A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
EMORY JONES CAN PUT HIS STAMP ON THE QB POSITION Emory Jones probably has a pretty good idea what it was like to be Kyle Trask during those three years when he was waiting for his chance to show what he could do on the football field. Jones, who was signed by Florida in Dan Mullen’s first UF recruiting class of 2018, took a redshirt in 2018, then watched when Trask took over for the injured Feleipe Franks in 2019 and never looked back.
What Trask proved was good coaching plus patience has a way of paying off as he led the Gators to a New Years Six bowl win over Virginia in 2019 and then set several single-season Florida passing records in 2020. Jones has to be hoping his patience and Mullen’s coaching will pay off in similar fashion in 2021.
"I'll just say I have a lot of responsibility,” Jones said Thursday after the Gators completed their first practice of the spring. “I mean I've been waiting for this time right here. It has been hard but it’s all been for a reason. That’s what I’ve realized over the past years. I have been playing a little bit, so that keeps me going. I’ve just been watching the guys in front of me do their best and watching how they move and how they operate and it’s definitely just helping me, it definitely helped me out throughout the way."
While waiting his chance to become the starting QB, Jones, who was a one-time Ohio State commitment, ran for 514 yards (5.58 per carry) and six touchdowns while completing 55-86 passes (63.9%) for 613 yards (7.12 per attempt) and seven touchdowns.
The quarterback job is Jones’ to lose this spring as the Gators transition from an all-out passing game that took advantage of Trask’s skills into one that will allow Jones to show off his running abilities while still heaving it down the field on a fairly regular basis. The competition will come mainly from Anthony Richardson, a second year freshman, although true freshmen Carlos Del Rio-Wilson and Jalen Kitna both enrolled early so they can participate in spring practice.
“Anthony, he’s been on my butt every practice,” Jones said.
Zachary Carter on why he came back for one more year: Defensive end Zachary Carter, who led the Gators with 5.0 sacks and scored a touchdown on a fumble return in 2020, didn’t want to leave UF without completing his degree. On the football field, Carter says, “I really wanted to leave my mark and leave my legacy at this program.”
Moon out for the spring: Linebacker Jeremiah Moon, who played in only four games in 2020 due to injuries, will miss the entire spring while recovering from surgery on his foot.
NO. 1 GATORS FACE MIAMI IN FIRST GAME AT NEW BALL YARD The Gators will put their No. 1 national ranking on the line this weekend when they open the baseball season with 21st-ranked Miami (3 p.m., SEC Network). Tommy Mace (3-0, 1.67 ERA in 2020) will get the first start for Florida as the Gators christen the brand new Florida Ballpark at McKethan Field against the Hurricanes, who will be sending junior Daniel Federman (0-1, 2.08 ERA) to face a Florida team that has won the last five outings in this bitter in-state rivalry.
Saturday’s 1 p.m. game will send Jack Leftwich (2-0, 4.15 ERA) against Miami freshman Alejandro Rosario. Sunday’s game, also slated for a 1 p.m. start, will feature Hunter Barco (2-0, 1.40 ERA) against Miami freshman Victor Menderos.
Due to Covid-19 protocols, only 1,700 fans will be allowed in the ball yard each game.
GATORS CAN’T AFFORD A LOSS TO GEORGIA SATURDAY
Unless the SEC does some reshuffling of the schedules, the Gators (10-6, 6-5 SEC) have only four more SEC games remaining in the regular season. That puts a premium on Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. matchup (SEC Network) with a Georgia team that knocked off 20th-ranked Missouri Tuesday night. In this season of abbreviated schedules due to Covid-19, the Gators need to go 4-0 down this final stretch of games to have a legitimate shot at locking down an NCAA Tournament bid even before the SEC Tournament is played.
Currently, the Gators hold down the 30th position in the all-important NCAA Net Rankings. That’s a fairly good indicator that the Gators would make the NCAA field if the tournament brackets were announced today, but a lot can change between now and Selection Sunday on March 14. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Gators still sitting on the 7-seed line while Jerry Palm of CBS has the Gators on the 6-seed line.
To avoid dropping both in the Net Rankings and the brackets, the Gators will have to play well to beat a Georgia team that tends to play as well as point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who averages 13.5 points and 7.0 assists per game. When Wheeler is getting out in transition the Bulldogs are a very difficult team to beat.
The Gators are coming off a 75-64 loss to 24th-ranked Arkansas in Fayetteville Tuesday night, a game in which UF showed the rust of no games for 13 days and very few practices. To beat Georgia, Florida has to get better production from Tre Mann and Noah Locke, who combined to score just 14 points while hitting just 2-11 from the 3-point line.
When the two teams met in Athens earlier, Florida got 24 points from Mann, 16 from Locke and 14 each from Tyree Appleby and Colin Castleton.
