Las Vegas Bowl Preview

Florida gets “rewarded” for it’s second straight 6-6 regular season with a trip to Las Vegas to take on the Oregon St. Beavers.  Obviously, this game has no meaning nationally outside of the two fan bases, and the Gator coaching staff is going to have it’s hands full trying to balance the past critical recruiting weekends, bowl game prep, and figuring out how to field a competitive team.

Since the end of the regular season, Florida has lost 29 players to a combination of the transfer portal, graduation, and dismissal from the program (QB Jalen Kitna, who was slated to start the bowl game and had the opportunity to audition for 2023).  There are some key losses – especially on offense – that could gut any real chance at the Gators winning.  QB Anthony Richardson, OG O’Cyrus Torrence, and WR Justin Shorter are gone, along with MLB Ventrell Miller.  For now, it appears as if DT Gervon Dexter and OT Richard Gouriage intend to play even though both have declared for the NFL Draft, and I’m sure Billy Napier and Gator Nation will gladly accept any scraps they can get at this point.

Jack Miller has been named the starter at QB for Florida.  he was the backup to AR and played in the Orange and Blue game, but suffered a broken thumb in fall practice and didn’t play a single snap all season.  He’s going to have a lot to prove, and having the defections on offense just makes his job that much more difficult.  If Gouriage does play, the only O-line change will be Richie Leonard filing in for Torrense at guard – at least he’s had extended reps during the season.  The running game will have to leaned upon heavily as Miller has precious little experience with the starting WRs, let alone not being able to develop timing with them.  Other than Shorter, most of the WR corps appears to be back and in decent health.  OSU’s strength on defense is against the run, allowing only 114 yards/game.  If the Gators can’t establish an effective running game, it could be a long afternoon for Miller and the offense.  Florida can have success throwing the ball, as OSU has allowed 228 yards per game.  Having almost all of the WRs back is a huge boost.  Miller needs to protect the football as well, as the Beavers have 12 interceptions on the year.  Of course, unless the Gators put together a decent running game, Miller won’t have the luxury of a balanced offense and will be forced into obvious passing situations.  He does have some mobility, but with the only backups being walk-on Kyle Engel and true freshman Max Brown, Miller needs to stay healthy, so I don’t expect a lot of running from him unless something is wide open.  It’s hard to believe that Florida comes into this game with no QB having ever having thrown a pass for the Gators.

OSU’s offense also relies on a strong running game, led by true freshman Damien Martinez with 970 yards.  The Beaver passing game is ball-possession, with neither of their QBs – Ben Gulbranson or Chance Nolan – throwing deep very often.  They are also turnover-prone when forced to throw with 15 TDs offset by 13 interceptions, so it’s obvious what the Gator defense has to do – find a way to win first down and then rush the QB and force some mistakes.  OSU does have one legitimate deep threat in WR Anthony Gould, who averages 17 yards per catch and is also one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country with an 18 yard average and 2 TDs.

Florida’s special teams have been impacted by all of the roster attrition.  Many of the backups that have left the program received extended snaps on the kick return and coverage units, so there will be lots of new faces and inexperience, which can be disastrous… especially with a kick returner like Gould on OSU’s side.  Fortunately, both placekicker Adam Mihalek and punter Jeremy Crawshaw are available.  Mihalek did pretty well in his first year, and Crawshaw was one of the best in the SEC and country.  Given the potential struggles ahead for Florida’s offense, field position and not allowing any big plays by OSU is critical to chances for a win.

The psychology behind this game will be fascinating.  OSU will be looking at this game as a huge opportunity, and you can bet they will be focused and ready to play.  Florida, however, may be looking at this as more of a scrimmage, with many of the players still on the roster looking to audition for their place in 2023.  I can’t imagine more than 10K Gator fans attending this game (probably less), as it has no real juice and is against an unfamiliar opponent.  It’s also an expensive trip across the country right now, with high air fare prices and inflation impacting the budget of many.  Maybe the staff can have the team ready to play and the Gators come out with some fire, but I would not be surprised at all if it becomes a struggle.  I have no high expectations for a win – it would be great for the team’s morale, but something tells me there is already a significant amount of attention on 2023, from both the players and coaching staff.

Prediction: Oregon St. 24 Florida 20

Florida State Review

Well, this game certainly embodied the entire 2022 Gator football experience.  Big plays, even bigger plays allowed, penalties, bad tackling, perplexing playcalling, emotional highs and crushing lows, frustration, and a close finish – too often on the losing side.

