A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning.
WITH 31 DAYS UNTIL SPRING PRACTICE BEGINS …
Florida’s spring practice is set to begin in 31 days. Here are five questions that will have to be answered during the 15 days in March and April that the Gators are allowed to practice: (1) Kurt Roper is the third offensive coordinator since 2011. Are 15 practices enough to get everyone on the offense on the same page? (2) Has the coaching staff gotten the snakes out of Demarcus Robinson’s head? From a pure talent standpoint, he could be lethal in Roper’s offense if his brain has returned to planet earth. (3) Can Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick become two-gap defenders in the middle of the D-line and can Leon Orr and Darious Cummings come to play every day? If they can’t, then Florida is going to be soft in the middle a second straight year. (4) Can someone kick a field goal? There are walk-on kickers with good credentials to challenge Austin Hardin. Someone better be able to make something longer than 30 yards. (5) Can Mike Summers teach D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown how to handle a speed rusher off the edge and is Max Garcia the answer at center? If Summers can find two reliable tackles and Garcia can get the job done at center, Florida’s offensive line should be vastly improved.
AND THESE FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE REST OF THE SEC …
There is no question that Kevin Sumlin has several talented quarterbacks, all of whom can throw the ball as well as Johnny Manziel but can any of them inspire their team to play harder the way Johnny Football did? … Will Georgia revert to a defense first, smashmouth offensive approach with a new defensive coordinator and no Aaron Murray? There is a brand new defensive staff headed by former FSU coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and without Murray, will Georgia elect to win games by pounding Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall on the ground? … Can Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin get along? If they can co-exist, Kiffin can do wonders with the offensive talent he takes over but what happens if there is friction? … How long before Arkansas fans start turning on Brett Bielema? He’s had to replace half his coaching staff and the Hogs lost their final nine games. Nobody is happy in Fayetteville … Can South Carolina win without Connor Shaw? Dylan Thompson has the arm, but can he take a team on his back and will them to win? … Can Auburn’s defense catch up to its offense? If the Tigers can get stops this year they could be scary good.
PLAYING THE YOUTH CARD
Prior to and following Florida’s 69-59 win over Kentucky Saturday night, John Calipari was playing the youth card, saying that Kentucky’s freshmen were just no match for Florida’s “23-year-olds.” Three things that should be noted here: (1) If Kentucky is young, that is Calipari’s fault. Nobody is holding a gun to his head and making him start five freshmen every year. He is the one going out on the recruiting trail and selling high school kids on the idea of coming to Kentucky, playing one year and then bolting to the NBA so if the program is overloaded with kids who can’t figure things out, then he needs to look in the mirror because the kids aren’t at fault. He is. (2) The Gators don’t have a single 23-year-old in the starting lineup or on the roster. Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young are all 22 years old. Scottie Wilbekin is just 20 and won’t be 21 until April 5. Michael Frazier is 19.
THE NO EXCUSES APPROACH
Florida started the season with only seven healthy players and with Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin suspended. The Gators didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage 5-on-5 and had to play Wisconsin on the road. When Kasey Hill suffered a high ankle sprain against Southern University, Florida had to play Middle Tennessee, a team that is going to probably make the NCAA Tournament from Conference USA, with DeVon Walker at the point. When Wilbekin went down with a sprained ankle with four minutes to go against UConn, the Gators had to finish out the game with Finney-Smith at the point since Hill wasn’t available for another week. Throughout the entire ordeal, Billy Donovan didn’t make excuses. Not once. He simply said, this is who we have to play with and we’ll show up and play. I have to think that a good portion of Florida’s success this season has to do with the fact that Donovan doesn’t make excuses for his team and doesn’t let them make excuses, either. I’ll take that approach over the one in Lexington.
THEY COULD HAVE BEEN GATORS
When the clock struck zero in Knoxville last Tuesday and in Lexington Saturday night, I have to wonder what Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) and Alex Poythress (Kentucky) were thinking. Both of them could have been Gators. Stokes, who chose Tennessee over Florida, has been in Knoxville for three years now and hasn’t come close to sniffing a championship of any kind. Poythress came down to Florida and Kentucky. He bought the Kentucky kool-aid about one-and-done, then bought the Calipari kool-aid a second time when he decided to forego the NBA Draft (would have been a lottery pick) to stay a second year at UK. He played 11 minutes Saturday night and didn’t score. He sits while freshmen play. Had Stokes and/or Poythress come to Florida they could have played on teams that made the Elite Eight and maybe could have helped win an NCAA title. They aren’t going to win anything this year.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
That’s probably what Seattle, Hawaii, Ohio State, Cal State-Northridge and Minnesota are probably thinking after meeting up with Florida’s softball team in Las Vegas this weekend. The Gators went 5-0 in the Easton Desert Classic, outscoring the five sacrificial lambs, 51-6, while outhitting them 57-15. Florida hit 12 home runs in the five games and has 17 for the still young season. The Gators are 11-0 and ranked #1 in the nation. They play their home opener Wednesday and host Troy, Indiana, Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern this weekend for the annual Lipton Invitational. The Gators have come close to winning a national championship a couple of times but this might be the team that kicks the door down.
CONFESSIONS OF A CURLING FAN
First things first – I know absolutely nothing about curling. Nothing. Second – whatever the heck it is they’re doing, it’s addictive. I can do without ice dancing or the X-games type of ski and snowboarding events where you are judged for artistic and acrobatic elements. Figure skating? Is Katarina Witt back? Otherwise I’m not watching. Curling? Damn it’s fun watching the folks with the brooms influence the rock and watching the strategy of knocking the opponents rocks out of the circle while keeping your rocks in it. The crowds get into it, too. I watched Sweden and Russia Sunday afternoon and had a blast. Sweden won with two rocks in the tenth. Please don’t ask me to explain because I can’t, but a lot of folks in Sweden were celebrating.
BEST HALFTIME PROMOTION
This has to go down as the best halftime promotion of the year. At the Auburn-Mississippi State basketball game Saturday night one fan was given a putter and a chance to sink a 95-foot putt for a new $15,000 car – or he could take the $15,000 and put it down on a more expensive model. The odds of sinking a 95-foot putt on a real putting green aren’t very good. The odds making a 95-foot putt when your green is a basketball court must be astronomical. Here’s the video of the putt.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Lately, I keep hearing a lot of music by Chicago before the whininess set in. Driving home from church Sunday, “Saturday in the Park” came on and I didn’t have to think about it. I just started singing along. We tend to forget how good this band was before Terry Kath died and the band went to the Barry Manilow School of Whiny Lyrics. To their credit, now that they are doing the seniors music tour, the band spends a lot of time playing the good stuff. They will be in Jacksonville on May 31 and at the Hard Rock in Orlando on June 1.