A few thoughts to jump start your Monday afternoon:
TIME TO PUT THE 2020-21 SPORTS SEASON IN THE REARVIEW
I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for the 2020-21 sports season at the University of Florida to be over and done with. I’ve had enough. I need June, July and August to recharge batteries that have been drained dead. I have no more energy for the Gators, not for another three months.
It has been a weird year just about everywhere but no place has the year been stranger than the University of Florida, where men’s tennis (national champs), men’s swimming (SEC champs for the 9th straight year), track and field (Mouse Holloway always factors nationally, whether indoors or outdoors) and lacrosse (NCAA quarter-finals) are the only sports that didn’t end in disappointment. Contemplate the following:
FOOTBALL: The final record was 8-4. Forget the loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Nobody wanted to be there and everyone was still hurting from an SEC Championship Game that could have been and should have been won by Florida. One defensive stop is all it would have taken. An offside penalty on Marlon Dunlap that negated a third down stop would have helped. So would Kyree Campbell hustling to get off the field to prevent an illegal participation. That killed another third down stop. Florida hung 46 on Alabama, the most by far of any team the national champs played in 2020. Alabama made Justin Fields look like a high school sophomore. Kyle Trask made the Alabama defense look like refugees from the scout team.
That was the story of the season. There was the fourth quarter fumble by Malik Davis in Aggieland that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The LSU game. Oh my. Get in the end zone on fourth and inches and it doesn’t matter if a Marco throws the shoe. Evan McPherson’s field goal in the fog missed by a foot. Two more losses, each one decided by one play.
It should have been 11-0. It wasn’t and Dan Mullen still hasn’t heard the end of it.
BASKETBALL: I was talking with a friend recently about the roller coaster ride that was Florida basketball last season. We reached a stalemate when the debate turned to what movie title best described Florida’s 15-10 season. He said, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I said, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Strange it was. In retrospect, I think Florida’s basketball season was on life support the moment Keyontae Johnson collapsed in Tallahassee. He was Florida’s rock and without him the Gators were an amoeba, constantly changing shape. They were good enough to beat anyone in the country – see Tennessee at the O-Dome and West Virginia on the road – and they were bad enough to lose to a horrible South Carolina team when they played the last five minutes like they took their basketball lessons by mail order and the mail was late.
Ten games were cancelled, six by Covid-19, four in the aftermath of Keyontae. That didn’t help continuity.
Tre Mann found his mojo. Scottie Lewis sent his sinuses to Arizona, his liver to Peru, his lungs and his kidney for the summer to Sydney and his game to Timbuktu. Colin Castleton was a warrior. Omar Payne played like a peaceful protestor. Noah Locke could shoot but couldn’t play a lick of defense. Ques Glover never met a turnover he couldn’t commit. Osayi Osifo was 6-feet-7 inches tall and not much else.
It was 15-10. The Gators should have at least made the Sweet 16. They didn’t. Mike White lost four players to the transfer portal, replaced them with four who are better from the portal. He lost two coaches. He replaced them with two nobody has ever heard of. He also got a contract extension that has folks scratching their heads and asking why?
BASEBALL: There were weekends when the Gators played like the No. 1 team in the country that they were hyped to be when the season began. See Ole Miss. See Vanderbilt. There were weekends when the Gators were beyond bad. See South Carolina and more recently, the NCAA regional here in Gainesville where the season concluded with a two-and-through, the final game a 19-1 kibosh at the hands of South Alabama. A week ago the Gators played like a team poised to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. This past weekend they played like a team ready to get the season over. The Gators had enough physical talent but did they have it between the ears?
Losing Nick Pogue and Tyler Nesbitt to Tommy John surgery before the season put a serious crimp in the pitching staff. Tommy Mace had a lot of good outings. Hunter Barco won 10 games and set himself up to be a first round draft pick next year. Jack Leftwich found life as a closer. Franco Aleman pitched like a guy who didn’t get a full juco season and no summer ball. In fact, the entire pitching staff pitched like it hadn’t gotten in those innings playing summer ball somewhere like Cape Cod or the Valley League.
There were too many hitters afflicted with Pedro Cerrano disease – “Straight ball I hit it very good. Curveball bats are very afraid.” Jud Fabian hit 20 home runs. He also struck out 79 times. There were far too many games like the 11-7 loss to Vanderbilt in which the Gators left 14 men on base. Hitting in clutch situations was not a real forte of this team.
This was the worst fielding team in Kevin O’Sullivan’s 16 years on the job. The Gators committed 70 errors in 60 games. Contrast that to the 2017 national championship season when UF committed only 53 errors in 70 games.
Mace and Leftwich will be gone to the MLB Draft as will Fabian and Nathan Hickey. Jacob Young, Aleman, Kris Armstrong and Christian Scott are all draft-eligible. There are future stars in Sterlin Thompson and Colby Halter along with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, but will KOS be around to coach them? LSU is expected to make a Godfather offer of as much as $3 million per season. Will KOS be able to refuse?
SOFTBALL: Like baseball, the season ended disastrously, this one in the super regional where the Gators were shut out twice and run-ruled in the second game to Georgia, of all teams. Unlike football, basketball and baseball, you get the feeling Tim Walton got everything this team had. He didn’t have a dominating pitcher and of the four consistent hitters in his lineup, only three were threats to leave the ball yard when they hit. To win 45 games required smoke and mirrors.