Saturday SEC games Georgia (13-8, 6-8 SEC) at FLORIDA (10-6, 6-5 SEC) Vanderbilt (6-11, 2-9 SEC) at #8 Alabama (17-5, 12-1 SEC) Kentucky (7-13, 6-7 SEC) at #19 Tennessee (15-5, 8-5 SEC) #20 Missouri (13-6, 6-6 SEC) at South Carolina (5-8, 3-8 SEC) Auburn (11-11, 5-8 SEC) at LSU (13-6, 8-4 SEC) Mississippi State (11-11, 5-8 SEC) at Ole Miss (12-8, 7-6 SEC) Arkansas (17-5, 9-4 SEC) at Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC)
OTHER UF SPORTS THIS WEEKEND Gymnastics: Coming off last week’s win over 2nd-ranked LSU, the No. 1 Gators will play host to 15th-ranked Kentucky at the O-Dome in the 15th Annual Link to Pink tonight. The 6:45 p.m. meet will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (2-0) will play five games over three days in the Bubly Invitational which begins today (6 p.m. start) against Georgia Southern. The Gators will face Georgia Southern at 1 p.m. Saturday and Charlotte at 4 p.m. Sunday the Gators will face Charlotte at 12 noon and Georgia Southern at 3 p.m.
Lacrosse: The 8th-ranked Gators travel to Chapel Hill today to face No. 1 North Carolina in what figures to be the best weekend matchup in the country.
Volleyball: Covid-19 protocols within the Florida program have postponed this weekend’s matches in Starkville between the 7th-ranked Gators and Mississippi State.
Men’s tennis: The 11th-ranked Gators (4-1) will open SEC play this afternoon against 23rd-ranked Alabama (8-2) at the Ring Tennis complex. Sunday the Gators will host to Auburn (3-4).
Women’s tennis: The 22nd-ranked Gators (2-3) will open SEC play at Alabama (9-1) today and at Auburn (5-1) on Saturday.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC Alabama: Basketball coach Nate Oates, who has the Crimson Tide on a runaway path to the SEC championship and the No. 8 national ranking, has signed a contract extension through 2027 that raises his pay to $3.25 million ... Remember when Trent Richardson left Alabama to become “the next great thing” as an NFL running back? He proved to be too slow to make it big in the NFL and since his last season in the league in 2016, he’s played in the Alliance of American Football and the CFL without much impact. His latest attempt will be with the Caudillos de Chihuhua of the Futbol Americano de Mexico. Raise your hand if you knew they had a pro football league in Mexico.
Auburn: Former Auburn backup quarterback Cord Sandberg is transferring to D1AA Eastern Kentucky.
Georgia: Tickets for the spring game will go for $10 with the money going to charity.
Kentucky: With a 7-13 record, Kentucky is going to have to win the SEC Basketball Tournament to make the NCAA field.
Missouri: Secondary coach David Gibbs is leaving to become the co-defensive coordinator for Gus Malzahn at UCF.
Tennessee: A bad month continues to get worse for the Vols. This week two signees in the 2021 class announced they have entered their names in the transfer portal even before they arrive on campus. Cody Brown, a 4-star running back recruit, has already been released from his letter of intent. Also placing his name in the portal is Dylan Brooks, a 4-star defensive end recruit.
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt’s 1-2 pitching punch is righty Kumar Rocker, the son of former Auburn All-American and Philadelphia Eagles D-line coach Tracy Rocker, and Jack Leiter, son of former Major League pitcher Al Leiter.
FOOTBALL STUFF The NCAA extended its recruiting dead period through May 31, another reason why Dan Mullen elected to forego what amounts to a boring spring exhibition game in favor of a real scrimmage that can be productive.
The Philadelphia Eagles traded quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a third round draft pick in 2021 and a conditional second round pick in 2022. The trade means the Eagles will take a $33.8 million dead cap hit while the Colts will assume the remaining two years of Wentz’s contract and pay him a $10 million roster retention bonus. With Wentz gone, Jalen Hurts projects to be the starter in 2021. Will the Eagles take a quarterback with the sixth pick in the April draft?
Michigan quarterback Joe Milton has entered the NCAA transfer portal. He will have three remaining years of eligibility.
The American Football Coaches Association is asking the NCAA to make rules that will eliminate the common practice of faking injuries to slow down fast tempo teams.
There is a report out of Tampa that former NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson might have been dead for as many as three days before he was discovered in a hotel room Monday morning.
PAT FORDE OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SAID IT …
Writing about UCF’s decision to hire former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Forde says:
“UCF and Malzahn could be beautiful together, a marriage of proven winners who just need the right opportunity to do even more than they already have. UCF has gone undefeated and won a New Year's Six bowl within the last five years; Malzahn has played for a national championship within the last 10. There has been some backsliding since then, but joining forces might bring out the best in both.
“If that happens, the powers that be at Auburn and Tennessee might want to purchase ear plugs and delete the social media apps from their phones. One of them kicked Malzahn to the curb and the other didn’t make a push to hire him after he became available. Both chose Group of Five coaches they believed would do a better job—Brian Harsin (from Boise State) at Auburn, Josh Heupel (from UCF) at Tennessee. Both could work out, but neither are sure things.”
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Right now, Duke University is 9-8 overall, 7-6 in ACC play. Ordinarily, a team this mediocre with five games remaining in the regular season would need to go no worse than 4-1 down the stretch with a couple of wins in the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA field. But this is Duke we’re talking about and because the Blue Devils are coached by Mike Kryzyzewski, you can bet the farm that the NCAA will do everything in its power to put Duke in the field. If Duke gets past the opening round of the ACC Tournament and is two games above .500 it’s my guess they will make the NCAA. Now, if that was a team from the SEC you could forget about it, even though the SEC plays better basketball this year than the ACC.