What a shame to see the season end with such a thud.  After the debacle at Vanderbilt, the effort was there this time – especially with a depleted offensive roster.  But, again, some poor play at critical times and some mind-numbingly inaccurate passing by Anthony Richardson were too much to overcome, especially with a defense that failed (again) to look even competent.  The offense was often electric in the first half, with a solid running game led by Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne, and big-time connections from AR to Ricky Pearsall which led to a 24-21 halftime lead.  Florida had momentum going into the locker room, and was getting the 2nd half kickoff with an opportunity to take control of the game.  Then, it happened (again).  The offensive performance in the 3rd quarter was as bad as it could have been.  Billy Napier for some reason decided to get away from the run game, and rolled with a QB who had completed only 55% of his passes coming in.  Well, that led to 3 consecutive 3-and-outs, while the defense collapsed to let F$U win the quarter 17-0 and force Florida to play catch-up in the 4th quarter.  Credit to the guys, as they fought back to a 38-38 tie by getting back to dominating the LOS with their running game.  That was by necessity, as AR was on his way to finish the night with only 9 completions in 29 attempts, after starting out 5 of 7.  That the Gators actually had an opportunity to steal a win at the end with only 4 pass completions in the last 3 quarters was a minor miracle in itself.  He even misfired on 2 easy throws in the flat that would have led to big gains.  It was that kind of inefficient and inaccurate passing from AR too often that ultimately led to too many losses.  It is simply not sustainable in today’s game, especially in the hyper-competitive and talented SEC.

Yet, even with all the struggles in the passing game, it was the defense that ultimately lost this game.  The first half was actually OK, with a few stops and generating a turnover on F$U’s first possession.  But the season-long bugaboos popped up (again) enough to allow the Criminoles to stay close.  Jordan Travis is just not a good passer, evidenced by a 13-30 night passing.  But Florida’s pass coverage over the middle has been dreadful all season, and made him look like Joe Montana at times with a handful of easy completions for big yards with no one within 10 yards of the receiver.  Despite that, the Gators could have had a larger halftime lead if they simply tackled Travis in the backfield a few times.  As I mentioned in my game preview, if the defense could limit his running, F$U would be in trouble.  Well, they didn’t, and it got exponentially worse in the 3rd quarter, which ultimately helped decide the outcome.  The performance by the defense in the 3rd quarter was horrific – I can’t recall seeing such poor tackling in space, bad angles, and simply blowing chances for stops even when DC Patrick Toney actually managed to get a few calls right.  Travis escaped multiple times when almost getting sacked, keeping 2 touchdown drives alive.  It led to a 38-24 lead by the end of the quarter that the Gators were never able to fully overcome.  Toney (again) dialed up some inexplicable coverages at times along with occasionally trying to spy Travis with a D-lineman – what a joke.  But the players were at fault oftentimes with their own poor play.  Even getting Ventrell Miller back for the 2nd half after he served his suspension for his targeting ejection in the Vanderbilt game seemingly changed nothing.

The special teams actually had one of their best games.  Adam Mihalek made all of his placekicks, Trey Smack’s kickoffs were mostly touchbacks, and the kickoff and punt coverage was solid.  Etienne had another long kickoff return to set up a second quarter score.  He really put some juice into the return game once he was inserted – it should have happened at the start of the season.

So, after all of the bluster and a roller-coaster season, Florida winds up with exactly the same record as 2021……6-6.  That gives the Gators a 20-14 regular season record since 2019, which is Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina territory……not to mention the ugly bowl losses the past 2 seasons.  For now, Florida is just another team in the SEC, and faces a critical offseason which will help determine the direction of the program going forward.  Recruiting has gone well, with the Gators’ current class inside the Top 10.  Even if the staff can hold the class together and possibly sign a few more elite players, they are going to have to hit the transfer portal VERY hard, and get extremely lucky in hitting on some immediate starters and some quality depth.  I expect a massive roster turnover, with the combination of high school signees plus transfers totalling anywhere from 35-40 players – almost half of the roster in total.

I’ll be back with my bowl game preview, and the potential matchups are not looking very exciting.  There are already a good number of players that have entered the transfer portal, with likely more to come, so what the overall roster will look like going into the game is a mystery……very similar to last year.  Good times.

Vanderbilt Review / Florida St. Preview

Fool’s gold – so much for finishing the season strong.

In a massive step backwards, the Gators completely imploded in an embarrassing 31-24 loss at Vanderbilt – their first in Nashville since 1988.  This was a complete failure across the board, starting with the coaching staff.  This performance was very troubling, and not indicative of a team or staff showing continuous improvement and establishing a winning standard going forward.

