-5, 9-3 SEC West) will probably take over the No. 1 ranking nationally after taking two out of three from Ole Miss (24-8, 8-4 SEC West).
Other UF spring sports:
Men’s tennis: The Gators (18-1, 12-0 SEC) completed a perfect SEC schedule Friday with a 4-3 win over South Carolina. Next up is the SEC Tournament in Fayetteville, Arkansas on April 19.
Gymnastics: The Gators are the No. 1 national seed on Friday at the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth. If Trinity Thomas is healthy and able to participate in the all-around the Gators have a realistic chance to bring home their fourth national championship in school history.
Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (30-4, 10-2 SEC) tuned up for next weekend’s SEC showdown with 4th-ranked Alabama (31-5, 11-4 SEC) with a 5-2 non-conference win over Western Kentucky. The Gators lost a 5-2 exhibition game to the Canadian national team. UF will face 23rd-ranked UCF Wednesday in a non-conference game at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Lacrosse: The 10th-ranked Gators (9-2, 6-0 AAC) are idle Vanderbilt comes to Gainesville for two American Athletic Conference matches starting Friday.
Women’s tennis: The 15th-ranked Gators (11-6, 9-3 SEC) earned a 4-2 win over 19th-ranked Vanderbilt (13-8, 5-8 SEC) in Nashville Saturday. It was the sixth straight win for the Gators. Next up is a Tuesday match with South Carolina (10-9, 7-5 SEC) in Columbia.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC (FOOTBALL/HOOPS)
Alabama: Noah Gurley (6-8, 210), who averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while earning All-Southern Conference honors at Furman, chose Alabama over Florida … At Saturday’s football scrimmage, quarterback Bryce Young threw three touchdown passes.
Arkansas: Not that anyone was surprised by the decision but SEC Freshman of the Year Moses Moody (6-6, 205) has declared for the NBA and will hire an agent … The Hogs are the transfer destination for 3-time All-Summit League selection Stanley Umede (6-6, 210), who averaged 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists last year at South Dakota.
Auburn: Wendell Green Jr. (5-11, 175), who averaged 15.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a true freshman at Eastern Kentucky, is transferring in … J.J. Pegues (6-3, 308) has been moved from tight end to the defensive line.
Georgia: Small forward Jailyn Ingram (6-7, 219), who averaged 12.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists at Florida Atlantic, is transferring to Georgia … Right tackle Warren McClendon is the one player on the offensive line who has nailed down a starting job.
Kentucky: Kentucky is trying to land North Carolina power forward transfer Garrison Brooks (6-10, 240). Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Arizona State are the other schools involved. Brooks father is an assistant coach at Mississippi State.
LSU: The LSU offense is expected to be more wide open in the fall under new coordinator Jake Peetz. Quarterback Max Johnson says the newly designed offense is about “putting our players in the best position to make plays.” Johnson is one of three quarterbacks (Myles Brennan and TJ Finley are the other two) with starting experience.
Mississippi State: Last year’s starting QB Will Rogers was 16-27 passing for 164 yards and a TD but threw two interceptions at Saturday’s scrimmage. Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham was 11-13 for 121 yards and two TDs.
Missouri: Connor Bazelak is the starting quarterback but turning heads in spring practice are Keke Chism, a Division II transfer from San Angelo State, and Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper.
Ole Miss: Injured players who didn’t participate in Saturday’s scrimmage were center Ben Brown, running backs Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish and Isaiah Woullard; wide receivers Jonathan Mingo, Braylon Sanders, Brandon Buckhaulter and Dontario Drummond; right guard Eli Acker; tight ends Hudson Wolfe and Casey Kelly; defensive backs Marc Britt, Jaylon Jones and Deane Leonard; defensive linemen Tariqious Tisdale, Ledarrius Cox, Clayton Ladd and Sincere David; linebacker Daylen Gill; and offensive lineman Carter Colquit and Luke Shouse ...
Luke Knox has been moved from linebacker to tight end.
South Carolina: Luke Doty remains atop the quarterback depth chart ahead of Jason Brown, Colton Gauthier and Connor Jordan after the Gamecocks’ first scrimmage of the spring … South Carolina got a basketball transfer from Erik Stevenson (6-3, 217), who averaged 9.3 points and 3.6 rebounds at Washington.
Tennessee: Forward Corey Walker (6-8, 219), who didn’t play as a freshman last year, has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal … HBC Josh Heupel continues to rotate three quarterbacks – Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker, Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer – with the first unit offense.
Texas A&M: Offensive guard Chris Morris is not practicing with the team this spring. Morris was arrested for reckless driving and evading arrest with a motor vehicle. HBC Jimbo Fisher says Morris will be evaluated at the end of the semester … Former Arkansas power forward Ethan Henderson (6-8, 235) has transferred to Texas A&M.
Vanderbilt: Scotty Pippen Jr. has announced he will test the NBA Draft waters but will not hire an agent. Pippen was first team All-SEC last season when he averaged 20.8 points and 4.9 assists per game.
MATSUYAMA WENT INTO MASTERS COMA SATURDAY
Hideki Matsuyama did his dead level best to make the Masters interesting on the back nine Sunday when he flirted with going in the tank. He finished even par Sunday to win by a single shot, surrendering four shots of what seemed to be an insurmountable lead on the back nine. When Matsuyama actually won his first green jacket was Saturday when he went into a Masters Coma after a rain delay. When play resumed Matsuyama went unconscious and played the final eight holes 6-under including a stretch of eagle, birdie, birdie on 15, 16 and 17. He was 14-under Sunday with a 5-shot lead when he regained consciousness, bogeyed three of the final holes and was bailed out by a disastrous triple bogey-6 by Xander Schauffle on 16 and missed birdie opportunities on 16 and 18 by runner-up Will Zalatoris, who finished -10 and earned more money ($1.242 million) than he had in the entire 2021 PGA season ($878,248).
ONE MORE PITHY THOUGHT: ESPN’s Bill Connelly came up with a series of college football lists that included the five Division I quarterbacks who throw the best deep ball. In order, Connelly ranks them (1) Sam Howell (North Carolina), (2) Layne Hatcher (Arkansas State), (3) Matt Corrall (Ole Miss), (4) Kaleb Eleby (Western Michigan) and (5) Dustin Crum (Kent State). Conspicuous in his absence is JT Daniels of Georgia. Corral does throw the best deep ball in the SEC and I would rate him the best returning starting QB in the league even though you can bet the farm when the preseason football mags come out in about six or seven weeks Daniels will be an almost unanimous first team All-SEC. They’ll also list him as a top five Heisman candidate. I think the best five quarterbacks in the country – maybe not the five top Heisman candidates – are Howell, Corral, Southern Cal’s Kedon Slovis, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler and Libert’s Malik Willis.