The Mark Miller Report: It’s a brand new year

It is 2014, a whole new year. Thank God. It was not the best of years for Florida Gators athletics. There were some close but no cigar situations like the basketball team making it to the Elite Eight yet again and the softball team fell short at the Women’s College World Series with a very talented team. One of the top ranked volleyball teams in the country was not only upset early in the NCAA tournament but by arch rival FSU. Then, on the final day of this dismal trip around the sun a teenager took upon himself to needless try to embarrass the Florida program with despicable recruiting antics. Any way you slice it, this was a tough year for the Gator Nation.

And then the ball drops if you are in New York or the peach if you are in Atlanta or the possum drops if you are in Brasstown, North Carolina. Whatever icon you witnessed plummet to ring in the new year it signaled the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. I for one think there is much to be optimistic about amongst the Gator Nation.

Gator fans watched Kurt Roper, the new Florida offensive coordinator, carve up an SEC team in Texas A&M with precision play calling that showed signs of discipline and innovation not exhibited by the Gator offense in quite some time. There were perfectly executed screen passes to running backs, passes to tight ends over the middle and daring passes downfield to receivers that were actually open. It was a balanced offense that was effective both on the ground and through the air. And he did all of this without a bunch of five star recruits. Watching this I couldn’t help but think that Florida’s football future does not hinge on the whims of one arrogant child. Here are some things to look forward to in 2014.

The Gator basketball team looks like the real deal. Billy Donovan has assembled some incredible talent. Casey Prather has become a true star capable of creating his own offense. Scottie Wilbekin seems to have overcome his biggest obstacle (himself) and is poised for a great season at point guard. Patric Young is finally becoming the force inside that his physique suggests he should have been. Michael Frazier is coming providing much needed outside shooting as well. Add to that the defense of Will Yeguete and the arrival of two McDonald’s All-Americans in Kasey Hill and Chris Walker and this team is ready to make a statement. The Gators missed going unbeaten through a brutal four game stretch by a single last second basket on the road at UConn. The 2014 sports year promises to start with a bang thanks to this Gator basketball team.

Florida will once again field a solid baseball team as well, ranked 16th in a preseason poll despite early defections to the pros. Kevin O’Sullivan continues to stockpile talent even though many of his touted recruits opt for the Major Leagues instead of playing college ball. This should be a fun team to watch develop throughout the year. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley did an excellent job in hiring Kevin. Foley probably is the best AD in the country.

Personally, I am really looking forward to this year’s softball season. Coach Tim Walton has added four more players with another stellar class including star pitcher Delanie Gourley and speedster Justine McLean. It is entirely possible for the Gators to be the best team in the nation in 2014. Another WCWS appearance is extremely possible, even likely. The Gators will have the luxury of being three-deep in pitching which can be a big help in the postseason. McLean’s speed should wreak havoc for opposing defenses. I am a big Gator softball fan so I am really anxious to see this team take the field.

Of course, for most of the Gator Nation, the most anticipated sport will always be football. There is a lot of trepidation about the 2014 football season and with good reason. Coming off of a brutal 4-8 campaign that produced serious concerns about depth and player development the Gator Nation endured yet another body blow when the recruiting class that had been shaping up to be one of the best in the country began showing signs of falling apart. Star running back Dalvin Cook not only flipped his commitment to FSU, but for some unfathomable reason felt the need to rub the Gators nose in it in the process. Hopefully, some of the Florida defenders will remember that for the next few Novembers. Losing Cook brings concerns over the commitment of star receiver Ermon Lane since Lane has talked about playing with Cook in college. That remains to be seen. I have to believe that upon further review, Cook’s antics will leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. These young men have every right to choose which class they want to be a part of, but they CAN do it with some class as well. Either way, there is still plenty of time and talent available to sign a quality recruiting class and prospects had to be impressed with what they saw out of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper New Year’s Eve. I remain optimistic about next season.