A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
TEBOW GETS A MAKE-GOOD CONTRACT WITH THE JAGUARS Tebow-mania is the word of the day in Jacksonville after Urban Meyer and the Jaguars signed the former Florida Heisman Trophy winning quarterback to a make-good, one-year contract as a tight end, a position he’s never played. It’s not like Meyer is bringing in Tebow to compete with wunderkind QB and No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence although you might think so because wherever Tebow lands on an athletic field the sharp knives of critics are sure to follow. His is such a magnetic personality that he creates a stir everywhere he goes.
It’s not that Tim makes the effort to draw attention to himself, but something that goes with the territory of being Tim Tebow. It seems there is no middle ground – either it’s love or intense dislike, but rarely anything in between. People who love Tebow love everything he stands for as a person but his detractors can’t stand the fact that he gets so much attention. The reality is that Tebow wouldn’t get so much media attention if the media didn’t pay so much attention to him. It’s as if they can’t help themselves and by making Tebow such a focal point, Tebow lovers love him more and those who dislike feel the necessity to take their shots.
Paul Finebaum, who worked with Tebow for seven years on the SEC Network, says Tebow sucks the oxygen out of the room. Having covered every game Tebow ever played at the University of Florida and stood there like hundreds of others with a microphone in his face, I can attest to his almost bigger than life persona. His mother Pam once told me that when Tim was just a tyke and they were living in The Philippines where dad Bob was a Baptist missionary, she would put Tim in a sandbox to play all alone while she worked just steps away. She says that every time she looked over at the sand box, there were more toddlers who wanted to play with Tim. He didn’t ask for playmates, they just showed up. It’s pretty much like that wherever he goes. If Tim is there, media and throngs of people show up.
Signing with the Jaguars is just the first step. He still has to make the team. Those who are betting he won’t make it point to the fact that he is pushing 34 years old, has never played tight end and hasn’t played football in the NFL in more than eight years. Of course, many of those same people said he would never make it to AAA in baseball but he did. The fact that he made it that far after not playing the game since his junior year in high school is not only miraculous but should also tell you it’s never a particularly good idea to bet against him.
I have no idea if Tim has the skills to make it in the NFL this time around but I do know he’s going to shame any player who thinks he doesn’t have to bust his butt every single snap in training camp. Those who can’t match his effort will probably find themselves on the waiver wire, searching for gainful employment somewhere other than Jacksonville. If Tebow does make the team and prove he can contribute, it will be a source of inspiration to anyone out there who has ever been willing to dream big dreams and take big risks.
But there is one side effect of the Tebow signing that many are overlooking and it is Trevor Lawrence. No, Tebow isn’t going to teach Lawrence the art of the perfect spiral, but what he will do goes back to what Finebaum said – he will suck the oxygen out of the room. It is usually a roller coaster existence for rookie quarterbacks no matter how talented or touted they may be. Peyton Manning, if you might recall, completed 28 passes to the other team as a rookie back in 1998 when he piloted the Indianapolis Colts to a 3-13 record. The press was often brutal as they tend to be for every quarterback touted as can’t miss that comes into the NFL. If Lawrence is a typical rookie QB, he’s going to have good games and games he will forever wish he could forget. Having Tebow around might take some of the media scrutiny away on those bad days, however. If he’s on the team and sees the field he might be that vacuum that absorbs way more attention than he deserves. If Lawrence is throwing more passes to the guys wearing something other than Jacksonville teal, it might prove to be the perfect distraction.
For all we know, that might be exactly what Urban Meyer was thinking when he signed Tebow.
GATORS DROP 6-1 DECISION TO NO. 1 ARKANSAS Florida’s hopes to get a first day bye at next week’s Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament took a hit Thursday evening in Fayetteville when Patrick Wicklander (5-1) and Kevin Kopps combined to limit the Gators (35-17, 17-11 SEC East) to three hits as Arkansas (40-10, 20-8 SEC West) took a 6-1 win.
The loss drops the Gators two full games behind SEC East leader Tennessee (41-13, 19-9 SEC East) and 1-1/2 behind second place Vanderbilt (37-12, 18-9 SEC East). A top two finish in the SEC East gets the Gators a first day bye, but that will require the Gators winning today and Saturday as the regular season comes to a close.
Florida took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a Kendrick Calilao home run. Singles by Sterlin Thompson and Nathan Hickey in the third put two on for UF, but those were the Gators final hits of the entire game as Wicklander (11 strikeouts) and Kopps (five strikeouts) dominated the rest of the way. Arkansas tied the game in the fourth and knocked Tommy Mace out of the box with two in the fifth.
Hunter Barco (9-2, 4.13 ERA) gets the start tonight as the Gators try to even the series at one win apiece.
THE ROAD TO OKC BEGINS TODAY FOR FLORIDA SOFTBALL Florida’s road to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City begins at 2 p.m. today with an air of familiarity. The Gators (42-9), who won the SEC regular season championship and the overall No. 4 seed for the NCAA Tournament, will be facing the South Florida Bulls (29-17), a team they’ve beaten four times already this season. The Gators opened the season in Tampa back on February 13 with 6-3 and 15-0 wins over the Bulls. The two teams met in Gainesville back on April 7 with the Gators claiming 9-1 and 2-1 wins.
Baylor (Big 12) will face South Alabama (Sun Belt) in the other Gainesville Regional game at 4:30.
Elizabeth Hightower (16-5, 1.64 ERA) owns two of Florida’s wins against South Florida while Natalie Lugo (16-2, 1.71 ERA) and Katie Chronister (9-2, 2.20 ERA, 6 saves) own the other two. Charla Echols comes into the regional leading the Gators in hitting (.384), home runs (14) and RBI (53). She has only struck out twice in 146 at bats this season.
