A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning.
SPRING REVIEW: SPECIAL TEAMS
Other than the compelling stat of only two false starts and no holding penalties, the most comforting event of the Orange and Blue game was Austin Hardin hitting field goals of 24, 35, 42 and 43 yards. That is important because Hardin finished 2013 on an 0-6 roll and the longest make of his 4-12 season was 33 yards. Hardin’s season to forget was quite the contrast from the previous three seasons when Caleb Sturgis was almost automatic from anything inside 54 yards. Anything less than reliable from 45 yards and closer will be unacceptable this season as the Gators face one of the toughest schedules in the country. If they can’t count on Hardin to deliver any time they’re in field goal range, it could be a very long season. Hardin’s nice showing wasn’t the only good news from Florida’s special teams, now coached by Coleman Hutzler. Kyle Christy, who, like Hardin, had a season to forget in 2013, was launching rockets once again in practice. If he’s back to 2012 form, the Gators can flip the field any time they have to punt. The final piece of good news was the return of Andre Debose, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He has four kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career so if he’s back at full speed in the fall, the Gators have a legitimate weapon in the return game. Trending: Up.
TAKING COMMAND OF THE SEC
The coaching job that Kevin O’Sullivan is doing with the Florida baseball team (30-15, 15-6 SEC) is nothing short of phenomenal. This team, which is dominated by freshmen and sophomores, has won eight SEC games in a row to open up a three-game lead over South Carolina (34-11, 12-9 SEC) in the SEC East and a two-game lead over Alabama (29-15, 13-8 SEC) in the race for the regular season SEC championship and the #1 seed at the SEC Tournament. The Gators completed their sweep of Missouri Sunday afternoon at McKethan Stadium when freshman Ryan Larson singled to center field in the bottom of the tenth inning to drive home Zack Powers for a 6-5 win. Powers, one of the few upperclassmen on the team, extended the tenth when he ripped a 3-2 pitch into center field for a two-out single, then stole second base. This Florida team won’t overwhelm you with its power, but since that 6-6 start to the season, timely hitting and excellent pitching has taken the Gators to 24 wins in their last 33 games. The pitcher of the day Sunday was Bobby Poyner, who pitched four shutout innings in relief to improve to 4-3 on the season. Next up for the Gators is a three-game series in Tuscaloosa against Alabama next weekend.
FAREWELL TO A TRUE LEGEND
If you were driving in Alabama in 1973, then you probably noticed bumper stickers that read “Punt Bama, Punt!” At the 1972 Iron Bowl game, played at Birmingham’s Legion Field, Auburn’s Bill Newton blocked two punts that David Langner returned for touchdowns that allowed Auburn to upset previously unbeaten Alabama, 17-16. Later in the game, Langner intercepted a pass to preserve the win for Auburn, which finished the season, 10-1. Coming into the game, Alabama seemed a lock to run the table and win the national championship. After the loss to Auburn, Alabama lost to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, to finish the season on a two-game losing streak. Losing to Auburn and then losing the bowl game sounds familiar doesn’t it?
SEC WILL KEEP EIGHT-GAME SCHEDULE
Rather than change to a nine-game format, the Southeastern Conference announced Sunday that it will continue with the eight-game football schedule that includes one permanent rival from the other division in an effort to maintain longstanding rivalries such as Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn. This means every SEC team plays everyone in its division, a permanent rival from the other division and then the other six schools will be faced on a rotating basis.
This didn’t go over very well with LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, who wanted to end the permanent rival and rotate the schedule among the seven teams from the other division. Citing inequity in the way the scheduling has worked out, Alleva told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Since 2000 LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That’s a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples.”
In an effort to force its teams to toughen up their out-of-conference schedules, the SEC mandated that each school will have to play at least one game against a team from a power conference starting in 2016. That ruling will have no effect on Florida, which already plays Florida State from the ACC. The Gators will keep their permanent SEC West rival in LSU.
TOUGH FINISHES FOR SOFTBALL, GOLF
It wasn’t exactly a memory-filled weekend for Florida’s softball and men’s golf teams. The 3rd-ranked Gators (42-10, 12-9 SEC) lost to 15th-ranked Missouri, 5-4, to lose the weekend series. Missouri scored all five runs in the first two innings, then held off the Gators, who left 10 runners on base. Next up for Florida is a regular season ending trip to Arkansas next weekend … In golf, Florida finished in a tie for 12th place at +19, a full 53 shots off the pace of Alabama, which won the tournament in a record -34. Florida will wait to watch The Golf Channel at 6 p.m. today to see if there is a bid to play in an NCAA regional.
