January 27, 2015

Orange & Blue Debut scheduled for April 11

GAINESVILLE -- Florida announced its spring game date Tuesday, scheduling the annual Orange & Blue Debut for April 11. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 6.17.56 PM

 

New coach Jim McElwain probably hopes the spring scrimmage is a tad more traditional than the previous two years. In 2013, UF didn't even play a glorified game due to an extensive injury list, and last season the scrimmage laughably ended in a tie. 

As the tweet stated, additional details will be announced in the near future. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Where Things Stand: Week+ before NSD

GAINESVILLE -- Jim McElwain said, “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. … We’ve got a lot of ground to make up. When we took the job, we knew that there would be some [challenges.] It’s going to take a while.”

The “it” is rebuilding Florida, and based on the school’s 2015 recruiting class the foundation for the future might not come from its current crop of pledges.  

With National Signing Day rapidly approaching, the Gators have just 10 verbal commitments. They will sign their smallest class in years, and Monday, 247Sports reported that UF has its fewest commitments in a decade with just a week before NSD.

The Gators’ class is ranked last in the SEC by every recruiting service.

It gets worse. 

Florida has just 58 scholarship players for next season, and a 2015 class low in quantity (and quality at the moment) isn’t going to help the team’s numbers issue.  

But all is not dire, yet.

Florida should get a NSD bump -- UF is among the “leaders” for a trio of consensus 5-star prospects and a number of other recruits -- even though the Gators won't sign a real ballyhooed group. 

Over the weekend, they hosted top-ranked defensive end Byron Cowart and No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey, as well as a number of other key targets. 

They picked up a verbal pledge from three-star linebacker Rayshad Jackson (a Miami Norland High standout) and flipped three-star defensive end Jabari Zuniga, hoping to make a final surge over the next week. 

But it’s late in the process, and UF is reportedly losing ground on Cowart (who favors Auburn) and five-star DL CeCe Jefferson (who favors Ole Miss). It would be a major blow to swing and miss on such talented in-state prospects, but thus is the hand McElwain has been dealt. 

With staff turnover and the school’s recent win/loss struggles, it’s no mystery why McElwain is fighting an uphill battle. 

Transition classes are traditionally weaker anyways, and UF’s struggles have been magnified due to McElwain’s lack of developed relationships, few Southern ties and little name recognition. 

The Gators are trying to salvage their class over the next nine days, but 2016 has already become a more important priority.

McElwain knows he must sign and deliver a monster class next season. Otherwise, the transition (or transformation) won’t truly take shape. 

Florida can sign upwards of 30 prospects next season (depending on normal attrition and the NFL Draft). 

UF has just eight seniors, but it could lose a number of players to the league (namely Vernon Hargreaves III, Demarcus Robinson, Alex McCalister and Keanu Neal) for the second straight year. 

The emphasis on 2016 starts now. McElwain can’t afford to have two subpar classes in a row -- especially one without a quarterback, elite skill position players and quality offensive linemen -- so if Florida is struggling with top prospects in the next recruiting cycle then the Gator Nation will really start worrying.

UF already has three verbal commitments for 2016, including Jacksonville Raines wideout Rick Wells, who committed Monday night. 

2015 VERBAL COMMITMENTS 

TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe - North Gwinnett (Ga.) ***

WR Kalif Jackson - Duncan U. Fletcher ***

WR Derrick Dillion - Pine (La.) ****

OL Tyler Jordan - Bishop Kenny ***

OL Brandon Sandifer - Norhside (Ga.) ***

TE Camrin Knight - Lincoln ***

DT Andrew Ivie - Pasco ***

DE Jabari Zuniga - Sparyberry (Ga.) ***

Rayshad Jackson - Norland ***

(Imatorbhebhe and Jackson are early enrollees)

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 21, 2015

UF announces plans to build indoor practice facility

GAINESVILLE -- Florida football’s reboot is just getting started. 

As the Gators usher in a new era, the University Athletic Association announced plans Wednesday to start construction on an indoor practice facility, giving coach Jim McElwain some new digs in his inaugural season. 

The facility -- a $15 million project slated for completion by “early September” -- will house a 120-yard, synthetic turf field, additional space for drills, three camera platforms, training-room facilities and storage. 

The project will be built on the site of the Sanders Football Practice Fields, and will feature a newly redesigned entrance to McKethan Stadium -- the baseball field located adjacent to the facility. 

“This is something we have talked about internally for some time,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. 

“We have always been able to utilize the O’Connell Center as an indoor option for the football team, but with the renovation starting this spring, it will no longer be available.”

Florida estimated that “30 practices were lost or altered” due to inclement weather last season. The facility also allows the school to keep up with Joneses in recruiting, as every other program in the conference has an indoor practice facility or plans to build one. 

According to the release, Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors out of Birmingham, Ala., will oversee the project and the facility will be funded “through private gifts and capital financing.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 20, 2015

NCAA dagger? Florida mauled at home by LSU

GAINESVILLE -- It’s only January, but Florida’s NCAA Tournament hopes are already on life support. 

The Gators (10-8, 3-2 SEC) were mauled at home by the LSU Tigers, suffering consecutive conference losses for the first time since 2011-12. 

LSU (14-4, 3-2 SEC) trounced UF 79-61 on Tuesday in the O'Connell Center, spearheaded by Jarrell Martin’s game-high 22 points.

The 6-foot-10 forward was unstoppable inside, while fellow forward Jordan Mickey chipped in 14 points and 14 rebounds for his 10th double-double on the year.  

“They beat us in every facet of the game,” UF reserve swingman Alex Murphy said. 

“If we don’t come together as a team we’ll continue to get embarrassed.” 

Murphy was Florida's lone bright spot (a career-high 10 points), as little else went right Tuesday night.  

UF missed another prime opportunity for a statement win, as its usual maladies continued to plague an enigmatic group. 

Florida had no answer for Martin or Mickey, and its issues didn’t stop there, as the Gators were also gashed in transition (14 fast break points) and from downtown (8-of-13 from 3-point range). 

Tigers guard Keith Hornsby was 3-for-6 from deep, while point guard Tim Quarterman added 15 points and eight assists off the bench.  

UF played with minimal energy early, and consistently lacked execution and defensive discipline throughout. The Gators again demonstrated a lack of chemistry and continuity.  

“I’ve tried a lot of different things with [the team] but they’re going to have to go through [the growing pains] for us to get better,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

“Not enough competitiveness, not enough fight. Definitely not enough at all.” 

Florida’s offensive execution wasn’t any better, hitting just 3-of-16 from behind the arc and missing tons of shots around the rim. The Gators shot just 38 percent from the floor and had 13 turnovers. 

Donovan juggled his starting lineup again, going with Kasey Hill, Jon Horford, Jacob Kurtz, Michael Frazier II and Devin Robinson for just second time all year. Afterwards, Donovan acknowledged his rotation remains in flux, as he is desperate to find any sort of consistency from a 10-man rotation.

“It’s like a revolving door,” he said. 

“There’s no one else I can really put in there right now.” 

The Gators trailed 37-32 at halftime, but the Tigers slowly extended their lead and went on a 14-2 run midway through the second half. Florida responded with a quick 7-0 spurt to cut LSU’s lead to 10 with 5:54 remaining, but Martin tipped in a put-back and Quarterman drained a deep 3-pointer to stop the run. 

“Collectively, we’re not getting it done right now,” UF swingman Michael Frazier II said. 

“It’s really as simple as that.”

NOTES

Dorian Finney-Smith missed two days of practice with a hyper-extended knee and did not start. The redshirt junior had 10 points, eight rebounds and five turnovers off the bench. … The 18-point loss was Florida’s worst home defeat since 2010 against Ohio State. … LSU won in Gainesville for the first time since 2008. … The Gators return to action Saturday at Ole Miss (6 p.m., SEC Network). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

NCAA grants McGee a sixth year?

GAINESVILLE — Roughly two weeks before National Signing Day, Florida’s offense received an early boost for next season. 

On Tuesday, Jake McGee, a senior tight end who broke his leg in UF’s season-opener against Eastern Michigan last year, tweeted he’s returning to school -- granted a medical hardship by the NCAA. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.37.10 PM

The school has yet to confirm the tight end’s waiver status, but McGee applied for a sixth year of eligibility in December.

McGee’s Florida career appeared over before it ever began in 2014, as the former Virginia standout was injured on a routine blocking play early in UF’s opener. 

He immediately upgrades UF’s tight end position -- one that figures to play a prominent role in the new staff’s offensive scheme. 

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound graduate student was pass-catching threat with the Cavaliers, leading the team in receptions (43) and yards (395) in 2013. He recorded 71 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons at UV. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 15, 2015

Florida rolls Auburn, moves to 3-0 in SEC play

GAINESVILLE -- The Rowdy Reptiles chanted “Sweaty Bruce” all night, and Florida cruised past Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers without much fuss.

Pearl's jacket never even came off. 

The Gators (10-6, 3-0 SEC) trounced the Tigers 75-55, winning their 24th straight Southeastern Conference game Thursday. 

All ten regulars scored for Florida, with four players registering double figures -- led by junior Dorian Finney-Smith’s 14 points.

The versatile forward scored 12 points in the second half, overcoming early foul trouble.

“We’re a hard team to beat when we have four guys in double figures,” Finney-Smith said.

Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill was brilliant, stuffing the stat sheet with 12 points, seven assists, three steals, five rebounds and zero turnovers.

“I thought Kasey was really good tonight,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.

“Really it’s been two games now coming off that one assist, six turnovers against South Carolina that he’s had 14 assists and one turnover. You’re got to really give him credit. He’s done a great job running our team.

Florida never trailed Thursday, leading by as many as 24 points. The Gators stormed to a 24-8 advantage early, fueled by a 15-0 run midway through the first half.

Hill constantly got the hoop against AU’s matador defense in the early goings, speeding off screens for layups and easy assists.

The Gators got solid production off the bench, too, as Eli Carter (12 points) and Michael Frazier II (11 points, nine rebounds) chipped in noteworthy performances.

Meanwhile, Pearl's reintroduction to the O'Connell Center was rarely pleasant. 

