A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
SPRING REVIEW: DEFENSIVE END
Everything we saw or heard from Dante Fowler Jr. this spring was positive. Coaches said he worked hard every day in practice and it was evident in pass rush situations that Fowler seems ready to have a breakout season. He’s been good for the past two years, but can he take that next step and become great when the season cranks up for real on August 30? It’s important for Fowler to play at a higher level in 2014. On a defensive line that doesn’t have a star of the magnitude or ability of Sharrif Floyd or Dominique Easley, he’s going to have to be the guy who leads by both word and deed. Fowler will play the Buck, which means he will be a hybrid, a defensive end with a hand on the ground when the Gators go 4-3 and a standup rush end/linebacker in a 3-4. Among the backups at the Buck are Alex McCalister, who is an athletic freak who is finally maturing enough physically to see the field. Over on the other side, Jonathan Bullard will play outside in a 4-3 set and play a tackle in a 3-4. Bryan Cox Jr. had a good spring as did the young backups, Joey Ivey and true freshman Taven Bryan. There is no shortage of athleticism in this bunch but other than Fowler, who has had his moments in pass rush situations, there isn’t a lot of proven ability to get to the passer. Spring didn’t allow much chance to see if these guys have what it takes since quarterbacks were wearing non-contact jerseys and the pass rushers had to be cognizant of keeping their QBs upright and off the injured list. These guys pass the eye test but can they get it done on the field? Trending: Up.
A GATOR THROUGH AND THROUGH
Buddy Alexander will step down as Florida’s men’s golf coach after this season is completed, ending a 27-year run that included two national championships and eight SEC titles. Thirty-one of his players went on to play on the PGA Tour. Some things, however, are never measured by wins, losses or championships. In his 27 years serving the University of Florida, Buddy Alexander always did things the right way. You won’t hear his former players badmouth him nor will you hear opposing coaches say an unkind word. Buddy Alexander has always represented the university with class and dignity. You would be hard pressed to find a better person. With Alexander’s retirement, volleyball coach Mary Wise is the longest tenured coach overall (22 years) at Florida and basketball coach Billy Donovan becomes the longest-tenured men’s coach at Florida (18 years).
SEC WILL DECIDE ON EIGHT- OR NINE-GAME SCHEDULE
Expect the Southeastern Conference will announce a decision at its spring meetings in Destin about whether it will stick with the current 8-game schedule or go to a 9-game schedule in the future. The SEC athletic directors are scheduled to meet with Mike Slive before the spring meetings to vote with the announcement expected at the meetings at the Sandestin Hilton. While the networks certainly would prefer the 9-game format, expect a bit of resistance from the coaches and at least some of the ADs. Another conference game means eliminating a cupcake home game and that could mean the difference in a bowl game or staying home for the winter.
NINE-GAME SCHEDULE WOULD BE A NIGHTMARE FOR FLORIDA
With the nine-game schedule, there would be only four home SEC games every other year. With the Georgia game permanently scheduled in Jacksonville and the annual non-conference end of the season matchup with Florida State, a nine-game schedule SEC schedule will be a nightmare for balancing the books. Georgia would have the same problem since it also plays Georgia Tech in its final game of the year. Every other year, both Florida and Georgia would have only three SEC games on home turf and never would they have five SEC home games. The networks are going to push for nine games but it would definitely serve Florida’s interests to stay with the current format.
THE MESSENGER WILL RESIGN
Why is it that just about every time there is an academic scandal involving athletes at a major Division I school that the first thing that happens is the school hangs the messenger out to dry? It seems there is this code that says whenever a whistleblower like a Jan Kemp (see University of Georgia) has the courage to step up that she is the one in the wrong, not the athletes. Most recently, we’ve seen that at North Carolina where Mary Willingham had the audacity to state that her research of 183 basketball and football players showed that 60% were reading at a fourth to eighth grade level and another 10% were reading below a third grade level. Of course, the university disputed those claims, stopped funding for Willingham’s research and hired its own team of experts who said the research was flawed. The Raleigh News and Observer, reported that there were 200 or so classes at UNC that either didn’t meet at all or were suspected of not meeting. The paper reports that academically challenged football players were steered to such classes. Meanwhile, Willingham is resigning effective at the end of this semester.