As badly as some players performed, including some of the upperclassmen, this game was squarely on the coaching staff.  Poor preparation, terrible schemes, and a shocking lack of focus.  It appeared as if the staff was already looking ahead to the F$U game in the way they prepared the team for this game.  The playcalling on offense was mystifying – Vandy obviously sold out to stop the run, which normally would force you to pass more often.  But to come out that way from the opening snap, and to both fail to run stretch plays to the edge and not force Anthony Richardson to pull the ball way more often on the read option to pick up extra yards and extend drives was criminal.  AR wound up with 400 passing yards, but only because the run scheme was trash and the offense was in desperation mode against some prevent defense in the 4th quarter.  He again missed too many receivers on key downs, and his hail mary throw to end the game was simply unconscionable – not even trying to get the ball into the end zone, but throwing it through the uprights?!  Finally, Billy Napier started chasing points way too early, leading to 2 unsuccessful 2-point conversion tries that forced the offense to try and score twice instead of once late in the game.

The defense reverted back to it’s undisciplined ways, not setting the edge against the run, and playing soft pass coverage.  There were some mind-numbing penalties from Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney that extended Commodore drives, including Miller getting himself ejected for a targeting call that keeps him out of the first half against Florida St.  The DEs refused to play the outside run correctly, and the tackling was abysmal.  The only real impact play came from Jason Marshall, who made a great interception on a pass deep in Florida territory in the 4th quarter to give the Gators a small chance at a comeback.  Other than that, a complete collapse against a bad opponent.

Special teams was a disaster as well.  Poor coverage, a few penalties (again), another missed extra point, and what was a backbreaking mistake by Marshall, trying to field a punt inside his 5-yard line.  He fumbled, and gave Vandy a free touchdown right before the first half ended.  Yes, he’s the 3rd-string returner, but it’s on the staff at that point to tell him to NOT TOUCH THE BALL – no matter what.  Yes, this was a total team loss, and starts up the noise in the system – again.

What a huge letdown for Gator Nation.  As bad as the false hope of the previous 6 quarters of football was against depleted opponents, the performance of the coaching staff was close to unforgivable.  They of all people should know the talent limitations of this Gator team, and the precious little room for error.

It’s now on to Taliban City for the last game of the regular season to face the Criminoles.  What momentum gained from the previous 2 games is completely lost, and now Florida could have some serious injury problems at key positions to make things even harder on themselves.  The WR corps is decimated – Justin Shorter, Marcus Burke, and Xavier Henderson are out, and Ricky Pearsall is in concussion protocol.  Freshmen Caleb Douglas and Daejon Reynolds have stepped up lately, but now will be thrown into the fire as starters.  OL O’Cyrus Torrence and Michael Tarquin both will try to play through leg injuries, and aren’t close to 100%.  Of course, unless Napier gives these guys a legit game plan that makes sense, it could all be moot.  This team has to find at least a modicum of a running game to keep the defense honest and not force any more pressure on AR, who just can’t process things fast enough or be counted upon to play efficiently when forced to throw too often.  The Seminole defense has been susceptible to the running game when they’ve played a team with a pulse, so there is some hope there……but only if AR decides to run the ball himself……often enough and with authority.  If the injury report isn’t enough to make Napier force the running game – including AR – nothing will.

The Gator defense has to stop F$U’s running game first, and that includes not allowing QB Jordan Travis to hurt them on the read option or break containment on scrambles.  I’m still not sold on his ability to simply lead their offense on drives when having to rely on passing.  He does have a weapon in WR Johnny Wilson, a transfer from Arizona St. (and former teammate of Pearsall), who is a huge target at 6’7″.  RB Lawrance Toafili is involved in the passing game as well when he’s in the game.  Their leading rushers are Trey Benson and Treyshaun Ward, both averaging over 6 yards per carry.  Again, it’s incumbent on the Gator defense to stop the run and force the Seminoles to win the game through the air.  Their overall passing game is nothing special compared to teams Florida has already faced.  But, of course, there’s the Patrick Toney factor……once more we’ll see if he stays in his soft shell or allows the defense to play aggressively for 60 minutes.  Florida’s front seven has struggled often this season, but F$U’s O-line is nothing special – get at least a stalemate here and perhaps the defense can actually get enough stops to give the offense enough possessions to win the game.  Losing Miller to suspension for the first half ain’t gonna help – some of the young players will have to elevate their game.