The former Tennessee coach's team struggled to generate quality shots (tallying just 16 made field goals and shooting 32.7 percent) or impose his pressing defense.  

Cinmeon Bowers had 11 points and 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double on the year, while Antoine Mason led the Tigers (9-7, 1-2 SEC) in scoring with 13 points. 

The Tigers had a seven-minute field goal drought in the first half, and later went nearly 10 minutes without a bucket.

At one point after halftime, they had more turnovers (10) than made field goals (six).

The Gators held a 37-20 lead in the first half, but sloppy play (five turnovers, 11 fouls) allowed the Tigers to hang around. Auburn rallied for a 10-0 sprint to cut UF’s lead to 10 with 5:52 to play.

"There’s a lack of immaturity, a lack of understanding,” said Donovan, on Florida’s difficulty maintaining concentration and composure with late leads.

“We’re up 19 points and we have three empty possessions and they come down and make three-straight threes. All of a sudden the lead goes down to 10 and they look around and are like, ‘What happened?’ Like they have no concept. … My biggest problem right now is I felt like the last two years we were one of the best teams in the country playing defense without fouling. We are now fouling at an astronomical and alarming rate. It’s 20 fouls every game. Every game.” 

Florida did answer AU’s surge with a quick 6-0 dash, regaining control and effectively icing the game.

UF plays at Georgia on Saturday at 2 p.m. (CBS). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 10, 2015

Gators cruise, extend SEC win streak to 23 straight

GAINESVILLE -- With junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II limited by a respiratory illness, Florida (9-6, 2-0 SEC) turned to Eli Carter for some scoring punch.

Carter did his best Frazier impression, scoring 20 points (4-of-6 from downtown) off the bench on just eight shots, leading UF to a 72-47 thrashing over Mississippi State (7-8, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday night in the O’Connell Center.

“It felt good,” said Carter, who’s battled a myriad of injuries the last two seasons.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders.” 

Carter scored his most points (21) since UF’s loss to Miami, chipping in three assists and a couple nifty defensive plays, too.

The potential super-sub takes the Gators' offense to another level (extra ball-handler, legitimate perimeter threat), and Saturday's results beared fruit.  

“Eli Carter’s shot chart over his career is like EKG exam. He’s one of those guys that when his shot is not falling there have been other parts of his game that have fallen off,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.  

“This is a game where his shots were going it. It’s always easy to be engaged in a game when you’re making shots, or if it’s going well offensively.  … When he does not shoot the ball well we’ve got to get those other things from him and in the past he has not done that. He’s worming hard to become more [consistent]. He can make the game easy for other guts. We need that out of him.”

Meanwhile, Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith continued as UF's lone steady contributor, adding 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill rebounded from a tough performance at South Carolina (six turnovers, one assists) to chip in seven points and seven assists with just one turnover.

The Gators never trailed and were never even threatened against MSU, storming to an early 22-7 lead thanks to some blistering shooting (9-of-10 start).

Bulldogs swingman Demetrius Houston drilled a 65-foot heave at halftime buzzer, but the miracle shot only cut the Gators’ lead to 20 points and was MSU’s lone highlight of the night.

UF led 39-19 at halftime and easily extended its school-record SEC winning streak to 23.

"I think we're getting better," Donovan said. "I think the best thing for this team, and who knows how the year finishes out, but the best thing in my opinion for this team, was the fact our schedule was so challenging."

MSU entered the night ranked last or near the bottom in nearly every offensive category in the conference, and Florida’s pressure defense made the Bulldogs’ putrid attack look even worse.

The Gators locked down the Bulldogs, forcing hurried shots and 15 turnovers and scoring 26 points off takeaways.

Meanwhile, UF’s offense was fluid and full of crisp passing. The Gators shot 52 percent and had 19 assists -- tying a season high.

"We played very unselfishly," Donovan said. 

"We really shared [the ball]."

UF hosts Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 09, 2015

Nord: Time to make UF's special teams scary again

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s special teams haven’t been particularly special the last two seasons, but new special teams coordinator Greg Nord is ready to transform the Gators’ third phase into a staple once again.

“I want to get us back to playing University of Florida special teams,” he said Friday.

“I've coached against this university at several other stops in my career and you used to have to hold your eyes with the cats they had back there deep.

"You used to cringe when you had to protect the guys getting ready to rush the punter. When you were returning a kick, you hoped they kicked it for a touchback because they were going to tackle you on the 10 [yard line]. They had an aura about them of having great special teams. That's what we're going to strive for. That's what we're going to work to try to get.”

After blocking six kicks in 2012 and recording six return touchdowns in Will Muschamp’s first two seasons, the Gators blocked just a single kick the last two years.

They tallied just three total special teams scores over that time period, too.

Special teams were a priority for Muschamp & Co., but dynamic results were few and far between.

Nord, who will also coach tight ends, is enthusiastically embracing the challenge to return the unit to its glory days under Urban Meyer, hopeful he can turnaround the inconsistent production with the athletes on Florida’s roster.

He simply has to get to know his players first.

“Everyone who walks down the hall, I grab them, ‘Hey, what teams are you on?,’’ he explained.

“Frankie [Hammond] was down in the office coming back, he was walking down the hallway. My eyes kind of lit up, ‘Hey, what teams were you on last year?' He said, 'What do you mean, coach?' I said, 'Special teams, which ones did you play?' He said, 'Well, I played them all.' I said 'That's great!' He said, 'Yeah, but I'm with Kansas City [Chiefs] now.' I was like, ‘Dang!’”

Nord said special teams builds continuity and team chemistry, and he’s looking forward to working with Florida’s entire roster and working towards a common goal: winning.

“It's [the one unit] that does help you mesh a team together,” he said.

"You'll have offense guys lined up next to defense guys. … We've got to blend that in, help that become part of the meshing with us, become part of the team, family, and get our explosive guys on the field, and help us win."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 08, 2015

One hire remaining: McElwain talks WR opening

GAINESVILLE -- Florida still has one assistant job opening, but new coach Jim McElwain is in no rush to tab a receivers coach to finalize his staff. 

“I don't know that I had a timetable for anybody, nor do I have a timetable for anybody within the infrastructure within the organization in general. The key is to get the best guy,” he said.

“The guy that is going to affect these young men’s lives. Allow them to perfect their craft. There's a lot of things going on out there in the world of football. I do know this, I think you guys will be happy with him."

McElwain, who coached wideouts at four different stops in his career, is taking a patient approach to the hire.

“We’ve got a ton of interest,” he said.

“There’s a lot of components that go into that. And so we’re still … look, am I just going to throw a dart at that board over there. No. Do I have a firm short list? Yeah. Am I ready to pull the trigger the plug right now and go at it? We’ll make it right.”

The new coach will inherit a green position group, with only sophomore Demarcus Robinson producing any sort of consistent production. Robinson finished the year with 53 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns.

Chris Leak was Florida’s seventh receivers coach in as many seasons, but the former UF quarterback will not be on McElwain’s staff.

McElwain wasn’t aware of the seven assistants in seven years factoid, but he acknowledged continuity is key in developing the position.

“I knew there had been some changeover,” he explained.

“But I think part of what we need to do, and that is part of the reason I’m being probably so patient on the positions, is to make sure we get that right ingredient, that right person to give these guys some normality in their lives.

“I’ve been around some great ones and have known, I know what it takes to handle that room, for lack of a better term. That’s why I’m kind of sitting back." 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 06, 2015

Morrison spurns NFL, injury extent remains unclear

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s leading tackler Antonio Morrison will return for his senior season, the school announced Tuesday.

The middle linebacker, an All-SEC second-team selection, finished the year with 101 stops, but Morrison left Saturday’s 28-20 win in the Birmingham Bowl with a potentially serious knee injury.

Florida has yet to update the extent of Morrison’s injury, or whether it impacted the linebacker's decision to forgo an early entry into 2015 NFL Draft.

"I'm returning to Florida, and I will be getting my degree in 2015. That plays a big role in why I'm returning,'' Morrison said in a statement. 

"And as a leader of this team, I want to lead my team to Atlanta and possibly a national championship. Coach McElwain has put together a great staff and I'm looking forward to working with them this year."

Morrison was named to the SEC Honor Roll this fall.

On the field, he overcame his sophomore slump (spurred by improved conditioning and quickness) to become Florida’s most dependable linebacker.

The junior’s 101 tackles were the most by a Gator player since safety Ahmad Black recorded 108 stops in 2010. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Five-star freshman DE Gerald Willis to transfer

GAINESVILLE -- Florida dismissed former five-star defensive end Gerald Willis III on Tuesday.

Three days after forcing a fumble at the goal line in Florida’s win in the Birmingham Bowl, the freshman defensive lineman is no longer a Gator.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 6.51.37 PM

According to multiple reports, Willis was involved in “another altercation with a teammate.”

The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder flashed his future potential in minimal playing time this season, but Willis was mainly a malcontent, frustrating coaches with his attitude.

He didn’t dress against Kentucky or Alabama for undisclosed reasons, and was involved in a notable fist-fight over cleats with reserve quarterback Skyler Morningweg.

In Florida’s regular-season finale against Florida State, former coach Will Muschamp benched Willis for delivering a sideline cheap shot on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston.  

Afterwards, Muschamp said, “If I was still the head coach, he’d be kicked off the team.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

January 05, 2015

Bullard to return, while Humphries opts to go pro

GAINESVILLE -- A pair of former five-star linemen from North Carolina made decisions on their potential NFL futures in the last 24 hours.

Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries became Florida’s fourth underclassmen to declare early for the NFL Draft, announcing his intentions to forgo his senior season Sunday night on Twitter. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 1.48.35 PM
Meanwhile, junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard announced he will return for his senior season, anchoring the Gators’ young front as a steady presence in 2015. 

“I wasn’t projected where I wanted to go,” he said in a release.

“I want to leave a bigger make on the UF program than I have. … As a veteran player coming back, I want be a leader on this team as the program enters a new era with a new coaching staff,'' Bullard said. "I want to be a role model for the younger players and help them to buy into the future of the program."