The incoming recruiting class is outstanding and features a flamethrower pitcher in Lexie Delbrey. Alabama transfer Skylar Wallace and incoming recruit Reagan Walsh added to Hannah Adams, Charla Echols and Cheyenne Lindsey should make the offense better.
The season ended in disappointment, but unlike football, basketball and baseball, no one is grinding teeth about the head coach.
GYMNASTICS: When Trinity Thomas was healthy, Florida had the best team in the country. When she suffered a high ankle sprain, the Gators’ chances to win a national championship went down the drain. When Thomas is healthy, she is the best gymnast in the country and the Gators are at least a half point (in football terms that would be two touchdowns) better than anyone else. The recruiting class is the best in the country. Next year should be outstanding but it won’t take the sting away from what might have been in 2021.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Complete and total disaster. Four straight losing seasons got Cam Newbauer a three-year extension. Go figure.
WOMEN’S TENNIS: The Gators are 50-33 since their last national championship in 2017.
SOCCER: In the final three seasons of her UF coaching career, Becky Burleigh was 24-27-8. It was time for a coaching change.
GOLF (MEN AND WOMEN): It’s Florida, a state with a bazillion golf courses and incredible weather. How can you not be a top five program every year? They don’t even sniff the top five.
GATORS SURPRISE IN SPORTING NEWS PRESEASON TOP 25 When it came to the Gators, Sporting News didn’t follow the lead of Athlon and Lindy’s when it named its preseason top 25. Florida is a surprising No. 8 pick after No. 11 by Athlon and No. 12 by Lindy’s.
1. Alabama; 2. Clemson; 3. Ohio State; 4. Oklahoma; 5. Georgia; 6. Notre Dame; 7. Texas A&M; 8. FLORIDA; 9. Iowa State; 10. Cincinnati; 11. LSU; 12. Southern Cal; 13. Texas; 14. North Carolina; 15. Indiana; 16. Oregon; 17. Oklahoma State; 18. Iowa; 19. Miami; 20. Wisconsin; 21. Ole Miss; 22. Auburn; 23. Coastal Carolina; 24. Army; 25. Penn State.
GATORS AND THE MLB DRAFT The Major League Baseball Draft has been shortened to 20 rounds and with 42 fewer minor league teams there won’t be nearly as many opportunities. While this is viewed as effective cost cutting that makes financial sense to the bean counters at Major League Baseball, there is widespread concern that the end result will be reduced interest in the game by the kids who play it.
The prevailing thought is the first ten rounds will be heavy with high school kids, while rounds 11-20 will more heavily favor the college kids. The reason? The money will be good in the first ten rounds so high school kids will be more inclined to sign. The money in 11-20 won’t be so great but college kids may feel the need to go ahead and sign even with another year of eligibility remaining.
Here is where ESPN and MLB.com rate current and signed Gators:
ESPN’s Kiley McDonald updated his player rankings for the 2021 draft. Here are the current or signed Gators in his 150 top prospects (current Gators in bold face): 16. Andrew Painter, RHP (Fort Lauderdale, FL, Calvary Christian); 21. Jud Fabian, CF; 43. Chase Petty, RHP (Somers Point, NJ, Mainland Regional); 52. Tommy Mace, RHP; 69. Nathan Hickey, C/1B; 73. Jay Allen, CF (Fort Pierce, FL John Carroll Catholic); 75. Michael Robertson, CF (Venice, FL); 88. Jac Caglianone, LHP (Tampa, FL Plant); 126. Jacob Young, LF; Pierce Coppola, LHP (Verona, NJ).
Here are the current or signed Gators in the MLB.com top 200 prospect rankings: 17. Jud Fabian, CF; 18. Andrew Painter, RHP (Fort Lauderdale, FL Calvary Christian); 25. Chase Petty, RHP (Somers Point, NJ); 34. Tommy Mace, RHP; 37. Jay Allen, CF (Fort Pierce, FL John Carroll Catholic); 61. Jac Caglianone, LHP (Tampa, FL Plant); 98. Michael Robertson, CF (Venice, FL); 114. Pierce Coppola, LHP (Verona, NJ); 135. Nathan Hickey, C/1B; 145. Jack Leftwich, RHP; 171. Karl Hartman, RHP (Merritt Island, FL Rockledge); 193. Jake Fox, SS (Lakeland, FL Lakeland Christian).
In its June 2 mock draft, here is where MLB.com had the following current or signed Gators going: 17. Andrew Painter, RHP (Fort Lauderdale, FL Calvary Christian) to Cincinnati; 22. Jud Fabian, CF to Chicago White Sox; 27. Chase Petty, RHP (Somers Point, NJ) to San Diego; 28. Tommy Mace, RHP to Tampa Bay.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Urban Meyer threw some cold water on the critics who have been sniping away since Tim Tebow got a make good free agent contract to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is not guaranteed money. Tebow is one of 90 players on the Jaguars preseason roster. He still has to prove he can make the team and contribute on the field. Meyer spoke with Rich Eisen of ESPN and basically admitted that it will not be easy for Tebow to make the team while changing positions after all this time away from football. Meyer said, “What’s the percentage of making the team? We don’t know. This is uncharted water. This is going to be very difficult, but he’s been doing great. He’s been doing great in practice. He’s learning the offense as you can imagine. He’s working as hard as anybody. I see a good camaraderie amongst the team and Tim, and it’s been good so far.” The part about Tebow’s hard work and camaraderie is the big take away here. Tebow will work harder than anyone on the team and he will indeed be a force for positive in the locker room. If he actually makes the team and contributes on the field, it will be a bonus.