Florida coach Tim Walton (959-244 career) has taken the Gators to all 10 of the school’s appearances at the Women’s College World Series.
NO. 1 GATORS ADVANCE TO NCAA TENNIS SEMIFINALS Despite losing the doubles point, Florida’s top- seeded and No. 1 ranked tennis team (24-2) scored a 4-1 win over eight-seeded Texas A&M (19-9) Thursday night in the NCAA quarterfinals at Lake Nona. Florida got singles wins from Sam Riffice, Blaise Bicknell, Ben Shelton and Duarte to knock off the Aggies for the third time in as many tries this season.
Next up for the Gators is a Saturday semifinal match with No. 4 seed Texas, a 4-3 winner over Southern Cal.
GATORS TRAVEL TO SYRACUSE FOR NCAA LACROSSE QUARTERFINALS
The 6th-seeded Gators (18-2) will try to earn a spot in the NCAA Lacrosse semifinals Saturday (3 p.m.) when they face No. 3 Syracuse (15-3) at the Syracuse Soccer Stadium. Florida and Syracuse have met 11 times in the past with Syracuse holding a 7-4 edge including 3-1 at home. The last time the two teams met was 2019 when Syracuse eked out a 14-13 win over the Gators at Donald Dizney Stadium.
Florida, which has won 15 consecutive matches, has made it to the NCAA semifinals three times in school history. The Gators made it to the quarterfinals with a decisive 17-3 win over Jacksonville last weekend.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC Alabama: Third-seeded Alabama (45-7) starts regional NCAA softball play against Alabama State in Tuscaloosa.
Arkansas: With their 6-1 win over Florida, the Razorbacks (40-10, 20-8 SEC West) clinched at least a tie for the SEC West Division championship … The 6th-seeded Razorbacks (40-9) play host to Manhattan in regional NCAA softball action today ... Former Arkansas offensive lineman Chibuenze Nwanna, who opted out of the 2020 season, is transferring to Charlotte.
Auburn: Auburn (24-25, 9-19 SEC West) stayed alive in its fight to play in the SEC Baseball Tournament with a 15-6 win over Missouri … The Tigers (27-22) No. 2 seed in the Tallahassee softball regional where they will face Kennesaw State today.
Georgia: The Georgia-Clemson season opening football game in Charlotte will be a 7:30 p.m. primetime kickoff on ESPN … Georgia, which is the No. 2 seed in a regional it hosts, will face Western Kentucky in NCAA softball play.
Kentucky: Wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight, who was arrested for DUI back on May 8, will be retained … The 14th-seeded Wildcats (39-13) host Northwestern in regional softball play.
LSU: Kyle Caskey, who spent the last two years coaching running backs in the CFL and before that nine years as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, has been added as an offensive analyst … Seventh-seeded LSU (32-19) hosts McNeese State in NCAA regional softball play.
Mississippi State: Mississippi State (38-13, 18-10 SEC West) needs to sweep Alabama (29-20, 12-15 SEC West) and hope Arkansas loses twice to Florida for a tie for the SEC West Division title. The Bulldogs beat Alabama, 4-2, Thursday evening … The Bulldogs are the No. 3 seed in the NCAA softball Stillwater Regional. They face Boston University today.
Missouri: Eighth-seeded Missouri (38-15) opens NCAA softball regional play against Illinois-Chicago ... Missouri has received approval to build an indoor football practice facility.
Ole Miss: Ole Miss (37-16, 17-10 SEC West) stayed hot on the heels of Mississippi State for a second place finish in the SEC West with a 2-0 win over Georgia (29-22, 12-16 SEC West). If the Rebels finish second they will earn a first day bye in the SEC Baseball Tournament … The Rebels (34-20) are the No. 2 seed in the Tucson Regional, where they will face Villanova … Ole Miss will open its 2021 football season against Louisville on Monday, September 6.
South Carolina: Jalyn McCreary, who averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game for the Gamecocks last season, is transferring to South Florida.
Tennessee: The 4th-ranked Vols (41-13, 19-9 SEC East) blasted South Carolina, 10-4, to remain a half-game ahead of Vanderbilt in the SEC East Division standings … The 9th-seeded Vols will host Eastern Kentucky in NCAA regional softball play ... Former Michigan linebacker William Mohan is transferring to Tennessee.
Texas A&M: The Aggies (31-21) are the No. 3 seed in the NCAA softball Norman Region. They face Wichita State today … The Aggies (29-25, 9-19 SEC West) got a surprising 2-1 win over LSU (32-21, 11-17 SEC West) Thursday night to keep pace with Auburn for the 12th and final spot in the SEC Baseball Tournament.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores (37-12, 18-9 SEC East) remain a half-game behind SEC East Division leader Tennessee after scoring a 4-2 walk-off win over Kentucky (28-21, 11-17 SEC East) Thursday night.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Not only are the sharp knives out for Tim Tebow but they’re out there for Urban Meyer for having the audacity to give Tebow a one-year make-good contract with the Jaguars. Mel Kiper of ESPN and Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports spent the day doing their best to show the world how angry they are, more at Meyer than Tebow. LaCanfora even wrote, “I heard from numerous sources that several of Meyer’s Ohio State players wanted nothing to do with signing to play for him as undrafted free agents. They’d had enough of him and how it would work in the pros.” Here is what I know. Urban didn’t win three national championships because he (a) doesn’t know how to coach and (b) lacks the ability to put a team together. Urban knows the risk here but you don’t win 85.4 percent of your football games without taking a few risks along the way. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. Mel Jr. and LaCanfora will look silly if it works out and of course, they’ll beat their chests and remind us just how right they were if the Tebow experiment fails.