Bullard, a hybrid tackle and end, capped his junior campaign with a sack in Saturday’s 28-20 win over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, finishing the year with 52 tackles (most for a UF defensive linemen), 8.5 stops for a loss and 2.5 sacks. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 1.47.52 PMWhile Bullard is staying in hopes of adding to his resume, Humphries leaves UF without ever really living up to his five-star billing.

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound tackle proved an impressive athlete, but he struggled with injuries and inconsistencies during his three-year career.

Humphries, ranked as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in 2012, per Rivals.com, missed the last seven games of 2013 with a knee injury.  

He started 12 games in his career, including eight at left tackle this season. His exit leaves Florida perilously thin along the offensive line, with just seven scholarship linemen currently on the roster. 

Humphries joins defensive end/rush linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., right guard Tyler Moore and tailback Matt Jones as Gator players to declare early for the upcoming NFL Draft. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Jeff Driskel transferring to Louisiana Tech

GAINESVILLE -- Jeff Driskel’s enigmatic Florida career is over.

The embattled redshirt junior will get a fresh start at Louisiana Tech, transferring to play his final season for coach Skip Holtz.

Driskel, who graduated last summer, is eligible to play immediately in 2015, per NCAA rules.

"I look forward to the upcoming chapter of my life,'' Driskel said in a statement.

"I have nothing but good things to say about the University of Florida and the football program there. I am grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me over the course of the past four years. Although things did not play out on the field as I would have liked, I have no regrets on the choice I made to attend UF. Again, I appreciate everything that my coaches, teammates, strength coaches, athletic trainers, equipment staff, academic staff, fans, and the University of Florida have done for me.”

The former No. 1 high school quarterback prospect from Hagerty High finished his frustrating Gators career on a high note, commendably replacing injured starter Treon Harris in Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl.

Driskel’s stats were underwhelming (8-of-17 for 48 yards), but he converted the game-clinching third down with a 9-yard keeper.

Before Florida’s 28-20 win over East Carolina, new Florida coach Jim McElwain announced Driskel had been granted his release from the school. 

"We all have choices," McElwain said. "I'm not going to hold him hostage."

But the much-maligned signal caller was often treated like a prisoner in his own home for much of his Florida career.

Driskel won 10 games as a first-year starter in 2012, but UF finished last in the conference in passing and the defense was credited for the majority of the team’s success.

In 2013, Driskel had a three-turnover performance in a loss at Miami and suffered a brutal season-ending injury just two weeks later.

Chided for his inconsistencies, Driskel teased fans with his duel-threat talent only to turnaround and commit another terrible turnover. 

He started the first six games this year, but after 12 giveaways over a four-game stretch he was benched in favor of Harris.

"The amount of adversity he's had to go through in his career, to be honest with you, I don't know if I could've lasted through that,” interim coach D.J. Durkin said.  

“What he's gone through, at his age. It just says a lot about him. It says a lot about our team. Our guys still believe in him, and he believed in his teammates. I was very happy for him how it all worked out. He was able to go in there and play in the game and really help us go get a win."

Driskel, who endured as much vitriol as any Gator player in recent history, was 15-6 as a starter, completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 3,411 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He also ran for nine scores and 644 yards.

He is the fourth Florida quarterback to transfer from the program since 2012.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 03, 2015

Gator Grades: A welcomed win

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Gators capped the Will Muschamp Era with a fitting finale, winning their first bowl game since 2011.

Florida knocked off East Carolina 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl, finishing 2014 with a winning record (7-5). 

OFFENSE – C

Muschamp was no longer around, but Florida’s offense didn’t look much different … except for the personnel. Fourth-string tailback Adam Lane had a breakout performance (109 yards, first-career touchdown) and little-used sophomore wideout Ahmad Fulwood scored an 86-yard touchdown on a quick screen -- the team’s most explosive play since 2011.

But Florida’s offense sputtered throughout, as freshman quarterback Treon Harris continued his inconsistent play (5-of-11 for 123 yards, two scores and a pick) and the offense coughed up the football three times.

Jeff Driskel, in relief of Harris, managed the Gators to a victory, but he didn’t create any explosive plays.

DEFENSE – B

ECU ran 101 plays and tallied 536 yards, 427 through the air, but the Pirates’ potent scoring attack was stymied by Florida’s suffocating red zone defense.

The Gators forced three turnovers (and another fumble that wasn’t recovered) -- two at the goal line. ECU scored touchdowns on just 2-of-7 trips inside the 20-yard line.

The NCAA’s all-time receptions leader Justin Hardy didn’t disappoint (11 catches, 160 yards and a score), but Gators All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III made the game-winning interception matched up against Hardy with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. had a terrific going away party, recording three sacks and three additional quarterback hurries. UF defensive backs Brian Poole (interception, forced fumble, recovery) and Marcus Maye (team-leading seven tackles, two PBUs) delivered solid performances, too.

SPECIAL TEAMS – C

Florida’s kickoff coverage was decent, and penalties negated a couple returns that gave the Gators poor field position. 

Brandon Powell did tally a nice 37-yarder, but the Gators definitely missed Andre Debose’s skills.

Senior punter Kyle Christy was solid but hardly spectacular in his final game at Florida (42.9 yards on eight punts).

OVERALL – B

Florida made just enough plays to win the game, as ECU self-destructed with some woeful turnovers in the red zone.

The Gators desperately wanted (and needed) to usher in a new era with some momentum and positive vibes, and they will.

Florida promised to play hard and motivated, and the staff and players deserve kudos for delivering a winning performance despite so many distractions over the last six weeks. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 31, 2014

Reports: Randy Shannon to join Florida's staff

Former Miami head coach Randy Shannon is reportedly slated to become Florida’s linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, according to multiple media outlets. 

The Twitter account @Brody_IAKOW first reported the news. 

Shannon returns to the state of Florida after spending three seasons in the Southwest, coaching TCU linebackers in 2012 and serving the same position, as well as associate head coach, at Arkansas the last two years. 

A Miami native, Shannon played for the Hurricanes from 1985-88, including starring on the 1987 national title team. After a brief NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, he returned to his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 1991. He left UM for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons (1998-2000), only to return the Hurricanes as defensive coordinator from 2001-06.

Upon Larry Coker’s firing in 2006, Shannon earned a promotion to head coach.

Shannon was just 28-22 with the Hurricanes from 2007-10, but he consistently displayed a prowess for recruiting the state, especially top talent in South Florida. 

He signed multiple top 25 classes, and his 2008 class was ranked No. 5 nationally per Rivals.com. 

Shannon becomes coach Jim McElwain’s third staff hire, and potentially signals a strong indication UF will lose current recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson. 

Robinson has been mulling staying at Florida or joining former coach Will Muschamp at Auburn, his alma mater. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Kurtz's tip wins game for Florida ... State

Florida lost to in-state rival Florida State in brutal fashion Tuesday night in Tallahassee, as senior walk-on Jacob Kurtz accidentally tipped in FSU guard Devon Bookert’s buzzer-beating shot that initially fell short. 

Kurtz tried to get the rebound, but the “own goal” snapped the Gators' modest four game winning streak and gave the Seminoles a 65-63 win. 

    Vine via Tim Reynolds 

Kurtz’s gaffe was the seminal moment in the game, but Florida was plagued by costly mistakes throughout, committing 17 turnovers, shooting just 21 percent (4 of 19) from 3-point range and hitting just 7-of-13 free throws. 

The Gators (7-5) are now 1-3 in games decided by five points or less. 

THIS & THAT

UF point guard Kasey Hill led all scorers with 17 points. … Senior guard Eli Carter sprained his ankle early in the first half and didn’t return. … The Gators were out-rebounded 38-37. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 23, 2014

Report: McElwain tabs Nussmeier as OC

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will hire Doug Nussmeier as its offensive coordinator, according to multiple media reports.

Sports Illustrated first reported the news.

Nussmeier, who served as Michigan’s offensive coordinator this season, stands as Gators head coach Jim McElwain’s second staff hire.

The 44-year-old coach has a deep background developing quarterbacks, namely AJ McCarron at Alabama and Drew Stanton at Michigan State.

Nussmeier and McElwain previously worked together at MSU in 2003-05 under John L. Smith.

Later, Nussmeier succeeded McElwain as OC at Fresno State (2008) and Alabama (2012).

Michigan’s offense was a dumpster fire this season (111th nationally in total offense), but Nussmeier engineered an explosive Crimson Tide attack for two seasons.

In 2012, Alabama set school records in touchdowns, passing touchdowns, points and total offense en route to a 13-1 season and national championship.

Nussmeier also has NFL experience, coaching quarterbacks for the St. Louis Rams from 2006-07.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 19, 2014

Harris charged with second-degree misdemeanor

GAINESVILLE -- Florida starting quarterback Treon Harris was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for operating a vehicle without a valid driver’s license last Saturday, according to Alachua County court records.

Harris, a 19-year-old freshman and former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, has a court date set for Jan. 15.

The Gainesville Sun first broke the news, reporting that Harris and two Florida teammates -- freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and J.C. Jackson -- were pulled over for speeding (10 miles per hour over) at 11:29 p.m. on Stadium Road.

According to the UPD report, officers smelled marijuana emanating from the car and discovered two small bags of the drug. However, since the vehicle did not belong to Harris or either passenger, no one was charged with possession.

Harris was also not issued a speeding ticket, per court records, and reportedly told officers he’s never had a driver’s license.

Tabor, an all-conference freshman honoree, was cited for marijuana possession on May 27 and completed a deferred prosecution agreement on Dec. 5.

UF issued a statement Friday, saying, “We are aware of the incident and are dealing with it internally and their bowl status hasn’t changed.”

Florida plays East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

UAA receives record $12.5 million donation

GAINESVILLE -- Christmas came early for the Gators.

An anonymous donor gifted $12.5 million to the University of Florida Athletic Association, and the school will use the funds to renovate its current student life center into a state-of-the-art facility.

The gift is the largest donation to UF athletics in school history, and will cover half of the $25 million project.

Construction “is expected to begin in March.” 

"We want our student-athletes to be champions on the field, court and in the pool - and in their lives and professions after graduation," UF president Bernie Machen said in a release.

"This new center will bring together and enhance our learning and career services for these students, ensuring they have every opportunity for academic as well as athletic excellence."