Florida needs to play well for many reasons.  It’s bad enough they are coming off of a disastrous loss at Vanderbilt.  This game is as much about perception of where the program is headed under Napier, and will affect recruiting as well.  Get embarrassed (again) on the national stage, and it will be felt on and off the field.  The coaching staff has a lot to prove, and I’m just not sure if some of them are up to the task, short- or long-term.  I’m not confident at all that the Gators will play well, with injuries piling up and a nothing bowl game on the horizon.  It’s a shame, as F$U has built up it’s record against a garbage schedule and is nothing special, including it’s own mediocre coaching staff.  It is a rivalry game, so perhaps Florida will show up this week – it’s just a shame that we don’t know, because of the inconsistent coaching and player performance all season.

Prediction: Florida St. 38 Florida 21

Missouri Review / LSU Preview

It wasn’t pretty, but it was a much-needed win for the Gators, celebrating Homecoming with a 24-17 win over Missouri that was less satisfying than it should have been.

At the halfway point of the season, I’ve seen enough of Anthony Richardson to know that you simply don’t know what to expect week-to-week or even series-to-series.  It’s 2022, and Florida ends up with 66 yards passing, which is unacceptable.  AR is holding this offense back, despite the conservative nature of the overall scheme and playcalling by Billy Napier and Rob Sale.  He has plenty of opportunities to take off and run for easy yards, especially on the read option, but he refuses to do it.  His scramble led to Florida’s final score to extend the lead to 24-10, but even then he took off almost too late with a wide-open middle of the field beckoning him.  Then, he turned the ball over late with a seven-point lead that gave Missouri the chance to tie or win the game at the end.

After a pedestrian first half, the running game came alive with over 200 yards in the second half alone, controlling the clock and the scoreboard until the last 4 minutes.  Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson broke off some long runs to lead two TD drives of over 80 yards, which wore down the Tiger defense.  The lack of balance with the paltry passing game was the only reason this game remained in doubt until the end, and that’s not going to win the upcoming games.  I really feel for the WR corps – they are getting too much criticism, and it has to be frustrating to block well for the run and also fighting to get open, just to have the ball thrown nowhere near too often.  Thank goodness Ricky Pearsall made such a good adjustment on his TD catch which proved to be the game-winner.

It’s really hard to watch this year’s Gator defense struggle given the new staff and system in place.  Something is fundamentally wrong, and I suspect DC Patrick Toney needs to scrap his 3-3-5 alignment, as it ain’t working.  When Florida actually put more defenders at the LOS, they did a decent job of stopping the run……then they would get away from it.  Ventrell Miller had an excellent day making tackles sideline-to-sideline, but none of the other LBs stood out.  The feel-good story of the season to date came from the play of DB Jaydon Hill, who had a pick-six to give Florida an early 10-0 lead, then made a second interception in the red zone to protect a 17-10 lead.  He battled serious injuries for the past 2 seasons, and I hope he’s due for some good luck with his health.  The soft coverage by the secondary as a whole continues to be maddening – why these guys aren’t allowed to play closer to the WRs and more physically to disrupt routes is not winning football against good teams.

LSU is next up at the Swamp, coming off of a beatdown suffered at home in Death Valley to Tennessee.  While the score wasn’t close, LSU did move the ball well.  Between turnovers and their defense getting shredded, their offense is simply not built to get into a shootout.  QB Jayden Daniels is going to be a problem for the Gator defense, as they have not stopped over even slowed a running QB all season.  He has one of the best WRs in the country to throw to in Kayshon Boutte, but surprisingly their running game has been struggling.  Daniels has masked that with his legs, and Florida had better contain the edges with a disciplined rush or it’s going to be a long night.  It’s a shame that the Gators simply don’t have the talent and depth in front seven to dominate the LOS against a weak O-line.

The Tiger defense has played poorly.  Injuries along the D-line and inexperience in the secondary have hurt them, but it’s up to AR to exploit those weaknesses.  Even a modicum of success throwing the ball should lead to plenty of scoring opportunities.  Florida’s O-line has a distinct advantage, and the running game should again be reliable if AR can provide some balance through the air.  I’m still waiting for more quick throws to the RBs in the flats to help move the ball more consistently, but is AR accurate enough to even make those easy throws?  Expect more of what we’ve seen from opposing defenses……stacking the box until the Gators can prove they can pass.

