A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:
THREE THINGS THAT HAVE ME THINKING ON A WEDNESDAY
1. Emory Jones will make the doubters look silly in the fall: Those who doubt that Emory Jones is capable of leading the Gators to the SEC East championship in the fall need to go back to 2007, Tim Tebow’s first year as Florida’s starting QB. Everybody knew Tebow was a sledgehammer running between the tackles but there were doubts that he could throw the ball effectively against SEC defenses. All he did in 2007 was throw for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns while running for 895 yards and 23 more TDs. Tebow was such a threat to run the ball that it opened up the passing game. Tim was never going to make a lot of pinpoint throws but he didn’t need to. Instead of needing to fit the ball into a tight window, the threat of the run gave extra cushion. Most of Tebow’s throws went to wide open receivers. It was that way for all three years Tebow was UF’s starting QB and there is a really good chance it will be that way in the fall when Emory Jones and his dancing feet take over as Florida’s starting QB. It will be his fourth year in Dan Mullen’s offense that is being overhauled to take advantage of running ability. As we saw from 2007-09, when you spread the field and you have a quarterback who can consume huge chunks of yardage with his feet, you don’t have to make pinpoint throws to have an explosive passing game. Emory Jones is going to be fine and the Florida offense will be seriously explosive.
2. Todd Grantham’s defense will be the most improved unit in the SEC: Any way you cut it, 2020 was a lousy year for Todd Grantham and the Florida defense but bad defenses throughout college football were the norm and not the exception. Granted, Florida’s defense was the worst in school history but the Gators weren’t the only team that spent a good portion of the season getting lit up. That’s not an excuse. That’s reality. Could it happen two straight years? Of course, it could, but I doubt it will. The Florida defense was top ten in 2019. It’s not like Grantham forgot how to coach in one offseason. I believe we will see that the combination of spring football and a normal offseason for development will make all the difference in the world. I believe the new DTs – Antonio Shelton and DaQuan Newkirk – will be the run stuffers that UF lacked last year, that Brenton Cox Jr. will have an All-America type of season coming off the edge and the secondary will look organized and decisive with the two new coaches. If the Gators are the most improved defensive unit in the SEC in the fall, UF will win the SEC East.
3. The NCAA succeeded in spite of itself: There is that old southern saying that even blind squirrels find an occasional acorn. You could say something similar about the NCAA, which pulled off the its basketball tournament with very few glitches over the past three weeks. They were lucky because Indianapolis (a) has access to enough good venues and (b) enough experience running big events to make it work. There was also a good bit of luck involved because there were only 15 positive COVID-19 tests during the entire three weeks although that was enough to send VCU home without a chance to play its first round game against Oregon. Defenders of the organization will point to the tournament as a good enough reason to keep Mark Emmert on as the president when in fact he shouldn’t be allowed to manage a convenience store, much less make the decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of student-athletes. In just a few weeks, college sports will take on that wild, wild west persona when legislation is passed to allow athletes to transfer once without the one-year sit out penalty. It is at this time the NCAA will need real leadership that Emmert is incapable of delivering. Even so, his defenders will say he’s the right guy for the job and they’ll point to the tournament as the reason. There is another old southern saying that goes like this: You can put lipstick on a pig, but all you have is a pig wearing lipstick.
GATORS HANG ON TO NIP STETSON, 7-6
Franco Aleman came on to get the final three outs in the top of the ninth Tuesday night as the Gators (19-9) held on for a 7-6 win over Stetson at the Florida Ballpark. The Gators held a 7-4 lead going into the ninth when Stetson rallied for two runs off Brandon Sproat, forcing Kevin O’Sullivan to bring in Aleman to pick up the save.
The winning margin for the Gators was provided by Josh Rivera, who hit his third homer, a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth. Rivera also had an RBI double in the fourth when the Gators scored three times to take a 4-2 lead. Rivera and Sterlin Thompson paced Florida’s 13-hit attack with three hits apiece while Jacob Young and Jordan Butler each had two.
Getting the win for the Gators was Garrett Milchin (2-1), who gave up two runs and two hits over five innings without issuing a single walk.
It was a bad day in the field for the Gators, who committed four errors. The Gators are dead last in the Southeastern Conference in fielding, having committed 35 errors in 28 games.
The Gators face Florida A&M tonight at the Florida Ballpark.
OTHER UF SPRING SPORTS Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (27-4) play host to South Florida (17-7) in a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
ESPN/USA Softball poll: 1. Oklahoma 28-0; 2. UCLA 19-1; 3. Alabama 29-4; 4. Oregon 26-2; 5. FLORIDA 27-4; 6. Washington 28-4; 7. Arizona 22-5; 8. Texas 27-3; 9. Arkansas 31-3; 10. Florida State 24-6; 11. Kentucky 27-6; 12. Oklahoma State 29-5; 13. Virginia Tech 23-6; 14. Arizona State 21-9; 15. LSU 28-12; 16. Tennessee 28-6; 18. Clemson 26-4; 19. Missouri 28-7; 20. Duke 26-7; 21. Northwestern 18-2; 22. Georgia 23-6; 23. Texas State 24-3; 24. Michigan 13-3; 25. Texas A&M 25-8.