Formally known as the Office of Student Life, the Otis Hawkins Center for Academic and Personal Excellence will be housed in Farrior Hall. The facility will double the square footage of Farrior Hall, and include 50 tutoring rooms, three computer labs, a 100-seat classroom, a nutrition wing, a sports medicine research area and offices.

The project stands as a major recruiting tool and a welcomed need for UF student-athletes.

The Gators posted an 83 percent graduation success rate, per the NCAA's latest report, and last year 280 UF athletes earned a spot on the SEC academic honor roll.

"It's easy to admire the skill and drive of our athletes. But, they are no less remarkable in the classroom, where they balance UF's rigorous academic standards and the demands of a world-class college athletic program,” UF's athletics director Jeremy Foley said.

“The new center will give our student-athletes an academic facility that enhances the existing Farrior Hall and further demonstrates our commitment to the success of our student-athletes."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 18, 2014

Durkin denies TAMU deal, McGee petitions NCAA

GAINESVILLE -- Florida interim head coach D.J. Durkin denied a report he’s accepted the defensive coordinator opening at Texas A&M.

“I have not accepted any sort of job anywhere, here or anywhere else other than the job as interim coach for the bowl game. It's a great opportunity. I'm really excited about it,” the 43-year-old coach said Thursday.

“Obviously, there's some challenges and things that go along with it. But for Jeremy Foley to have the trust in me to do that, I'm appreciative of that and most importantly for our kids. I've been here five years with our guys, so our fifth-year seniors and fourth-year (juniors), the guys in that locker room, I've been here with. I want to make sure they get my very best as a head coach to go win this game and finish things off the right way. That's where my focus is."

Durkin is one of two holdovers from the Urban Meyer reigme, and has been linked to coordinator openings at A&M and North Carolina.

ANOTHER YEAR?

Senior tight end Jake McGee is in the process of petitioning the NCAA for a waiver granting a sixth year of eligibility after sustaining a broken leg in UF’s 2014 opener against Eastern Michigan.

“He’s trying to do that,” Durkin said. “We’re trying to get him another year. I totally believe he deserves it and that should work out for him, but we don’t know the answer on it yet.”

McGee transferred to Florida last summer after graduating from Virginia. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end was pegged as a natural breakout candidate in UF’s new-look spread offense, but his Gators career appeared over before it ever got a chance to get started. 

McGee must appeal for a hardship waiver since he redshirted without a documented injury during his freshman season Virginia in 2010. 

THIS & THAT

Sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. will miss the bowl game with a hip injury after undergoing surgery Monday. The rest of the team is healthy, per Durkin. … Final grades won’t be posted until Saturday, but Durkin does not expect any players to be academically ineligible for postseason play. … Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was named a Sporting News first-team All-American on Wednesday, earning his fourth All-American honor (second-team Associated Press and Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com first-team) this December.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 16, 2014

Report: Florida hires MSU's Collins as DC

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s coaching overhaul is just getting started.

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is expected to accept the same position at UF, according to multiple media reports.

Sports Illustrated first reported the news.

Collins, known as the “Minister of Mayhem,” has served as MSU’s coordinator since 2011, earning a promotion from co-coordinator and linebackers coach in 2013.

The Bulldogs rank 10th nationally in scoring defense (19.4 points per game) this season, playing an attacking, 4-3 style that’s yielded plenty of yards (just 82nd in total defense, No. 125 in passing) but few points (No. 1 red zone defense).

Many believed new Gators coach Jim McElwain would retain interim head coach and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, maintaining continuity from a unit ranked No. 9 this year in total defense (and top 10 the last four seasons).

Instead, McElwain is transitioning to Collins, a 43-year-old coach with plenty of ties to the state of Florida.

Collins was the defensive coordinator at Florida International in 2010 and served as Central Florida’s linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2008-09. He was also Alabama’s director of player personnel in 2007.

Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, UF's offensive coordinator from 2005-08, told reporters Tuesday that McElwain contacted him personally to seek permission to interview Collins. 

While Mullen granted the request, he said, "I don't like anybody leaving for what I would view a lateral move, to be perfectly honest."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 14, 2014

Florida cruises past Jacksonville, wins third straight

GAINESVILLE -- Florida has been a team defined by good (Kansas, Yale) and bad (Miami, Louisiana-Monroe, Kansas) runs this season.

Sunday’s spurt against Jacksonville proved its most impressive scoring flurry thus far.

The Gators throttled the Dolphins 79-34 in the O’Connell Center, ending the game on a 51-10 sprint and holding JU to a paltry 10 points after halftime.

Forward Dorian Finney-Smith scored a career-high 25 points with eight rebounds, shooting a scorching 5-of-7 from downtown.

“Tonight was just my night,” he said.

“It felt great. My teammates did a great job finding me when I was open. We really moved the ball well.”

Finney-Smith led the way with a dozen points in the first half, including a turnaround jumper off the backboard at the buzzer. He also threw down a left-handed tomahawk, alley-oop  -- the same hand with a pair of hairline fractures.

“I think for him everyday that goes by [his hand] gets a little better,” UF coach Billy Donovan. “Playing with that brace on isn’t the easiest thing for him. Each day he gets a little healthier.”

Junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II added 22 points with six 3-pointers, while senior center Jon Horford chipped in a workman’s performance (12 points, 8 rebounds).

UF (6-4) won its third straight game, sweeping a three-game, five-day homestand. 

The Gators never trailed and were sizzling from outside, drilling a season-high 13 3-pointers and shooting (55 percent) from the floor.

They opened the game hot, hitting four straight treys and 6 of their first 10 shots. But UF’s 16-7 start was quickly erased, as halfcourt defensive lapses (JU shot 50 percent in the first half) and sloppiness (seven turnovers) allowed the Dolphins (2-9) to stay close.

“I was really disappointed in the first half,” Donovan said.  “We give up 50 percent from the field and didn’t come in with the right approach. This is part of these guys’ growing process. I thought from a competitive standpoint, I know the scoreboard didn’t show it, but they outplayed us.”

Florida’s intensity changed in the second half and the scoreboard absolutely conveyed the results.

The Gators dominated the Dolphins after halftime, shooting 68 percent from the field and suffocating JU defensively (16 percent from the field). 

“We played much better in the second half,” Donovan said. “We certainly did a better job with our intensity level in the second half. … Doe-Doe really elevated our team.”

THIS & THAT

UF started a pair of true freshmen (forward Devin Robinson, guard Chris Chiozza) for the first time all season. Chiozza started in place of sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, who played despite battling a stomach bug. … The Gators were 6-of-11 from the charity stripe. … Florida’s next home game is Jan. 3 against Connecticut, the defending national champs. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 12, 2014

Reports: Muschamp to Auburn, Robinson too?

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp is heading back to the Plains. 

Florida's former head coach agreed to a lucrative three-year contract to become Auburn's defensive coordinator Friday, according to multiple media reports.

Muschamp -- who started his coaching career with the Tigers as a graduate assistant in 1995 -- wasn't on the market long, coaching his final game at UF just two weeks ago.

This marks his third stint with the Tigers, serving as the team's defensive coordinator in 2006-07 before jumping to Texas. Muschamp forms a dynamic duo with offensive guru and head coach Gus Malzahn, who's defenses have traditionally struggled with his up-tempo attack.

Muschamp will reportedly earn around $1.6 million annually, making the 43-year-old coach the highest-paid coordinator in the FBS.  

His deal does not affect the $6.3 million buyout Florida owes him over the next three years. 

The news could be a blow for the Gators, as Muschamp may lure UF defensive backs coach and relentless recruiter Travaris Robinson back to his alma mater. 

Robinson was an All-SEC safety for the Tigers and started his coaching career under Muschamp. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Gators over .500, thump Texas Southern Tigers

GAINESVILLE -- Florida cruised its way to a winning record Friday night, thumping Texas Southern 75-50 in the O’Connell Center.

Freshman forward Devin Robinson led UF with a career-high 15 points, as five Gators (5-4) scored in double-figures in a balanced effort.

Chris Walker threw down a pair of thunderous alley-oops, finishing the night with 12 points, four blocks, two rebounds and several notable Sportscenter highlights.

Sharpshooter Michael Frazier II (11 points), center Jon Horford (10 points, six boards) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, seven rebounds) also registered noteworthy performances. 

“I think our ball movement was very good. We’re taking the shots I like to see us take,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

“We’re getting better production out of Devin. He’s getting a better feel how to play.”

Robinson -- who rolled his ankle in the second half but was able to return -- has altered his shooting mechanics and found his high-school stroke, shooting 2-of-3 from downtown Friday night and hitting six of his last 11 attempts from 3-point range. 

“I needed to just calm down and stop forcing shots,” Robinson said. “Just stop, and listen to Coach.”

UF blitzed TSU (1-7) from the tipoff, opening the night on a 16-5 run including a 9-0 start.

The Gators led 39-22 at halftime, shooting 60 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range.

The Tigers didn’t score until the 15:59 mark in the first half, and were just 4-for-14 with seven turnovers to start the game.

Florida led by as many as 25-points and held TSU to just 33 percent shooting, but a sloppy second half frustrated Donovan, as the Gators allowed constant penetration and too many offensive rebounds.

“We were not good defensively,” Donovan said, acknowledging the fortune in TSU’s “talent discrepancy.”

“They just missed shots.”

Still, the Gators throttled another mid-major and delivered another performance full of encouraging signs and offensive progress.

Robinson and Walker are playing with more confidence, while as a team, UF has found an offensive identity, sharing the basketball (19 assists) and playing with increased effort. 

“We left some points out there, but we were pretty efficient,” Donovan said.

“Our unselfishness was pretty good.

THIS & THAT

Eli Carter played for the first time since Nov. 28, notching six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. … Despite a significant size advantage, the Gators only outrebounded the Tigers 34-32. … UF had a 48-14 advantage in the paint. … Florida won consecutive games for the first time all season. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 11, 2014

Harris, Tabor named to Freshman All-SEC Team

GAINESVILLE -- It was a rollercoaster year for Florida quarterback Treon Harris, but the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout was rewarded for his late-season play, earning all-conference honors Thursday. 