This game is certainly a measuring stick to see where Florida is halfway into the season.  They have enough experience and have played a tough enough schedule to be ready for this game.  Sadly, I get the feeling the defense is going to continue to struggle containing QB runs, while the secondary has already made enough mediocre QBs look effective.  I’m afraid it will turn into another one of those weird Florida-LSU games, where the Gators will find a way to give the game away late to the Tigers, even in the Swamp.  Brian Kelly has to be one of the most dislikable coaches in the country, with his sideline antics at Notre Dame, poor treatment of fans and the press, and his fake Cajun accent and BS “fam-uh-lee” talk about the LSU program once he arrived.  I’m not picking the Gators to win, but I’m gonna love it if they stick it to the Tigers for years of crazy outcomes that have gone against Florida.

There is one other subplot for this game, and that’s the treatment of Napier by the LSU football program while he was in Louisiana.  He was continuously ridiculed for his coaching methods and treated like a little brother that’s nothing more than a pest.  Their administration completely blew him off regarding their coaching vacancy, so he will have extra emotional energy for this series.  Maybe he can transfer some of that to his team. 

Prediction: LSU 28 Florida 24

Utah Preview

The season is finally here, and it certainly will be an interesting one.  The past 9 months has been a whirlwind for new head coach Billy Napier – filling out his coaching staff, hiring a very large (and quality) support staff to finally match the other winning programs of the past decade, cobbling together a 2022 recruiting class (and doing much better than expected), working on the 2023 recruiting class (off to a very good start), and trying to figure out what kind of talent he has to work with for the upcoming season.

Napier and the Gators do not get the luxury of easing into a new season with an overmatched opponent.  Utah comes to the Swamp off of winning the PAC-12 and getting to the Rose Bowl last season, and have a lot of preseason hype surrounding them.  They have some distinct advantages coming into this game – an established starting QB, a quality RB, experience on their defense, and the comfort of a stable coaching staff and scheme.  Kyle Whittingham is entering his 18th season as head coach – remember he replaced Urban Meyer when Meyer took the Florida job……seems like a lifetime ago.

Florida will likely need to rely on it’s defense to carry the load early in the season as the offense finds it’s footing.  They have a tough assignment right away, starting with controlling mobile QB Cam Rising and 1,000-yard RB Tavion Thomas.  The Gator front seven knows it must handle these two, and do have the advantage of the noise of the home crowd along with Utah breaking in 2 new tackles and a center.  Those are critical positions, and the Gator DEs, along with DT Gervon Dexter, must get penetration and create havoc early and often.  Rising can keep plays alive with his legs and is a solid running threat, but can find trouble when forced to throw from the pocket.

Utah historically has used it’s TEs very effectively in the passing game, and I expect them to attack Florida’s LBs early and often.  Gator LBs have struggled mightily in pass coverage for years now, and have to prove they are better in the new scheme devised by DC Patrick Toney.  Utah does not have game-breaking WRs, and Florida’s secondary should play well under new coach Corey Raymond.  No more soft coverage and bad tackling will be tolerated.  The front seven will have it’s hands full, so the secondary must perform at it’s best.

It’s Anthony Richardson time for the Gator offense.  He will have to carry a lot on his shoulders, despite little experience and coming off of a handful of nagging injuries in 2021.  With no backup QB having any real experience until Jack Miller returns from injury (broken thumb), he’ll have to manage his running in order to stay healthy.  The most important ability for him to exhibit this year will be availability.

Napier will be calling the plays with help from OL coach Rob Sale.  They will have to lean on a solid RB corps and (hopefully) a better-coached and developed O-line.  Once again, Florida’s O-line starts another season having to prove itself SEC-worthy.  It’s been over a decade of essentially the same story, and it’s no surprise that it correlates with the past 3 coaching firings.  Napier definitely upgraded the coaching with Sale and Darnell Stapleton, but how fast will their teaching translate into performance?  If this group struggles, the offense – and season – could look very rough.

The Gators RB room is as good as anyone in terms of depth.  Nay’Quan Wright, Lorenzo Lingard, and Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson all are capable runners, and Wright is solid in the passing game.  Freshman Trevor Etienne may not see many carries early in the season, but could contribute in the kick return game as he settles in. 

I expect Utah to stack the box early in the game and force Florida to prove it can move the ball consistently by passing when necessary.  The Gator WRs have much to prove, trying to overcome a combination of little returning experience and incorporating senior transfer Ricky Pearsall.  Justin Shorter needs to show he can lead this group with his on-field performance – he has the size to be a weapon in the red zone.  Xavier Handerson, Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Ja’Markus Weston, and speedster Marcus Burke have shown little to date and must improve.  AR has already developed a good rapport with Pearsall, who along with Trent Wittemore in the slot are his most reliable targets.  Those two could really help open up the rest of the field for the outside receivers by making plays and moving the chains in the middle zones.  Utah has had to replace it’s entire LB corps (including Florida transfer Mahmoud Diabate) and could be susceptible in pass defense.

