Thoughts of the day: February 23, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.


With Syracuse’s loss to Duke Saturday night, Florida will ascend to the #1 ranking when the polls come out Monday. The Gators have handled prosperity well so far this season, but they will have the added pressure of a #1 ranking on their shoulders when they travel to Vanderbilt Tuesday night. If we’ve learned anything about this team as the season has progressed it is they don’t seem to get too full of themselves. They understand that nothing is going to be given to them and that anything they get this season they have to earn. They also have a keen understanding that every team they play is capable of putting it all together on any given night. What makes the Gators so impressive is their understanding that they are all functioning parts of a team, each with a job to do. As long as that remains the attitude, we won’t have to worry if they’re capable of handling the prosperity of #1.


If anyone but Scottie Wilbekin is the SEC Player of the Year then there is something seriously wrong with the people doing the voting. He is the glue guy on perhaps the best team in America and no one in the SEC is playing the game at a higher level. We tend to forget that he’s just 20 years old, too. He’s a senior and yet he’s younger than some of the sophomores in the SEC. Although there are players with better stats than Patric Young, I don’t see how he can be left off the first team, either. He is the best defensive player in the league, personifies hustle and has shown a penchant for coming up big in the clutch. I also believe that Casey Prather merits no worse than second team All-SEC. As for Coach of the Year, Billy Donovan deserves it, but my guess is that they’ll give it to Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt or else Mark Fox at Georgia. You have to remember, Billy coached the Gators to two national championships and didn’t win Coach of the Year either time. I also remember 2006 when Corey Brewer was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and only made honorable mention All-SEC.


Here are two questions that will have to be answered during the 15 days in March and April that the Gators are allowed to practice: (1) Even though he is a junior college transfer, Drew Savary will have the benefit of coming in during a time of transition. Because it’s a new offensive system and a new line coach, Savary won’t be behind all the other linemen. Can he use the 15 spring practices to make a statement that he belongs in the mix at either left or right tackle? (2) The Gators will have only eight scholarship linebackers in the fall and with Hunter Joyer returning at fullback plus several lighter tight end types who would probably function best at H-back, will Gideon Ajagbe switch back to linebacker where he began his career? Or does Kurt Roper take advantage of the fact that Ajagbe can catch the ball and keep him at fullback where he can function in the offense?


Alabama has always functioned best with a 1-2 punch at running back. T.J. Yeldon has put together consecutive 1,000-yard seasons but he didn’t seem to be the guy who could get those tough yards on third and short. Does this open the door for Derrick Henry to pick up 10-12 carries per game and be the Tide’s go to guy in short yardage situations? … Shaq Roland made some big catches late in the season for South Carolina. With Bruce Ellington gone to the NFL, someone has to step up as the go-to guy for the Gamecocks. Roland has been the most physically gifted receiver on the South Carolina roster for the past two years. Is this the year he finally lives up to the hype?


With an 8-0 win over Indiana and a 12-2 win over Troy, Florida’s #1-ranked softball team is blowing away the competition at the Lipton Invitational at Katie Seashole Pressley Stadium. The Gators are now 16-0 this season, showing that they can win with pitching, defense, speed and hitting. This is Tim Walton’s most balanced lineup top to bottom and easily his deepest pitching staff. Through 16 games the Gators have outscored opponents 131-22, out-homered opponents 21-5 and they’ve committed only five errors. This is going to be a fun team to follow this spring.


Florida’s #1-ranked swimming team won the Southeastern Conference championship in Athens for the second consecutive year with 1,440 points to 1280.5 for second place Auburn and 1,095 for third place Georgia. It was the 35th SEC swimming title in school history. Sebastien Rousseau was selected SEC Swimmer of the Year and won the Commissioner’s Trophy for scoring the most points at the SEC championships with three individual titles. It was the 35th SEC swimming championship for the Florida men. Only Kentucky basketball with 45 league titles has a better record of success in the SEC. The 8th-ranked Florida women finished third as Elizabeth Beisel won the Commissioner’s Trophy for scoring the most points with two individual titles and a second place.


A.J. McCarron’s contention that Alabama was done in this season by a sense of entitlement was backed up by teammates at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Wide receiver Kevin Norwood told Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports that the freshmen and some of the younger players weren’t nearly as invested in the program as they should have been. “You spend more time trying to get their minds right and letting them know it’s not a bad thing getting redshirted,” Norwood said. “Me and A.J. got redshirted. It’s not a bad thing. … It was tough just getting [the underclassmen] to go to class and keeping them out of coach [Nick Saban’s] bad side.” Added offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, “We did have some problems off the field,” Kouandjio said. “We have a blueprint for success at Alabama, and everybody abides by it. There were a lot of things contributing. People not buying in is the root cause of it.”


My very first thought from the opening tip was how is it that Tony Greene and Jamie Luckie were assigned to call the game with Roger Ayers. Roger Ayers is a fine official. I can’t say the same about Greene and Luckie. Did you see the way Jim Boeheim blew up at the end when Tony Greene called C.J. Fair for a charge? That double technical was a long time coming. He just couldn’t stand Greene’s incompetence anymore so he blew up and got tossed, ending any chance Syracuse had to win the game. Greene and Luckie are horrible officials and shouldn’t be allowed to call games at the YMCA … Someone at ESPN needs to pull Dick Vitale aside and tell him he either has to go to the studio or retire. His incessant jabbering throughout the game was downright embarrassing. How many times did Vitale all but drown out the insightful and to the point analysis and commentary by Jay Bilas? Dick is like Tony Greene. His sell by date expired a long time ago.


There was no way that “Middle Man” was going to equal the success of the Boz Scaggs album “Silk Degrees” but it remains his second best album in terms of commercial success. The album features some nice guitar work from Carlos Santana, Ray Parker Jr. on the bass and terrific percussion from Lenny Castro. There were three outstanding cuts on the album but the one I like best is “Breakdown Dead Ahead.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.