Harris, along with teammate and freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor, was named to the Freshman All-SEC Team -- voted by the league's coaches. 

Harris opened training camp buried on UF's depth chart, but the dynamic playmaker battled to win the backup job and dazzled in his debut with the Gators, throwing a pair of touchdowns on only two attempts in the blowout opener against Eastern Michigan.

Then Harris sat the bench for nearly a month, only to be in inserted late in the third quarter on the road at Tennessee, piloting the Gators' comeback victory over the Volunteers. 

Harris appeared destined to replace beleaguered starter Jeff Driskel, but the freshman's starring role was put on pause, as the 19-year-old quarterback was accused of sexual assault on Oct. 6 and missed UF's loss to LSU.

Charges were never filed, and Harris was named Florida’s starting quarterback two weeks later.

Harris sparked Florida’s futile offense, leading an upset win over then-No. 9 Georgia and also topping Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky.

He finished the regular season with 896 passing yards and seven touchdowns, with 297 yards and three scores on the ground. Harris struggled with accuracy issues, competing just 50 percent of his throws (50-for-100).

Meanwhile, Tabor, a former five-star prospect, was also honored after recorded 28 tackles, 2.0 sacks, seven pass breakups and an interception as a constant cog in UF’s secondary.

He appeared in all 11 games, starting four times.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 08, 2014

UF dismantles Yale, ends two-game skid

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time all season, Florida played a 40-minute game. 

The results were staggering. 

UF throttled Yale 85-47 on Monday night in the O’Connell Center, snapping a two-game losing streak. 

Junior guard Michael Frazier II led four Gators (4-4) in double-figures with 18 points. 

Dorian Finney-Smith added 14 points, while sophomore center Chris Walker had 13 points -- his second-straight game in double figures. 

Meanwhile, walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz added 10 points off the bench and sophomore point guard Kasey Hill chipped in eight points, three steals and 10 dimes. 

“We didn’t want to take a breath tonight,” Finney-Smith said.  

“We wanted to do it for 40 minutes.”

Did they ever. 

Three days after blowing an 18-point second-half lead at then-No. 11 Kansas, the Gators dominated from the opening tip, overwhelming the Bulldogs with a ballhawking press (15 turnovers), precision passing (18 assists) and red-hot shooting (64 percent). 

And they never let up. 

After starting the game just 2-for-8 from the field, UF stormed on an 18-5 run and never looked back. The Gators led 46-20 at halftime, scoring 32 points in the paint and turning nine turnovers into 13 points. 

The rout simply continued in the second half. 

UF suffocated Yale defensively, holding the Bulldogs to just 34 percent shooting rom the field. The Gators drilled a season-high 10 three-pointers, and looked like the Harlem Globetrotters for much of the second half, with alley-oops (see: Walker), crazy crossovers (Hill and freshman guard Chris Chiozza) and no-look passes (pretty much everyone).

“I feel like it’s coming together,” Walker said. “We’re going to build off this game.”

Yale (8-3) entered the night with an RPI of 44, with a 45-44 road upset over Connecticut last Friday. 

But the Bulldogs didn’t even come close another signature road win Monday. 

They once trailed by 49 points, as UF shot a blistering 53 percent from downtown.   

This was a good win against a quality opponent,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.  “I don’t think they played, in their defense, like they have in some previous games against Providence and UConn. But we need to keep getting better. At the end of the day whatever we do in terms of what we earn will be there for us.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Five Gators named to AP All-SEC teams

GAINESVILLE -- Five Florida football players earned Associated Press All-SEC honors Monday, headlined by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

Hargreaves was UF’s lone first-team selection, ranking third in the conference in passes defended (15). He finished the regular season with two interceptions and 45 tackles, too.

Two other UF defenders received recognition as well, with junior linebacker Antonio Morrison earning second-team honors and junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. named honorable mention.

Fowler Jr., a likely 2015 first round draft pick, had 5.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries. Meanwhile, Morrison led the Gators in tackles with 98.

UF had no offensive players named, but punter Kyle Christy (second team) and kick returner Andre Debose (honorable mention) were awarded recognition for their strong performances in 2014.

Christy bounced back from a miserable 2013 season, averaging 44.5 yards a punt -- fourth in the SEC. 

Note: AP voters could only vote for a first team.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 07, 2014

Florida vs. ECU, other SEC bowl pairings

GAINESVILLE -- It was a circus event Sunday, but the SEC (eventually) released its 2014-15 bowl assignments, with Florida taking on East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3. (Noon, ESPN/ESPN2).

Here are the 12 matchups involving SEC teams.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.)South Carolina vs. Miami (Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m., ABC)

Autozone Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.)Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Dec. 29, 2 p.m., ESPN)

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (Houston, Texas)Arkansas vs. Texas (Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN)

Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.)LSU vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 30, 3 p.m., ESPN)

Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.)Georgia vs. Louisville (Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m., ESPN) 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta, Ga.)Ole Miss vs. TCU (Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., ESPN) 

Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens)Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech (Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN)

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Orlando)Missouri vs. Minnesota (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)

Outback Bowl (Tampa)Auburn vs. Wisconsin (Jan. 1, noon, ESPN2)

Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.)Alabama vs. Ohio State (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (Jacksonville)Tennessee vs. Iowa (Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m., ESPN)

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.)Florida vs. East Carolina (Jan. 3, noon, ESPN)

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 04, 2014

Buyout "resolved," Gators reach agreement with McElwain

GAINESVILLE -- The wait is finally over.

After a day of public posturing over an expensive buyout, Colorado State’s Jim McElwain reached an agreement to become Florida’s next football coach, according to multiple reports.

ESPN first reported the buyout issue "was resolved."

UF athletics director Jeremy Foley and a contingent of top staffers interviewed the 52-year-old coach for hours Tuesday and Wednesday, but UAA officials returned to Gainesville without a coach, as the two schools reached an impasse over McElwain’s $7.5 million buyout.

Although both sides hoped for an agreement, CSU officials “wouldn’t budge an inc," per The Orlando Sentinel.

That changed Thursday morning, as the money was no longer a sticking point in negotiations.

Florida will announce the hiring later today. 

The quarterback guru fulfills Foley’s search prerequisites, including integrity, character, experience and offensive acumen. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 03, 2014

Muschamp mulling multiple offers, per report

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp is currently unemployed, but certainly not unwanted.

Florida’s dismissed head coach, fired Nov. 16 after four frustrating seasons with the Gators, is reportedly mulling lucrative job offers from Auburn, Texas A&M and two unknown NFL teams, according to Rivals’ AuburnUndercover.com.

The Tigers fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson following Saturday’s 55-44 loss to Alabama, while the Aggies canned coordinator Mark Synder after losing to LSU at home on Thanksgiving.

Muschamp, a defensive savant who masterminded four top-10 defenses with the Gators, coached at Auburn in 2006-07 and also worked in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2008.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 02, 2014

Florida's next head coach?

GAINESVILLE -- Four years ago, Jeremy Foley lured a former Nick Saban disciple to Florida, hoping to replicate Alabama’s football juggernaut.

It didn’t work, but UF’s athletic director is courting another coach with a Saban pedigree, interviewing Colorado State’s Jim McElwain on Tuesday afternoon, per multiple reports.

According to FlightAware.com, a private jet owned by a Florida booster left Jacksonville early Tuesday morning, picking up Foley in Gainesville and flying to Joplin, Mo., for a brief stop. The flight then landed in Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal airport in Colorado.

The website OnlyGators.com first reported the flight plan.

McElwain, 52, was named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year Tuesday, rapidly turning around a perennial bottom-feeder in three seasons at CSU.

The Rams were 3-9 for three consecutive years before McElwain took over in 2012.

He’s 22-16 at CSU, including 10-2 this season with wins over Power Five schools Colorado and Boston College.

Following four years of offensive futility at Florida, Foley aimed to hire a coach “with a track record” of offensive acumen.

McElwain fits the bill. 

He won a pair of national titles as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, and this season, CSU averaged 35.9 points a game, ranking seventh nationally in third down efficiency (51 percent) and passing (323.6 ypg).

Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson is third in the country in passer rating, boasting 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Meanwhile, wideout Rashard Higgins, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, leads in the country in receiving yards (1,640) and touchdowns (17).

Since 2013, CSU has scored 30+ points in 17 games. The Gators managed such a feat just 16 times in four seasons under Muschamp.

After a flurry of rumors over the weekend, Florida zeroed in on McElwain when Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze signed a four-year contract extension Monday, removing a potential target from the mix.

Foley turned his focus to McElwain, flying to personally interview and potentially offer the job Tuesday afternoon. 

McElwain signed a five-year contract extension with CSU in August, with an annual base salary at $1.5 million and a $7.5 million buyout.

According to McElwain’s contract, the buyout is negotiable with “extenuating circumstances,” meaning Florida could pay the sum in whole or agree to a neutral-site contest to cover the cost.

If hired, McElwain aims to “retain” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, esteemed defensive coaches and a pair of outstanding recruiters, per multiple reports.

Despite his SEC experience, McElwain is a Western native, born in Montana. He played quarterback for Eastern Washington (1980-83), and coached QBs and receivers at his alma mater from 1987-1994.

He was an assistant for 15 years in the Big Sky Conference before jumping to bigger jobs, including Louisville (2000-02), Michigan State (2003-05), the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (2006), Fresno State (2007) and then Alabama. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 01, 2014

Going bowling 2.0: All over the map

GAINESVILLE -- Florida finished the regular-season 6-5, barely eligible for postseason play.

The Gators could’ve been 9-2 (really 10-2 counting the rained-out Idaho opener) or 4-7 and home for the holidays for the second straight season.

UF is one of 12 SEC teams bowl eligible and despite the cache of The Gator Nation, Florida isn’t a hot commodity with an interim staff  and an unmarketable offense. 

Where will the Gators will go bowling remains a clouded mystery, but here are Monday’s latest projections, per the "experts."

CBS Sports

Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, Mich., Dec. 26) – Florida vs. Virginia Tech

ESPN

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. Virginia; Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 30) – Florida vs. Duke

Phil Steele

Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas, Tex., Dec. 26) – Florida vs. Marshall

Sporting News

Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 30) – Florida vs. Cincinnati

SB Nation

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. North Carolina

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 30, 2014

Gator Grades: They are who we thought they were

TALLAHASSEE -- Another gut-wrenching loss. Another game full of self-inflcited wounds and "what could've been(s)."