It’s Napier’s first game, it’s a night game at the Swamp, and Utah comes in highly ranked and talking a big game.  It may sound counterintuitive, but the fact that the Utes will have little film to work off of may work into Florida’s favor, despite the new scheme and some new starters at key positions.  There is much to be said for coaching and scheme continuity traveling well, but many of the Gator players have big-game experience of their own, and have a lot of motivation to prove themselves after 2021’s late-season implosion.  I expect a tough, physical game that won’t be decided until the 4th quarter.  The noise and humidity will play large factors, as will the Gators developing a real trust factor with their new coaches.  Florida embarrassed itself in the second half of last season, and there’s no better time than right now to start washing away the bad taste and stain of that performance.

Predicction: Florida 24 Utah 21

NIL  – The Good, The Bad, and The (Mostly) Ugly

NIL – Name, Image, and Likeness.  Three letters and three words that are currently roiling the foundations of college football and spurring the latest remaking of the conference landscape.  Just the mention of those letters or words starts off heated debates, along with hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing, and any other fill-in-the-blank physical manifestation you wish.

What should have been a straightforward but at the same time revolutionary step forward for college athletes was quickly bastardized by a certain percentage of greedy, egomaniacal boosters, agents, parents, handlers, and players into the current chaotic mess.  It’s the Wild West for “procuring” the best talent – “procuring” in the sense of $$$$$$ as opposed to obtaining by legitimate means following the rules.  NIL is a “pay-for-play” exercise now for too many people involved in the recruiting process.

The NCAA essentially created this mess, stubbornly exploiting kids for decades while making obscene profits, and the member schools are also to blame for backing up the NCAA and collecting massive television rights money.  Once the NCAA finally capitulated, knowing they would be crushed in the courts (as usual), they further screwed things up by kicking the can down the road – allowing individual states to write and enact their own laws, with zero continuity.  This created an uneven playing field between conferences and schools – with Florida immediately feeling the pain.

Florida football has been essentially ground zero for all of the travails that have followed NIL – especially since recruiting has been the full focus since spring practice ended.  The Gators have already lost some elite players to other rivals – the most notable being QB Jaden Rashada to the Miami Ruizes, er, Hurricanes, CB AJ Harris to Georgia, and CB Tony Mitchell to Alabama.  Miami “businessman” and lawyer John Ruiz has been blatantly flaunting the state of Florida’s NIL Law, publicly admitting he’s buying recruits away from the Gators to the Canes – Rashada being the biggest name.  Harris was a long-time strong lean to Florida, then suddenly takes a trip to Georgia, and – just like that – commits to the Dawgs and talks of being ‘home’ and “stacking money”.  Mitchell was also a strong lean to Florida, then takes a trip to Alabama and commits.  Mitchell Sr. completely pulled back the curtain in a tweet that says Florida is “not making a big enough effort on the ‘business end’ of NIL” – a transparent money grab, exploiting his son’s athletic talent.

Billy Napier is maintaining the company line that Florida will follow the rules and not tie in any “signing bonuses” that other schools are using to entice high school players or some in the transfer portal.  He stresses that the Florida program will concentrate on the players already on the roster, and eventually those that sign with the Gators.  That position has stirred up it’s own firestorm of arguments and infighting between Gator fans that are on the side of the law vs. those that are worried that the talent gap will continue to widen and drag Florida down into consistent mediocrity, and want the Gators to do what the usual suspects are doing.  Adding insult to injury, Darren Heitner, a Florida graduate and lawyer, is the person that drafted most of the state of Florida’s laws that are handcuffing the new staff.

So much for simply “helping kids out” by allowing them to take advantage of their name, image, or likeness based on their perceived market by others.  NIL is just a cover for the previously-hidden bagmen to come out into the light and laugh at laws and dare the inept NCAA to do anything about their illegal actions.  There are some that say that the market will settle in a few years, or that locker rooms (like the appropriately-named aTm or Miami) will fracture once highly-paid kids either don’t play, underperform on the field, if/when payments are missed, or (even more naively) that the NCAA will crack down and create uniformity.  Meanwhile, Napier, his coaching staff, and his recruiting army are in a death struggle to put together a competitive recruiting class while certain schools “procure” elite talent and pull farther ahead.

