A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
SPRING HAS FINALLY SPRUNG
We know this because Florida will hold its first practice of the spring today at 3:35 p.m. This might be the most anticipated spring football practice for the Gators since 2005, Urban Meyer’s first year on the job. The 15 practices this spring will be critical for Will Muschamp, whose first priority is to get this team to re-establish a winning culture around the Florida football program. All you have to do is look at what has happened at Tennessee to understand why that’s so important. The Vols haven’t had a winning season since 2009 when Lake Kiffin went 7-6 and perceptions are that of a program that is no longer elite. Muschamp has to get the winning culture back, and not just a program that can get to a bowl every year, but one that can indeed challenge every year for the SEC East championship.
SMART MOVE TO OPEN PRACTICE
The Gators will have nine open practices this spring (counting the Orange and Blue Game), and while fans probably won’t see anything of significance at any of the practices that they’re allowed to attend, this is still a great move on behalf of Muschamp and the Florida athletic administration. There has been a serious disconnect with the fan base, serious enough that some prominent boosters went to Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley, to plead for more transparency and a more fan-friendly approach in the past couple of months. Muschamp has an excellent sense of humor and personality that fans will embrace if simply given the opportunity. Opening practice is just a nice step in the right direction.
THURSDAY’S OPPONENT: ALBANY
Albany’s reward for beating Mount St. Mary’s in Tuesday night’s play-in game in Dayton is to face #1-ranked and top-seeded Florida in Orlando Thursday when the NCAA Tournament goes full speed. Albany is 19-14 this season without a win over a top 100 RPI team. The Great Danes have only one win over a top 100 team (Vermont #106). All their other wins are over teams with a #150 or higher RPI. Albany’s best players are Australian imports Peter Hooley (15.7 points, 40.1% from the 3-point line) and Sam Rowley (11.5 points, 6.7 rebounds). D.J. Evans and Gary Johnson also average in double figures. The Great Danes go 6-10, 6-6 and 6-6 up front. There are four Australians on the roster. This will be the first meeting of Florida and Albany since game two of the 2005-06 season. The Gators won that one, 85-64, behind 18 points for Corey Brewer, 17 for Joakim Noah,15 for Lee Humphrey and 14 for Chris Richard.
A TEAM THAT KNOWS HOW TO WIN
Because they’ve won 26 games in a row, it is inevitable that people want to compare this year’s Florida team to the NCAA championship teams of 2006 and 2007. As we discovered in 2007, the only team capable of beating the Gators was themselves. When they lacked focus, they were beatable, which is why they went on that three-game losing streak in February. They were bored. Joakim Noah told me that and so did Big Sid, Taurean Green’s dad, who made an impromptu appearance in Gainesville one evening with a video he had compiled showing how the Gators played when they were focused and having fun. They didn’t lose again. This year’s team doesn’t have nearly the talent of those two title teams, but it does share one thing: if they aren’t focused, they are beatable. When they are focused, they can beat anyone because they know and understand what it takes to win. I’m often reminded of something Dick Vitale said back when Tim Duncan played at Wake Forest. Wake was leading North Carolina by 10 points with two minutes remaining and there was time out on the floor. Vitale said, “There is Wake Forest, ahead by 10 with two minutes to go. They think they are going to win. There is North Carolina and Dean Smith in the other huddle. They’re down 10 with two minutes to go and they KNOW they’re going to win.” Winning is about focus, knowing how to win and having that we’re going to win no matter what attitude. This Florida team has that.
THE RULES COMMITTEE GOT THIS ONE RIGHT
The NCAA football rules committee took a lot of well-deserved grief for its recommendation of “The Saban Rule” which it subsequently tabled. The committee got one right with its recommendation that something has to be done to protect quarterbacks from low hits. Starting this season, whenever the quarterback is in the pocket and in a passing posture, the defense is not allowed to hit him forcibly below the knees. The rule does not include contact that results from a defender being blocked into the passer and it allows a normal wrap-up tackle but it will eliminate what the NCAA calls “forcible contact” which is probably best interpreted as an attempt to make a hard hit below the quarterback’s knees without attempting to tackle him.
AUBURN HIRES BRUCE PEARL FOR $2.2 MILLION A YEAR
With the hiring of former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, Auburn basketball is relevant. He won’t be able to recruit until the NCAA show cause is lifted in August, but Pearl will do wonders with the team he inherits. Auburn will press, play hard and put points on the scoreboard. Instead of playing in a half-full arena, Auburn will fill the place. Count on it. In hiring Pearl, Auburn is getting a proven winner but also one of the great promoters in the college game. Everywhere he’s been he has won and sold out the arena. Pearl will never live down being fired at Tennessee for breaking NCAA rules and then lying about it, but apparently he has learned his lesson well enough that Auburn’s assistant compliance director is satisfied – Dave Didion, who was the lead investigator for the NCAA when it went after Pearl at Tennessee.
BOSTON COLLEGE FIRES STEVE DONAHUE
It’s interesting that Boston College waited until Tuesday to fire Steve Donahue. The Eagles went 8-24 this season and the program has hit the wall, definitely in need of a change. Fans and boosters wanted Bruce Pearl, who is a BC alum, to come home but by the administration slow played the firing of Donahue, who needed to go, until after Auburn had hired Pearl. That’s a dumb thing for BC, which should have made Pearl its priority because of the amount of talent coming out of the Boston area. What do Nerlens Noel, Georges Niang (Iowa State) Wayne Selden (Kansas) and Goodluck Okonoboh (UNLV signee) have in common? They’re all from Boston and elected to leave the state.
FOUR ARRESTED AT GEORGIA
Starting safety Tray Matthews was arrested in Athens along with 336-pound nose tackle Jonathan Taylor, linebacker James Deloach and wide receiver Uriah LeMay for theft by deception. Three of the four players received double stiped checks of $71.50 each so they deposited one check using a smart phone and cashed the other at a convenience store. Although this isn’t exactly a hanging offense, it will be interesting to see how Mark Richt and the university handle the discipline. Richt has already dismissed safety Josh Harvey-Clemons for violating team rules. If Matthews is dismissed from the team or suspended for any length of time it could be a problem since there are no experience at safety.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
During that 8-year run when they were a hot and very relevant band, Pablo Cruise produced seven very good albums including “A Place in the Sun” in 1977. This was their real breakthrough album, rising to #19 on the albums charts and featuring “Whatcha Gonna Do,” which rose to #6 on the Billboard singles charts.