A fitting finale for Will Muschamp and a microcosm of his rollercoaster four-year tenure.

The Gators fell to No. 1 Florida State 24-19, a failed upset bid emblematic in why they're searching for a new coach. 

OFFENSE – F

Tevin Westbrook’s drop changed the game’s momentum, as the Gators’ inept offense never truly cashed in on three first-quarter interceptions. Two field goals don’t suffice against the top-ranked team in the country … on the road.

The Gators couldn’t run the ball (3.4 yards per carry) against the Seminoles’ 45th-ranked rush defense and quarterback Treon Harris was wildly inaccurate (13 of 32), again.

Harris’ wheels were the team’s most potent threat, yet coordinator Kurt Roper curiously shied away from calling many designed quarterback runs.

Demarcus Robinson and Brandon Powell both had explosive catches (42 yards, each), but Florida became obsessed with throwing bombs despite Harris’ wildness and the visible openings underneath.

DEFENSE – A

FSU turned the football over five times, as Florida’s defense (especially the secondary) harassed quarterback Jameis Winston most of the day.

The Gators became the first team in the country this season to lose after picking off four passes. Winton’s final pick -- a ridiculous one-handed snag by Brian Poole -- wasn’t returned for a touchdown because Poole cut inside instead of out. Florida failed to score on the next position. You can’t make this stuff up.

Seminoles tight end Nick O’Leary had two nifty touchdown grabs, and Dalvin Cook impressed, but UF yielded just 17 points and 306 total yards.

It should’ve been enough, but wasn't. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B+

Austin Hardin, who supplanted Frankie Velez as the team’s first-string kicker two weeks ago, drilled a career-long 52-yarder in the first quarter.

In all, he nailed his first four field goals before pushing two just wide right to end the game. The Gators (although not technically) blocked a punt, and their coverage units were outstanding.

Kyle Christy was good again (46.3 yards on three punts), too.

OVERALL – C

The Gators could’ve, should’ve, would've knocked off the Seminoles and ended the 27-game winning streak. But they didn’t.

Too many missed chances and Florida’s usual toxic combo of penalties, toothless offense and random defensive breakdowns (FSU’s 97-yard drive) proved insurmountable. Again.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 27, 2014

"A special player," Roper praises Ramsey

GAINESVILLE -- No. 1 Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey has developed into a star at the Seminoles’ ‘star’ position, and the Florida Gators are wary of the sophomore’s penchant for game-changing plays.  

Ramsey -- who initially struggled replacing second-round pick Lamarcus Joyner at the hybrid nickel back spot -- is second on the Seminoles in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (3.0) and has developed into a disruptive force.  

“They do a lot of different things with him. He can cover. He can pressure off the edge,” UF offensive coordinator Kurt Roper explained.

“He’s really athletic. He’s a special player.”

FSU’s 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore leads the team with three forced fumbles and two interceptions, including the game-winning pick against Miami on Nov. 15.

“We’ll have to find him,” Roper said.

“I think we’ll know where he is for the most part. It’s blocking him. I mean he made a tackle, I can’t remember which game it was, but I mean’s he a really good tackler. Just everything he does, he’s good at it. And he plays with a good attitude and you know a fierce attitude. He just makes a bunch of plays. He made a play against Miami turnover first play of the game. He’s around the ball a lot and very productive on the defensive side of the ball.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 26, 2014

Hargreaves won't shadow Greene; Juniors mull NFL

GAINESVILLE -- All-American defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III is among the nation’s top cornerbacks, but Florida’s secondary star won’t exclusively shadow No. 1 Florida State’s elite wideout Rashad Greene 

Greene -- the Seminoles’ all-time leading receiver -- is quarterback Jameis Winston’s go-to target, registering 83 catches for 1,148 yards and five touchdowns on the season.  The senior has seven 100+ yard performances and ranks 10th nationally in yards per game.

Still, Florida refuses to change its fluid defensive philosophy -- this despite possessing an obvious man-to-man coverage candidate.

“Based on coverage and call and situation, it will be different. They are going to be matched up on each other at times,” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin explained.

“But there will be times where they won’t be. It won’t be one of those deals where Vernon’s with him the whole game.”

The Gators utilized a similar gameplan against Alabama’s dynamic wideout Amari Cooper, and the results were disastrous.

Cooper torched UF’s bracket zones, and later, won multiple one-on-one matchups against Hargreaves. The receiver finished the blowout with 10 catches for 201 yards and three scores.

“There are other things we want to do [defensively], and we don’t want to sacrifice that,” Durkin said, explaining potential problems elsewhere with Hargreaves solely shadowing Greene.

“Sometimes you do that and all of a sudden you’re putting other guys in spots they haven’t been in before and uncomfortable. I think the main thing is being able to execute. Obviously, he’s a great receiver and he’s the guy they go to. We feel good about Vernon as a cover guy, but we don’t want to sacrifice the whole integrity of what we do defensively to say, ‘That’s the matchup.’”

BULLARD, HUMPHRIES MULL NFL OPTIONS

Florida juniors D.J. Humphries, the team’s starting left tackle, and Jon Bullard, a powerful playmaker at defensive tackle, plan to seek feedback from the NFL Draft advisory board at the end of the year. 

Humphries, a former five-star recruit, has started 17 games in three injury-plagued seasons.

“I’m just trying to finish out the season strong and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

“[I’ll get NFL advice] because of the situation and what’s been going on here. But I just got to stay focused and then try and figure out what’s going to go down.”

Bullard, a former five-star defensive end prospect, has thrived in a transition to tackle in 2014, recording 40 tackles, 11 hurries and 5.5 stops for loss.

Meanwhile, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and offensive guard Tyler Moore have already announced their intentions to declare for the upcoming draft. 

QUOTABLE

"Wow. Ok. I didn't know that. Learn new things every day. That's awesome."

-- sophomore safety Keanu Neal, upon learning that D.J. Durkin will serve as the team's interim head coach. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 25, 2014

Carter, Finney-Smith travel to Bahamas, questionable for tourney opener against Georgetown

GAINESVILLE -- Depth remains an issue for No. 18 Florida, but the shorthanded Gators could return to a pair of starters sometime over the weekend.

Maybe. 

Senior guard Eli Carter and versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith made the trip to the Bahamas for this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, and both starters are questionable for Wednesday’s opener against Georgetown (9:30 p.m., AXS TV).

Carter -- diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain -- has not practiced since sustaining the injury late in a workout last Thursday, but coach Billy Donovan hoped to have a better idea of the swingman’s status sometime Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Finney-Smith -- who sustained multiple hairline fractures in his left hand in Florida’s regular-season opener against William & Mary -- has been cleared for non-contact drills but remains plagued by persistent pain. The redshirt junior, who posted15 points and five rebounds in his lone apperance this season, has missed UF's last two games. 

“Neither of them has practiced,” Donovan said.

“They’re doing some stuff individually. I think Dorian’s hand does feel better. He still has pain. A lot of it’s going to come down to what he can actually tolerate.

“[Dorian's] got two broken bones in his hand, so it’s not a situation where you’re looking at it and saying ‘geez this guy just needs to play through some pain.’ I think it’s very, very difficult right now for him to catch, to dribble. And I think when the ball does come to him, I think that’s a problem. I think going up to rebound is a problem. So where does he get to a point where he feels like the pain is manageable? Because he’s going to be playing with pain for some significant time, that’s definitely going to happen. Now how long it takes for him to be totally pain-free I don’t know.

"But he’s going to have a brace on his hand definitely for a few weeks. I don’t know what or how much we can get out of him. I know right now he’s not really cleared for practice, well he is cleared for practice, but I think the feeling by the trainer and the doctor is if his pain is pretty significant, what ends of happening is the constant hitting of it, catching, rebounding, banging it all that does is create more swelling, creates a longer healing process, and that’s something we’re trying to avoid right now.”

Carter, averaging 14.5 points in two games, is only doing conditioning drills.

With both starters sidelined, the shorthanded Gators, with just six scholarship players available, struggled to topple Louisiana-Monroe 61-56 in overtime Friday night. Florida (2-1) practiced three times last Saturday in an effort to build some cohesiveness with its depleted depth. 

Thus far, Florida’s most reliable contributor to start the season has been walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz, who’s averaging 6.0 points, 9.3 rebounds 2.3 assists in three games.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 24, 2014

Going bowling: Birmingham or Shreveport?

GAINESVILLE -- Florida secured bowl eligibility with Saturday’s 52-3 blowout win over Eastern Kentucky.

Now’s the guessing-game. Where will the Gators go bowling?

With 11 SEC teams bowl eligible -- and Tennessee a win away from becoming No. 12 -- Florida (with an interim staff) is likely to be slotted as one of the conference's final picks. An upset win over No. 1 Florida State could change that. 

Here are Monday’s latest projections, per the "experts."

CBS Sports

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. Miami

ESPN

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Al., Jan. 3) – Florida vs. Memphis; Florida vs. East Carolina

Phil Steele

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. Virginia Tech

Sporting News

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Al., Jan. 3) – Florida vs. Cincinnati

SB Nation

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. NC State

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 23, 2014

Gator Grades: Send-off

GAINESVILLE -- On a gloomy, rainy Saturday in The Swamp, Florida sent the seniors and dismissed coach Will Muschamp out in style with a 52-3 rout over Eastern Kentucky.

It was a bittersweet finale, but the Gators managed to have some fun following an emotionally trying week.

OFFENSE – B

Florida’s usual grit-and-grind offense was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Gators turned to an Air Raid attac, passing their way past the Colonels.

UF’s offense was sluggish and slow early, unable to run the football despite a massive size disparity up front. But the Gators hit a couple big throws late in the second quarter, turning a barnburner into a blowout.

Treon Harris was sporadically spectacular (4-of-12 for 162 yards and two touchdowns) before exiting with a leg injury, while much-maligned backup Jeff Driskel was nearly flawless (9-of-11 for 164 yards and four scores) in relief.