D1Softball.com poll: 1. Oklahoma 28-0; 2. UCLA 19-1; 3. Oregon 26-2; 4. Alabama 29-4; 5. FLORIDA 27-4; 6. Washington 28-4; 7. Florida State 24-6; 8. Arkansas 31-3; 9. Arizona 22-5; 10. Oklahoma State 29-5; 11. Kentucky 27-6; 13. Virginia Tech 23-6; 14. Arizona State 21-9; 15. LSU 21-12; 16. Louisiana 25-6; 17. Missouri 28-7; 18. Texas State 24-3; 19. Tennessee 28-6; 20. Clemson 26-4; 21. Duke 21-6; 22. Northwestern 8-2; 23. UCF 25-9; 24. Wichita State 24-5; 25. Georgia 23-6.
USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll: 1. Oklahoma 28-0; 2. UCLA 19-1; 3. Oregon 26-2; 4. Alabama 29-4; 5. FLORIDA 27-4; 6. Washington 28-4; 7. Texas 27-3; 8. 8. Arizona 22-5; 9. Florida State 24-6; 10. (TIE) Arkansas 31-3 and Kentucky 27-6; 12. Oklahoma State 29-5; 13. Arizona State 21-9; 14. Louisiana 25-6; 15. Virginia Tech 23-6; 16. Duke 27-6; 17. LSU 21-12; 18. Clemson 26-4; 19. Missouri 28-7; 20. Georgia 23-6; 21. Tennessee 28-6; 22. Northwestern 18-2; 23. Michigan 13-3; 24. UCF 25-9; 25. Texas State 24-3.
Men’s golf: The Gators finished in a fourth place tie with Texas at the Calusa Cup in Naples, Florida’s last regular season tournament before the SEC Tournament begins on April 21 at St. Simon’s Island.
TWO MORE IN THE PORTAL THAT MIKE WHITE IS RECRUITING
Tari Eason (6-8, 220, Cincinnati): As a true freshman Eason averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in only 18 minutes a game so he’s very productive. The Gators recruited him out of high school without success and they are currently very heavily involved with him now that he’s in the transfer portal. In addition to the Gators he lists Marquette, LSU, Washington, Washington State, Pepperdine, Iowa State, and Arizona. He’s from Seattle originally so Washington and Washington State are pushing hard.
Jayden Gardner (6-8, 235, East Carolina): The Gators are making a significant push for Gardner but it’s going to be very difficult to lure him away from ACC territory. He has scored 1,462 points (18.0 average) and grabbed 705 rebounds (8.7 per game) in his career. He has two years of eligibility remaining since the 2020-21 season didn’t count against him. North Carolina State has been working him hard as have Virginia and Virginia Tech. In the SEC, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M have offered. It’s my opinion the Gators are in the top three but I think he may go with NC State.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC (FOOTBALL/HOOPS) Alabama: Athletic director Greg Byrne won’t know until Friday how many fans he can allow into Bryant-Denny Stadium for Saturday’s A-Day game. If it’s based on last season’s limitations, then it will be 20,000 but he’s waiting for clarification from the state ... Alabama finished 5th in the final Coaches basketball poll.
Arkansas: Power forward Emeka Obukwelu (6-8, 235) is the second Arkansas player to put his name in the NCAA transfer portal ... Quarterback Jacob Switzer, the grandson of former Razorback player and Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer, has placed his name in the football transfer portal.
Auburn: Former Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Bucs tight ends coach Ben Steele has joined the Auburn staff as an analyst …
FLORIDA: Osayi Osifo (6-7, 225) will be transferring to Jacksonville University.
Georgia: Georgia needs a M*A*S*H unit for its wide receivers. Injured are George Pickens (ACL), Jermaine Burton (hyperextended knee), Arian Smith (sprained wrist), Dominick Blaylock (knee) and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle).
Kentucky: Point guard Skyy Clark (6-3, 200, Nashville, TN Ensworth) will not be skipping his senior year to enroll at Kentucky. He has been committed to Kentucky since November of 2020.
LSU: The Department of Education is opening a Title IX investigation into sexual assault complaints involving LSU football.
Missouri: Former Kansas State shooting guard DaJuan Gordon, who is transferring to Mizzou, averaged 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year. Transfer point guard Jarron Coleman averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists at Ball State.
Ole Miss: Injuries on the offensive line forced Ole Miss to practice with only 10 offensive lineman Tuesday.
South Carolina: Shooting guard Justin Minaya (6-6, 210) declared for the NBA Draft and put his name in the transfer portal. Minaya averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds per game last year. He is the fourth Gamecock in the transfer portal and at the same time becomes the third to declare for the draft.
Tennessee: Linebacker Aaron Beasley is facing charges for animal cruelty for abusing a kitten. He has been suspended from all team activities by HBC Josh Heupel.
Texas A&M: Four-time Pro Bowl defensive back Antonio Cromartie is joining the Texas A&M football staff although Jimbo Fisher has not indicated what position … Senior Josh Rogers, a reserve defensive lineman, has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal … Small forward Savion Flagg will be transferring to Sam Houston State.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: It’s amazing what winning an NCAA basketball championship will do for your image. Scott Drew is being hailed as some kind of genius today after leading Baylor to a beatdown win over Gonzaga in the national championship game Monday night, but you only have to go back a few years to see how perceptions have changed. After making the Elite Eight in 2012, Drew’s next seven seasons produced a 121-85 record (57.8%). During that time, the Bears went to the NIT twice, lost in the NCAA first round twice, made it to the second round once, and made it twice to the Sweet 16. At some schools that would have gotten Drew fired and there are probably more than a few Baylor alums who wondered out loud if they had the right coach. Baylor stuck with him, believed in him and never wavered in its belief that Scott Drew would deliver. He’s 52-6 the last two years and has a team that will be favored to go deep into the NCAA Tournament next year.