Thoughts of the day: November 4, 2013


At 4-4, losers of three straight games and with a schedule that includes SEC games with Vanderbilt and South Carolina to go with #2 Florida State in the final game, the Gators are going to be feeling the pressure of maintaining two very important streaks – 34 consecutive years without a losing record and 22 straight years going to a bowl. There is also the pressure of beating Vanderbilt for a 25th straight year. Florida has been established as a 10-point favorite to win this game, but with the airwaves filled with talk that Will Muschamp’s job is on the line (even though Jeremy Foley says it isn’t) you can know the Gators will be feeling the heat. How they react to the pressure will tell us a lot about the entire football program moving forward.


The current situation reminds me so much of 1968 when the Gators won their last two games to finish 6-3-1. After getting blown out by Georgia, 51-0, the Gators were in danger of suffering through their first losing season since 1961 and they were down to third string quarterback Harold Peacock because of injuries to Jackie Eckdahl and Larry Rentz. Peacock responded to the pressure by leading the Gators to a 16-14 win over Kentucky in Lexington. Two weeks later they beat Miami in the Orange Bowl in the final game of Ted Hendricks’ collegiate career. That Florida team started the season picked to finish in the top five so there was plenty of disappointment at the end of the year. The Gators could have easily gone in the tank, but they found the resolve to go out on a winning note. That sounds a lot like this year’s Gators. They need to win Saturday to get some confidence back so they can finish this season strong.


Make no mistake about it, Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC East) will arrive in Gainesville with a huge chip on its shoulder Saturday. Vandy coach James Franklin is a tremendous motivator – you have to be to coach Vandy to consecutive bowl games – and he’s going to sell the Commodores that it’s 24-game losing streak to Florida needs to and can come to an end this weekend. The Commodores own a win over Georgia and they took Ole Miss and South Carolina to the wire so they are not going to be intimidated by the Gators. They will be starting freshman Patton Robinette at quarterback but he’s got a big arm and two future NFL receivers to throw to in Jordan Matthews, who has 201 catches for 2,991 yards in his career including 66 for 890 this season, and Jonathan Krause, who has 32 catches for 608 yards this year. The Commodores are averaging 402 yards per game with 260 coming through the air.


With the season opener against North Florida on Friday and a road trip to Wisconsin the following Tuesday, it’s a huge practice week for both Will Yeguete and Eli Carter as Florida’s basketball season gets under way. There is uncertainty about the suspensions of Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harrison – will it be the exhibition game and one regular season game, two regular season games or possibly three? – so having Yeguete and Carter ready to give the Gators 20 or so minutes will be critical. Yeguete was good for 12 points and nine rebounds against Florida Southern in the exhibition game, but that was a Division II team that was neither tall nor physical. He needs a good practice week to get ready for the kind of physicality he will feel against Wisconsin. Until Michael Frazier gets well (mono) Carter is the Gators’ best three-point weapon so he has to make enough progress to play extended minutes. Once everyone is healthy and off suspension, this is going to be a terrific Florida basketball team, but until then Billy Donovan will have to coach like a chess master.


When the ball has been thrown his way during his three-year NFL career, Riley Cooper has always put up very good numbers, but Sunday was the best game of his career when he caught five passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 49-20 win over the Oakland Raiders. The former Gator wide receiver should thrive in the spread offense that Chip Kelly brought to Philadelphia. For the season he has 25 catches for 473 yards (18.8 per catch) and five touchdowns with 17 catches coming in the last four weeks.


If Oregon beats fifth-ranked Stanford Thursday night, then Florida State’s stay at #2 in the BCS standings will be very short lived. In addition to Stanford, Oregon has games remaining with Utah (4-4), Arizona (6-2) and Oregon State (6-3) while FSU has Wake Forest Gump (4-5), Syracuse (4-4), Idaho (1-8) and Florida. For FSU to move up, Oregon will either have to lose or play poorly in its final games while the Seminoles blow people out. What a year not to have a playoff because it seems we are heading toward four unbeatens at the end of the season which would make for a very nice four-team playoff, the kind we’ll have in place next year.


Keep a close watch on Johnny Football. Since Texas A&M is not in the national championship hunt, nobody is paying that much attention to Johnny Manziel but they should. He’s having a lights out year. Saturday against Texas-El Paso, he accounted for six touchdowns, four in the air as part of a 273-yard performance and two more on the ground. For the season he has 2,867 passing yards and 26 touchdowns to go with 563 rushing yards and another eight. Although Florida State beat Miami by 27 points in a battle of unbeaten, Jameis Winston only threw for one touchdown and was picked off twice. Winston will get some voter bounce because he’s playing on an unbeaten team that is contending for the national championship, but Manziel is the more electrifying player of the two and he will have games on the big stage against LSU and Missouri to get the voters on his side. If I had a vote, I would go with (1) Marcus Mariota, Oregon; (2) Manziel; (3) A.J. McCarron, Alabama; (4) Winston; and (5) Bryce Petty, Baylor.


The Bucs maintained their spotless record Sunday by blowing a 21-0 lead to lose to Seattle, 27-24, in overtime. If all the previous shenanigans didn’t convince the Glazers to end the gainful employment of Greg Schiano, then the 0-8 start should. I’m still miffed that they could believe that a barely .500 college coach (68 -67 career record; 28-48 Big East) could win in the National Football League. But, then again, I’m still miffed that they fired Tony Dungy years ago.


I was listening to some Lyle Lovett a few months back when I came across a duet he did with Kat Edmonson. That got me listening to her and I quickly became a big fan. She has such a unique voice and style that seems straight out of the big band era which might be why so many jazz aficianados believe she will be the next Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald. In researching Edmonson, I found that she was on American Idol but didn’t make it past the cut of 40. They might have made a mistake. Today’s song is an old samba tune by Kat Edmonson called “What Else Can I Do?”

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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.