Little-used tailback Adam Lane, a fourth-stringer, led the Gators in rushing (60 yards), while UF posted a pair of 100+ yard receivers for the first time in the Muschamp era.   

DEFENSE – A

EKU was limited to just 142 total yards, as UF stifling defense strangled the Colonel’s prolific rushing attack. EKU couldn’t pass either (63 yards), resorting to gimmicks for potential game-changing plays.  

Florida forced a slew of fumbles, recovering only one.

The Gators played a bunch of backups in the second half, but regular rotational guys like Alex McCalister (2 sacks) and linebacker Michael Taylor (team-high 9 tackles) delivered solid performances.

SPECIAL TEAMS – A

A week after collapsing against South Carolina, UF’s third unit was primed for EKU’s bag of tricks.

The Gators stopped a fake punt, fake field and onside kick. Meanwhile, Andre Debose had a 39-yard punt return, while Kyle Christy averaged 49 yards on four punts.

Austin Hardin supplanted Frankie Velez as the team’s first-string kicker, drilling a 48-yard field goal on his lone attempt.

OVERALL – B+

The Gators overcame a slow start to rout an FCS school.

Considering the circumstances and the way UF played against an FCS foe last season (Georgia Southern, anyone?), it was a fitting, feel-good win for a team desperate for some fun.

Florida is now bowl eligible and Muschamp will roam the sidelines one final time Saturday at No. 1 Florida State. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 21, 2014

No. 8 Florida squanders late lead, edges ULM in OT

GAINESVILLE -- No. 8 Florida survived an overtime scare against Louisiana-Monroe, squeaking past the Warhawks 61-56 Friday night in the O’Connell Center.

Led by walk-on forward Jacob “Captain” Kurtz and junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II, the shorthanded Gators rallied in overtime after squandering an 8-point lead with just over two minutes left in regulation.

ULM drilled back-to-back 3-pointers with under a minute left in regulation, including Nick Coppola’s 28-foot bomb to tie the game at 51-51 with 16 seconds remaining. Coppola finished with 11 points, and forward Tylor Ongwae led ULM with 19 points and eight rebounds. 

Despite the Florida's second straight collapse late, the Gators managed to regroup in overtime, staving off the upset by bleeding the game away at the charity stripe (8-of-12 in OT).

“There’s going to be some really painful moments. It is part of them getting scarred,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.

“They have no concept in what goes into winning. They have to take ownership in what that looks like each and every day.”

Florida won an ugly, sloppy contest, suiting up just six scholarship players and shooting a ghastly 33 percent from the field.

The Gators (2-1) played without forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hand fracture), forward Alex Murphy (ineligible) and guard Eli Carter (foot) -- UF’s leading scorer at 14.5 points a game -- and they struggled to generate consistent shots without their usual scoring punch. 

Frazier, who hurt his ankle late in the second half, led all scorers with 21 points -- 16 after halftime.

“I knew we were going to have struggling scoring tonight,” Donovan said.

“You take our two leading scorers off the floor and we’re going to be in trouble.”

Meanwhile, Kurtz was UF’s superglue guy, as the walk-on dominated the glass (13 rebounds) and chipped in a team-high three assists and six points, too. The 6-foot-6 forward had a key assist to center Jon Horford in overtime (UF's lone field goal) and drilled a pair of free throws. 

“He made a couple great plays. He kept a couple rebounds alive. He gets it,” Donovan said.

“He’s the one guy on the team that really, really gets. He has a clear-cut understanding what goes into winning.”

The Gators trailed 29-27 at halftime, erasing a 12 point deficit with a 10-0 run capped by Chris Chiozza’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. ULM rained 3-pointers (5-of-9) to establish its first-half lead.

But ULM’s wild shots stopped failing after halftime, and Florida grabbed control of the game with a 15-0 run -- spurred by six points from Frazier. 

Thanks to poor shot selection and bad defensive rotations, the Gators coughed up their late lead, but with both teams ice cold from the field (a combined 27 percent after halftime) they were able to survive the meltdown thanks to the free throw line.

THIS & THAT

Finney-Smith (injury, academics) will not travel to Florida's Thanksgiving weekend tournament 'Battle 4 Atlantis.' The Gators open play Wednesday against Georgetown. ... Carter will undergo an MRI on Saturday, determining whether he has a Lisfranc injury or a mild foot sprain. ... Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill had another miserable night (5 turnovers, 2-12 from the field) and is now 3-for-21 the last two games. ... Former McDonald's All-American Chris Walker made his season debut after being suspended Florida's first two games. The sophomore played 26 minutes, finishing with four points and six rebounds. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

November 19, 2014

Fowler Jr: "I'm leaving with (Muschamp)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. -- a future first round NFL pick -- says he’s leaving with fired coach Will Muschamp.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.42.05 AM

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.42.19 AM

Fowler’s decision to enter to NFL Draft comes as no surprise, as the dynamic junior pass rusher was asked Tuesday afternoon if there was any scenario where he’d return to school for his senior season.

Fowler paused for several seconds, before saying, “Um. Just if anything probably to just develop or if (the NFL) says I was too young or something.”

He’s not too young.

The 20-year-old menacing pass-rusher leads the Gators with 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 15 hurries.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder also ranks second on the team in tackles (49) and has a pair of forced fumbles.

Fowler, a former 5-star prospect, is No. 17 on ESPN’s 2015 Big Board, and should be Muschamp’s fourth defensive player selected in round one.

Despite a solid junior season, Fowler didn’t mince words on Florida’s rocky season, saying, “There was just a lot of drama going on, you know, just through Champ there and things like that. I feel like everybody wanting him to leave so bad that it kind of turned into a distraction. As you can see, I mean, we had the game in our hands, whenever you let the game fall out of your hands like that there’s going to be some commotion and things like that, so I understand that.”

Muschamp was fired Sunday, less than 24 hours after UF collapsed in a 23-20 loss to South Carolina -- the team’s third straight defeat at home.

Now, Fowler hopes Muschamp joins him in the NFL.

“I’d love to play for him,” he said. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 16, 2014

The Hot List: Where do Gators go next?

GAINEVILLE -- Will Muschamp -- Florida’s supposed prodigal son -- was fired resigned Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

Esteemed athletics director Jeremy Foley will open a search immediately, tacitly pursuing candidates under radio silence.

Florida is a Top 5 job -- rich athletic department, fertile recruiting base, solid roster foundation -- but the program’s systemic issues -- average facilities, substandard support staff, fickle fan base -- are real.

Unless Bob Stoops up and leaves Oklahoma, Foley isn’t hiring a defensive coach.

The Gators will target an experienced, offensive-minded coach, one that hopefully has Southeast ties and a solid recruiting background.

But the search to fill Muschamp’s vacancy won’t be easy. A potential list of who’s who candidates can be crossed off from the start.

Steve Spurrier, Dan Quinn, Charlie Strong, Art Briles, James Franklin, Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Chad Morris will not be Florida’s next head coach.

Pipe-dream hires such as Chip Kelly or Jim Harbaugh are also unlikely, and thus, Foley’s job is extremely difficult.

Intriguing options remain, but few offer a perfect fit for UF.

Florida is sure to gauge the interest of Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State’s Todd Graham, UCLA’s Jim Mora and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.

Notably absent: Dan Mullen. Mississippi State’s coach is probably the hottest candidate on the market, but the former UF offensive coordinator reportedly has a sour relationship with Foley and may not even receive as much as a phone call.

Long-shots options include Colorado State’s Jim McElwain, Mike Shanahan or TCU’s Gary Patterson.

In the end, plenty of coaches will receive raises thanks to Florida’s interest, but make no mistake, Foley is under immense pressure to hit a home run.

The real question: Is there one out there?

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Dismissed: Muschamp out as Florida's football coach

GAINESVILLE -- The homecoming is over. 

Will Muschamp resigned as Florida’s football coach Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

The 43-year-old Gainesville native, who grew up rooting for his childhood team, was just 27-20 in four seasons with the Gators.  

Saturday’s stunning, epic meltdown in the final minutes of a 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina was the final straw.

“Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be," UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement.

"I've always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis. Coach Muschamp was dedicated to developing young men both on and off the field. Our student athletes showed tremendous growth socially and academically under his leadership. His players were involved in campus activities, engaged with the local community and represented the University of Florida with pride.

"I will be forever grateful to Will and his staff for their unwavering commitment to the University of Florida and the mission of our athletic program. He will be missed by everyone in our athletic department - from the people that worked in his office to the people that painted the fields. Will knew everyone and they knew him and everyone in the building loved working with him. Will is as fine a man as you will ever meet, and I will always cherish our relationship with him and his family."

Muschamp complied a 17-15 record in SEC play, with Florida losing six of its last eight games in The Swamp. Muschamp never won a division title, was just 5-13 against ranked foes and dropped eight games at home in four seasons.

Gator legends Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer lost 10 home games combined.

“I appreciate the opportunity that has been offered to me and my family by Dr. Machen, Jeremy Foley and the University of Florida,” Muschamp said.

“I was given every opportunity to get it done here and I simply didn’t win enough games -- that is the bottom line. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done and it is my responsibility to get it done.”

Muschamp’s comeuppance appeared inevitable following an embarrassing 42-13 shellacking at home by Missouri. But Foley, the embattled coach’s staunchest supporter, said Muschamp would be evaluated as “the season plays out.”

Florida benched beleaguered quarterback Jeff Driskel for freshman Treon Harris, rallying to knock off Georgia and Vanderbilt.

Still, Saturday’s stunner burned a hot-seat already ablaze to ashes.

Players could barely muster words postgame, with senior safety Jabari Gorman meekly pleading, “If you’re a Gator fan, stay a Gator fan. Don’t give up on nobody. We don’t give up on each other. Our fans shouldn’t give up on us.”

Muschamp’s misadventures include a tenure defined by toothless offenses, staffing woes, continuity issues, recruiting failures and inexplicable losses.

Following an 11-2 season in 2012, the Gators stumbled to 4-8 last year -- snapping a 22-game bowl streak and finishing with a losing record for the first time since Jimmy Carter was president.

But Muschamp survived a loss to FCS-school Georgia Southern and a tidal wave of criticism, blaming an injury-riddled roster and continued offensive ineptitude.