SOMETIMES YOU GET WHAT YOU ASK FOR
Remember those zany Tennessee fans who wanted Cuonzo Martin gone and Bruce Peal back so badly they circulated a petition that got nearly 40,000 signatures? Well, Pearl took the Auburn job and Martin decided he didn’t need to be coaching at a place like Tennessee, so immediately after getting the Vols to the Sweet 16 where they were one bad call from a zebra away from the Elight Eight, he took the job at California. The Vols wanted Gregg Marshall of Wichita State or Shaka Smart of VCU but both of them just said no. Next they made a high profile pitch to land Louisiana Tech’s Mike White, but he thought things are rosier in Ruston than Knoxville. That led to the hire of Donnie Tyndall, who’s going to be coaching the worst roster in the SEC thanks to the graduation of Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, the decision by Jarnell Stokes to enter the NBA Draft, and the complete defection of an entire recruiting class. Phil Cofer, A.J. Turman, Larry Austin and Jordan Cornish all backed out of their LOIs over the weekend, leaving the Vols with seven scholarship players for next season, only one of which was a starter.
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
The words of Forrest Gump certainly apply to Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, whose racist remarks to his bi-racial girlfriend were caught on tape by TMZ. Of course, the spin from the Clippers is that this whole thing is a setup arranged by a girl who is accused of embezzling $1.8 million from the Sterling family. If this were the first time Sterling had been accused of racial remarks and insensitive behavior, maybe we could at least try to believe the assertion that this is a setup, but he’s got a history that is going to be rather difficult to escape. This is going to be a real test for new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who is staring down a tsunami of disgust and anger from players and executives throughout the league. This is Silver’s first big test as the NBA commissioner. He needs to act swiftly and decisively, and, if at all possible, end Sterling’s association with the league. It’s the 21st century. There is no place in the NBA for the likes of Sterling.
QUESTION FOR TODAY
The question for today comes from William Norris, who asks “Do you see Jon Horford potentially being a Chris Richard-type contributor who can help the Gators get back to the Final Four next season?”
Jon Horford will help as a defender and rebounder but don’t expect him to have anything close to the impact Chris Richard had. Richard was a skilled offensive player who would have started and averaged double figures for practically any other team in the country. He was the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2007. The Gators would not have won two national championships without him. Horford is not much of an offensive threat, but he is a very good position defender and a better than average rebounder. If Horford can become what I call a 5 X 5 X 5 guy, then he will be an extremely valuable piece to Billy Donovan’s puzzle next year. A 5 X 5 X 5 guy is a guy who gives you five points, five rebounds and equally as important, five fouls. It’s very important to have a guy who doesn’t have to back down physically and Horford give the Gators that kind of presence off the bench. My expectation is that he will give the Gators 12-15 minutes per game off the bench. I don’t think he will be another Richard, but that’s not to say he won’t be valuable.
Each day one question will be chosen as Question for Today. Submit your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org
MUSIC FOR TODAY
My greatest memory of the Jerry Butler classic “Only the Strong Survive” dates back to late July of 1969. Back then the North-South All-Star Game at Florida Field was a big deal for every high school kid in the state of Florida. I was covering the game for the Jacksonville Journal and interviewing Tom Atwell, the coach from Lakeland Kathleen, when the entire South team was running their laps around the field, led by Rufus “The Roadrunner” Ferguson of Miami Killian. Rufus Ferguson was listed at 5-6 but truth be told, he was 5-4, and he weighed 195 pounds. One of the top sprinters in the state, Ferguson was imposing even if he was short. He had muscles on top of muscles, a chest that looked like it came out of a Charles Atlas ad and thunder thighs. When he led the South team around the field singing “Only the Strong Survive,” you knew that if anyone survived it would be “The Roadrunner.” At Wisconsin, Ferguson ran for 2,814 yards back when freshmen weren’t eligible and had the first two 1,000-yard seasons in Wisconsin history. By the way, the song’s pretty good, too. Jerry Butler’s album, “The Ice Man Cometh,” is a true soul classic from 1968.