Thoughts of the day: September 25, 2013


That’s the Florida Gators. Ranked #2 in total defense, the Gators have yet to allow an opponent more than 220 yards and the defense has given up only four touchdowns. The Gators are the toughest team to run on (55.3 yards per game) and they rank #3 in pass efficiency defense. Maybe the most telling stat of just how dominant these guys are is third down defense where opponents have converted only seven of 37 third downs (18.9%). What makes this unit so good is a combination of three things. First, Will Muschamp is probably as good as it gets in anticipating what opponents are going to do next. The Gators are rarely caught by surprise with any formation or play. Second, these guys are gap sound and rarely out of position. While we might gripe about penalties, claiming there is no discipline on this team, you watch the way the front seven on this defensive unit fill the gaps and string plays out. That doesn’t happen without tremendous discipline. Third, Florida has two of the nation’s most disruptive players in Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell up front and the nation’s best secondary which features the country’s best freshman defender in Vernon Hargreaves III. Neither Powell nor Easley be blocked one-on-one, which means they make plays for others just by their presence and reduce the number of potential pass receivers going against the UF secondary because of the help needed to protect the QB.


Being the class act that he is and always has been, Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips won’t say a single negative word about Kentucky, which fired him after three seasons as head coach. Don’t mistake his silence for an intense desire to stick one up the Wildcats’ wazzoo Saturday night when the Gators pay a visit to Lexington. Joker Phillips is a very fine football coach and I have no doubt he will be a head coach again in the near future, but he was handicapped from day one at Kentucky, which will never give its football coach the kind of support it gives basketball. If John Calipari wants a new arena with gold-plated seats, don’t think for a second they wouldn’t start digging the hole tomorrow and asking questions on the fly. There is no such commitment to football at UK, which Phillips learned the hard way. Don’t be shocked Saturday night if Florida’s wide receivers put on a show in Lexington. My guess is the UF receivers want to show the folks in Lexington what imbeciles they were for dumping Joker. The man can flat out coach.


Jim Croce once crooned “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape” but that’s exactly what Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace seems to be doing by telling the world that if Alabama’s secondary thought they had it bad against the Aggies, just wait until the Rebels come calling Saturday night. Wallace said, “I think we have better receivers than A&M. They (A&M) want to talk about Mike Evans being so good, but we have Donte [Moncrief] and I think Laquon [Treadwell] is going to be that way. We have better players on the outside than A&M does.” The Alabama secondary was lit up for 464 yards and five touchdowns by Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, a game Bama won, 49-42. Still, it’s never nice to make Nick Saban mad and that’s probably what Wallace has done. Ole Miss comes into this game unbeaten and while you might question Wallace about whether the Ole Miss skill people are better, there is no doubt Ole Miss has a better defense (ranked #33 nationally, Aggies are #110). The oddsmakers and everyone else are going to predict an Alabama win, but this is a confident Ole Miss team with a cocky quarterback who can make plays. Remember that Manziel kid who lit up Bama in Tuscaloosa last year? It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.


In its infinite wisdom, the NCAA hastily called a press conference Tuesday to announce that it’s reducing some of the sanctions against Penn State. Penn State will be able to restore five scholarships for 2014 and 2015 and will be back to a full 25 scholarships in 2016. The $60 million fine and postseason ban for the next three years remain intact, but given what happened Tuesday, does anyone think for a second that those, too, will be reduced at some point in the near future? The NCAA says it’s because Penn State has exhibited exemplary behavior in the way it’s handled the sanctions handed down because of Penn State’s lack of institutional control throughout the years when sexual predator Jerry Sandusky used the PSU football facilities as a place where he raped young boys. In reality, it’s because the NCAA acted too quickly and too harshly in the first place.


The NCAA made its decision on the merits of the Louis Freeh Report, which stated that Penn State officials not only knew about Sandusky’s activities but covered them up. There were holes in the Freeh Report but the  NCAA never launched its own investigation into the matter, therefore the decision to act so quickly and so harshly sent shivers up and down the spines of the presidents of NCAA member institutions. By reducing some of the sanctions, however, the NCAA is showing itself to be the power mad organization that has lost total control and all touch with its stated mission to bring out the best in college athletics. These guys have no clue what they are doing so any decisions about justice in the future should not only be questioned, but probably dismissed altogether.


In light of what happened Tuesday, the incredible screw-ups in a Miami case where the NCAA had The U dead to rights in the first place, and the impending monster lawsuit that the NCAA is going to lose in the Ed O’Bannon case, NCAA President Mark Emmert’s ability to be a competent leader – if he ever was competent in the first place – has been reduced to zero. It is time for him to go because the sooner he leaves, the sooner the NCAA can try to heal the festering sore it has become. We might look back on Mark Emmert one day as the man who singlehandedly brought down college athletics.


Thanks to Emmert and his minions screwing up the biggest slam dunk case in its history, the University of Miami is going to skate and avoid further sanctions other than the ones self-imposed that have kept The U out of bowls the previous two years. Count on it. Because convicted felon, Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro documented everything with credit card receipts and photos, the NCAA had everything it needed to hand out SMU-like sanctions on The U, but by encouraging and condoning unethical conduct by its enforcement staff, everything else has been compromised. It’s sad. Miami was as dirty as it gets in both football and basketball for years and now, unless there is an act of God, it will walk away with only its pride wounded. Big freaking deal.


The Tampa Bay Rays are on the verge of making the playoffs again, which should have baseball fans in the Tampa area dancing in the aisles of The Plastic Palace but the more the Rays win, the fewer the fans attending their games. They finished their home regular season schedule on Monday. Attendance for the season is a little more than 1.5 million, roughly the same number of fans who watched the Rays lose 96 games back in 2007. In reality, winning isn’t the problem for the Rays. It’s the stadium and its location in St. Petersburg. Put a decent stadium in Tampa on the waterfront or maybe out near the State Fairgrounds where I-75 and I-4 intersect and chances are the Rays would be a rather hot draw. The 25-mile drive from Tampa to that ugly, awful ball yard in St. Pete just doesn’t cut it.


If you have never seen the movie “The Last Waltz” then you’ve missed one of the truly great music documentaries of all time. The Band was only together for a short time, but damn they were great. They became famous backing up Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s. Their first album “Music from Big Pink” is a classic. “The Last Waltz” documents their final concert. The Band wanted to stop touring because of a combination of a collective anxiety about performing live and allegedly because of a severe neck injury to lead singer Robbie Robertson. Whatever the reason, they stopped touring and music lost a fantastic band. This is “It Makes No Difference” from “The Last Waltz.”

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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.