What will be the endgame?  No one knows for sure if the state laws will be amended to give Florida more flexibility in making it’s recruiting pitch.  Even if that happens, how many recruiting classes will they have been working at a disadvantage?  No one can question the work ethic of Napier, his coaches, or the recruiting staff.  They are professional, kids and families like them, and they connect with recruits.  But it’s tough to watch them get cut off at the knees trying to sign elite players after all of their hard work is unrewarded in the immediate time frame.  Perhaps some of those same kids will eventually wind up at Florida a year or two from now for various reasons?

Finally, USC and UCLA, through television partner FOX, reached out to the Big 10/11/12/13/14/whatever and quickly moved to leave the LAC-12, stabbing their fellow schools in the back.  This has prompted wide speculation that the Big whatever will continue to expand, and that the SEC will accelerate it’s efforts to offset this latest move.  There are a handful of schools in the ACC, along with Notre Dame, that are certainly getting phone calls right now to start the ball rolling.  I certainly would like to see well-regarded schools like North Carolina and Virginia on speed dial from Greg Sankey’s SEC office.

This drama is not going away anytime soon, and it certainly gives everyone that follows college athletics much to talk about through the summer.  Before you know it, the regular season will be upon us.  That is an entirely different subject for discussion – how well can Napier and the new staff coach up a broken team?  Florida football is never a dull subject.

Until then……Go Gators!

Florida $t. Review

In a game that was never as close as the final score, the Gators ended the regular season on a winning note, defeating the Criminoles 24-21.  Gator Nation could enjoy themselves again, and I am so happy for the players, as they were shafted by the former coaching staff.  They finally have something good to remember from this terrible season.

The Gator defense pretty much had their way all afternoon, less some sloppiness in the last 8 minutes.  F$U QB Jordan Travis could only hurt them with his legs, and he did when some players lost discipline and allowed him to break containment late.  But they did the proper things in shutting down RB Jashaun Corbin and containing Travis in the pocket for the most part, where he was never going to threaten them.  Florida’s D-line dominated the LOS for much of the game as expected – F$U’s O-line is worse than Florida’s, and was exposed.

It’s a shame Florida didn’t win by at least the 4 TDs they should have, but that can be traced directly to the horrific play of Emory Jones.  Despite his nice throw to Kemore Gamble for the opening TD, he had 4 additional chances in F$U’s territory in the first half to put the game away, and delivered 3 terrible interceptions and a blown option read.  It’s a shame it ended that way and led to him being benched, but at least the interim staff had the guts to put him on the sideline and let Anthony Richardson do some work.  AR didn’t have to do anything special – just be efficient and supply the occasional run to move the chains.  He made the throws he needed to, including a nice corner route to Justin Shorter in the end zone to make it 17-7 in the 3rd quarter and give the Gators some breathing room. 

Props to the Gator RBs – they all played well when they were called upon, and Dameon Pierce’s disallowed TD run in the 4th quarter after his helmet was ripped off juiced up the entire stadium.  Here’s hoping he gets his shot in the NFL, as he was criminally underutilized at Florida.  Malik Davis had some nice 3rd down runs, and a clutch catch-and-run on 3rd and 21 that led to the TD pass to Shorter.  Nay’Quan Wright had a few good plays until his nasty ankle injury, which will sideline him at least through spring practice.

The Criminoles played true to themselves – a trash team with trash players and a trash culture.  Late hits, undisciplined play, penalties, trash talk……all while being handled by a team with an interim coaching staff, being gifted 3 turnovers that were the only reason they were still in the game at halftime, and simply terrible ACC officiating.  All the talk about them being a team on the rise was bullshit – the ACC was even worse than usual this year, and they still had their 4th consecutive losing season with no bowl game.  Conquered – again.

As of this writing, Billy Napier has been hired as the next head coach for Florida.  He will bring a desperately-needed infusion of work ethic, professionalism, organization, and an understanding that recruiting is the lifeblood of any program.  Dancin’ Danny and the MSU Mafia have left him with a very poor recruiting class.  He has essentially 2 weeks to try and salvage it by trying to get some kids that decommitted to return, get some new names that are still available excited about the Gators again, try and retain some current players, and then hit the transfer portal especially hard in order to try and fill out the 85-man roster.  He also has a lot of dead weight on the current roster that simply isn’t SEC-level talent.  It’s a monster challenge, but he and the guys he hires for his staff will be working with his overall plan and vision for the program.

It will be announced after Championship Saturday where the Gators will go bowling.  It won’t be a game of any real significance, other than the opportunity for Napier and some of his new staff to evaluate what they have to work with, and allowing the younger players that were ignored by the previous staff to get more reps in practice and possibly some live playing time in the bowl game.