AND THEN MARK EMMERT SAID THIS
Last Friday morning on the “Mike and Mike Show” on ESPN Radio, NCAA president Mark Emmert said that athletes should be happy as clams that they are even allowed to attend college. “They’re taking a seat from a paying student,” Emmert said. Emmert’s statement, according to Sporting News football columnist Matt Hayes, will be the foundation for the NCAA’s defense when it goes to court on June 9 in the Ed O’Bannon case. Hayes writes, “Because when you really get down to basics, the only way the NCAA can defend that student-athletes don’t deserve to control their likeness and image (and therefore market it to the highest bidder); don’t deserve a bigger piece of the ever-fattening television contracts, is by bluntly stating that a majority of those same student-athletes wouldn’t be in college in the first place were it not for the academic generosity of the universities.” The UNC case would seem to back up Emmert’s contention that players shouldn’t be in school in the first place, but is this what the president of an organization that continually pats itself on the back for putting the student into the term student-athlete needs to be saying? If the NCAA self-destructs, and it seems to be on that path, it will only have itself to blame.
HAPPY 100 WRIGLEY FIELD
Even if you aren’t much of a baseball fan, you owe yourself a trip to Chicago some summer to attend a game at Wrigley Field. There are few places where you feel that time stands still, but Wrigley is one of them. When you watch a game at that iconic ball park, you can’t escape the feeling that this is the way baseball was supposed be played – on a Saturday afternoon in a ball park just like this. Wrigley turns 100 today and it hasn’t changed all that much since General Manager Bill Veeck added ivy to the outfield walls back in 1937. The scoreboard is still manually operated and the beer of choice is still the local brew, Old Style, which goes great with a Chicago style hot dog. A Chicago dog is served on a poppy seed bun with yellow mustard, chopped onions, tomatoes, green relish, pickled peppers and a pickle wedge.
TRESSEL FINALIST FOR PRESIDENT OF AKRON
He doesn’t have a PhD and his classroom experience is limited, but it could be an upset if anyone but former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is the next president of the University of Akron. Tressel was one of the three finalists announced Tuesday and while Tressel’s academic credentials pale in comparison to University of Maryland Eastern Shore provost Ronald Nykiel and University of Toledo provost Scott Scarborough, neither one of them has ever coached a national championship football team and it’s highly unlikely either of the other two candidates has the ability so raise money the way Tressel can. If Tressel gets the Akron job, the reason will be his ability to rouse the rabbles and get them to write checks. Even though his Ohio State coaching career went down in flames because he kept Terrell Pryor eligible, Tressel is still a living legend in Ohio. At a second or third tier school like Akron, name recognition will pay huge dividends.
QUESTION FOR TODAY
The question for today comes from William Norris, who asks, “Do you think any current player(s) could grow into a dynamic Percy Harvin-like receiver?”
I think Florida has four potentially dynamic receivers on its roster right now in Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Valdez Showers, but I can’t see any of them or anyone else on the roster with the game-breaking ability of Percy Harvin. There is track speed, which Percy has, and then there is game speed, which Percy has like no other. When you throw in the fact that Harvin can see a hole before it even opens up and find another gear to propel himself through it, you have a dynamic receiver in the same category as Wes Sandy Chandler and a pre-knee injury Carlos Alvarez. I think Florida’s receivers will be vastly improved this season, but I can’t see a one of them capable of doing the things that Percy did. You’re talking about really good vs. once in a lifetime.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Before she got married and merged her band with the one fronted by Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi was killing it on the blues circuit. Her 2002 album “Wait for Me” and followup in 2003, “Live from Austin, Texas” are two of the better blues albums of the last 10-15 years. The best song on both albums is her rendition of the old Bob Dylan song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”