Recruiting is already seeing signs of life, and Gator Nation is already emerging from under the dark cloud that followed Dancin’ Danny around the past 11 months – kind of like Pig Pen in ‘Peanuts’.  There is excitement and real hope for the future.  It will take time to rebuild the roster and brand that have been gutted, but Napier has boundless energy and work ethic, which is what it will take.

Go Gators!

Missouri Review / Florida $t. Preview

The last curtain has fallen on Dancin’ Danny’s Theatre of the Absurd, with another embarrassing loss to an inferior team.  The good news?  There will be no curtain call.

Florida lost at Missouri 24-23 in overtime, mucking around on offense the entire afternoon and finally losing on a throw-back 2 point conversion throw that easily should have been defensed.  Of course, it never should have come to that, but Mullen seemingly pulled his Kentucky game plan out of the trash can and thought, “Hey!  It’ll work this time!”.  What a buffoon.

The offense threw away a ton of points.  Emory Jones again missed open receivers and also struggled making correct reads on option plays.  You could see the physical toll the season has taken on him, as he has been asked to run way too often by Mullen.  The O-line was disorganized and soft, and even the RBs had a bad afternoon, missing holes and slipping on the field for some mysterious reason.  The WRs looked good when given infrequent opportunities.  In all, pretty much the norm for what Darth Mullen shoved down the throats of Gator Nation in 2021.

The defense actually looked competent for 3 quarters – they played the run lanes very well, and shut down the passing game.  Until……the 4th quarter, when some bad habits crept in and they started getting gashed in the running game, which was inexcusable as Missouri has NO passing threats.  That, in addition to the ridiculous wheel route TD allowed to the TE on a 1st-and-25 play in the 3rd quarter, were enough to beat a Gator offense that looked out of sync trying to execute a trash game plan.

Then, after the game, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz clowned Mullen with his “May the force be with you” barb, and Gator Nation just has to sit there and take it.

Welp, at least Gator Nation won’t have Dan Mullen to kick around anymore.  He will dance off into the netherworld of coaching jobs with a $12 million termination package, and Florida can look for a competent, professional coach that is hard-working, recruits his ass off, can put together a professional and organized coaching staff and recruiting office, and doesn’t embarrass the school every time he opens his mouth in a press conference.

And now……unbelievably, it’s a bowl play-in game back at the Swamp against a bad F$U team.  Greg Knox for some reason will be the interim head coach, but thank god he’s not calling the plays – QB coach Garrick McGee gets that opportunity.  It appears that Paul Pasqualoni and David Turner have taken a lot more control of the defense, as they have shown some life the last 6 quarters of play.

The Criminoles come in at 5-6 as well, and seemingly with momentum.  But the ACC is even worse than usual this year, so I’m not putting any real stock into that.  Their offense pretty much starts and ends with the arm and legs of QB Travis Jordan – he’s fast and athletic and can extend plays, but is still an inaccurate passer when forced to throw, and the Gator defense has to put him in situations where he has to do just that.  I would not be surprised to see McKenzie Milton play as well, but he lacks mobility after his horrific knee injury suffered 2 years ago while starting for UCF, and Florida’s team speed could prove problematic for him.  F$U’s O-line is as bad or worse than Florida’s, and the Gator front seven has to dominate them and own the line of scrimmage.  Jashaun Corbin is a very good RB, and is tied for the team lead in receptions as well with 22.  F$U has no real threats at WR, so the Gator secondary needs to shut them down on their own and allow the front seven to wreak havoc.

I’m not sure what to make of Florida’s offense coming into this game.  Jones incurred an ankle injury in practice on Tuesday, so Richardson has been taking all of the 1st team reps.  For now, it appears that he will start.  If so, that means more big plays……but will they be for or against the Gators?  He has to play better – and smarter.  The O-line needs to control Jermaine Johnson, who leads F$U with 10.5 sacks.  A solid performance by the running game would go a long way towards a win.  AR also pushes the ball downfield more, and I believe the Gator WRs have a decided advantage over the Criminole secondary – if given the chance.

It’s Senior Day, and a rivalry game.  Plus, the team, I believe, plays with some enthusiasm and juice with Mullen’s hang-dog attitude no longer around.  It’s a shame the Gators are playing so poorly and with little confidence, because if they were sitting with even 7 or 8 wins at this point, I think they would roll F$U by at least 2 TDs.  It could be another sloppy game by both teams, and another 4th quarter play could decide things.  It would be such a nice change to see Florida actually come out fast for once and get F$U in a hole early, as I don’t believe they have the team nor talent to recover from that scenario.  But that’s why they play the games.

Prediction: Florida 27 Florida $t. 24