He fired former offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis, and brashly promised to return Florida to dominance.

Instead, the Gators have crawled to a 5-4 record, barely beating conference cellar-dwellers Tennessee and Kentucky.

“I have no bitter feelings, but this is a business and I wish we would have produced better results on the field,” Muschamp said.

“We have a great group of players and a staff that is committed to this University and this football program. They have handled themselves with class and I expect them to continue to do so. As I’ve said many times, life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.”

Foley hired Muschamp in 2010, hand-picking the former defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting at Texas.

He is owed nearly $6 million, with three seasons remaining on a contract that ran until 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Gator Grades: Apocalypse now

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s meltdown against a mediocre South Carolina team -- losing 23-20 in overtime -- signaled the (un)official end for beleaguered coach Will Muschamp. Eulogizing time is here. Following another inexplicable, excruciating defeat, Muschamp’s tenure as the Gators’ coach seems assuredly over.

OFFENSE – D+

Yes, the Gators’ grit-and-grind offense churned out 250 yards on the ground.

Yes, Treon Harris’ wheels (111 yards on 20 carries) frustrated the Gamecocks’ front.

Yes, a key penalty negated the touchdown that would’ve iced the game.

BUT one-dimensional is as one-dimensional does. With no threat of balance, USC eventually keyed on UF’s odious lack of creativity (3 of 14 on third down). Run, Run, Pass resulted in six failed conversions. The Gators couldn’t gain a single first down when necessary, and inexplicably played for a field goal in OT. It was ugly, unwatchable offense. And UF paid the piper at the end.

DEFENSE – B

Another slow start put Florida in a 10-0 hole, but once the defense realized kickoff wasn’t at 1 p.m., it dominated. The Gamecocks gained 151 yards on their first two possessions. They had 150 yards the rest of the afternoon.

Dante Fowler Jr. was a video game cheat code, as was Vernon Hargreaves III. But The Swamp was ablaze late, and UF’s defense couldn’t put of the fire.

An exhausted unit yielded two touchdowns in USC’s final two possessions.

SPECIAL TEAMS – F+

It’s difficult to describe just how atrocious Florida’s special teams collapse was.

The Gators’ third unit was marginal before its epic failures (Kyle Christy averaged just 36 yards per punt, Andre Debose was invisible in the return game), but then UF’s special teams went full Y2K meltdown late.

Only Saturday was real. Frankie Velez’s kick was low, while the blocked punt appeared to be a bad alignment coupled by a busted assignment by Alex McCalister.

OVERALL – F

Muschamp was four minutes, or 36 seconds or even a single stoke of luck [USC fumbled into the end zone to tie the game] from retaining his job next season.

But Muschamp & Florida can’t have nice things. Not to say 2015 would’ve been any nicer. With all hope extinguished, Foley has no choice now. The “when” not “if” was evident following the embarrassing home loss to Missouri. Now it’s real.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 14, 2014

A start: Florida rips past William & Mary 68-45

GAINESVILLE -- No. 7 Florida smothered William & Mary 68-45 Friday night, as the retooled Gators proved they could play a little defense without last season’s historic quartet of seniors.

Michael Frazier (14 points), Dorian Finney-Smith (15 points) and Jon Horford (11 points) all finished in double-figures. The Gators won their 33rd straight game at home and improved to 19-0 in openers under Billy Donovan.

“We’re a well-balanced team,” Frazier said.

“On any given night it could be anybody.”

UF held the Tribe to a ghastly 31 percent from the field, with sophomore guard Kasey Hill bottling up Marcus Thornton, last season’s CAA player of the year. William & Mary’s senior guard was held to just 11 points, including 0-5 from 3-point range.  

“I was really proud of Kasey Hill. I thought he was phenomenal,” Donovan said. 

“The fact that he had to guard Thornton every minute he was out there, he did a terrific job on him.”

UF dominated from the start, ripping off a 21-4 run to end the first half. The Gators led by as many as 24, but were actually outscored by a point (27-26) in a lackluster second half.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Frazier -- UF’s lone returning starter from last season -- keyed Florida’s hot start, scoring a team-high 14 points. The junior sharpshooter didn’t score in the second half, but he flashed his some off-the-dribble prowess, penetrating for several layups and hockey assists. He chipped in five rebounds, two assists and a steal, too.

STAT OF INTEREST

9.1 percent. The Tribe was dreadful from downtown, opening the game a paltry 1-for-19 from behind-the-arc. In all, William & Mary made just two 3-pointers on 22 attempts.

QUOTABLE

“You see 2-for-22 from the 3-point line and that number obviously is really, really loud. But I’m not so sure they didn’t get some pretty clean looks that didn’t go down. I’d like to see the percentage of those 22 shots where I sit there and say that we really defended this well. Or how many were wide open?”

-- Donovan

THIS & THAT

Finney-Smith sprained his left wrist in the first half, but the versatile forward led all scorers with 15 points, 11 after halftime. … The Gators shot 56 percent in the first period, compared to just 39 percent after halftime. … UF outrebounded William & Mary 39 to 31. … Freshman point guard Chris Chiozza dished nifty assists, finishing his collegiate debut with three dimes, four points and three steals. … Walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz had a productive night (6 points, 7 rebounds).

NEXT UP 

Florida hosts in-state rival Miami on Monday at 7 p.m. (ESPNU).

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Prove It: Donovan not sold on UF's No. 7 ranking

GAINESVILLE -- Florida men’s basketball team opens its regular season tonight against William & Mary (6 p.m., SEC Network) ranked as the nation’s No. 7 team.

Coach Billy Donovan isn’t impressed.

“I know what those kind of teams look like -- and we’re not one of those teams,” he said, deadpanned.

UF struggled against Barry University, a D-II school in Miami, in last week’s exhibition game, winning just 79-70 in a contest that highlighted UF’s defensive deficiencies and invisible leadership.

The retooled Gators, replacing a historic quartet of seniors, shouldn’t have an issue scoring the basketball, but Donovan is legitimately concerned with the team’s lack of rim protection and consistent defensive awareness.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Donovan said. “Whether or not we can get there, time will tell. … This year’s team, there’s a lot of unknowns.”

Despite the team’s lofty rankings, Donovan isn’t particularly concerned with expectations or overconfidence. A year after finishing the season as the nation’s third-best defense (59 points per game), the Gators are allowing 82 points and opponents are shooting 48-percent from 3-point range in three scrimmages this preseason, per Donovan.

The Tribe, led by 6-4 guard Marcus Thornton, run a precision, Princeton-style offense, and could expose Florida’s flaws defensively.   

“You start giving up 82 points a game and our defensive efficiency right now is 1.15. Basically, in 120 minutes of play, we're giving up 1.15 points per possession,” Donovan explained.

“That's like 127th in the country right now. That's a long drop from top 10. That's just reality. That's where we're at. I think our guys, when you talk about the expectations and the rankings and stuff like that, there may have been some of that before we started practice. I think some of that stuff has kind of dissipated, to be honest with you."

DONOVAN PREVIEWS THE TRIBE

“Thornton is a great player. He’s really, really good. He’ll be as good as any guard that we’ll play against this year. He can really score the ball, he’s got really good size, he’s got deep range,  he can play in pick n roll, he can play in transition. He’s a special player. You’re going to be playing against a team that’s going to run the Princeton style. They are really good in terms of passing, cutting, moving. They utilize the 3-point line very well, they get you on back cuts for layups. They’re a  team that stays true to their system, their style of play and what they’re doing. And then on top of that, they’ve got a high major really, really good player inside their system as well.”

CONFERENCE HONORS

Junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier and versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith were named to the All-SEC coaches’ first-team Thursday. Frazier is Florida’s lone returning starter, while Finney-Smith was the league’s sixth man of the year in 2013-14.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 13, 2014

Muschamp's silly, swiveling interception dance

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp was featured on the SEC Network's Film Room series this week, and former Georgia quarterback David Greene surprised Muschamp, a former UGA safety, with a video from 1992. 

In the clip, Muschamp intercepts Georgia Tech quarterback Tom Luginbill, ESPN's director of recruiting, then celebrates with a hip-swivel dance Deion Sanders would be proud of. 

Muschamp has longed joked about both players' collegiate careers. On National Signing Day this February, he quipped, "Somebody said Tom Luginbill [ESPN’s National Director of Recruiting] was the No. 1 JUCO quarterback when he came out, but I intercepted Tom Luginbill so that will tell you how important those rankings are."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Q&A: Roderick Johnson Jr.

GAINESVILE -- Florida offensive tackle Roderick Johnson Jr. is a loveable, charismatic goofball.

The 6-6, 310-pound redshirt freshman has developed into a key cog as a rotational player on UF’s offensive line, even starting twice due to injuries. Johnson has an infectious personality, energizing teammates with his fun, hardworking attitude.

Recently, he spoke about this season, his dance moves, a trying redshirt year and more.

On his 2014 season… 

“It’s been great being able to play this year. Really had a redshirt year last year, coming back a way better player, a more technical player, being in coach [Kurt] Roper’s offense, being more involved in his offense and just being coached by the best coach, Coach [Mike] Summers.”

On his personality…

“I ain’t going to lie, I get it from [former UF all-American Dominique] Easley, really. I get it from Dominique Easley, all the dancing and all that stuff like that. I just love football. I just love football. I grew up a big fan of football and it’s just my character. You’ve going to see that for the next three or four years that I’m here.”

On sitting out last season… 

“As a freshman, you know it was kind of hard to adjust and get used to everything. As time went by, I matured and got a certain mindset that OK I’m going to buy into the program and do what all the coaches say, and I’m going to train myself to become a good player.” 

On his competitive playing style…

“I just like to have fun playing the game but at the same time knowing what I’m doing and doing it 100 percent every time.” 

On Treon Harris… 

“I’m impressed with pretty much how he stepped in as a freshman and just took a big role. It’s like you don’t get every freshman that’s going to come into a game and do great, exactly like he did. He has been producing every week since he has been starting. I find that to be great of him.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 12, 2014

Don't call it a comeback: Dunbar overcomes benching, posts career-high performance vs Vandy

Quinton+Dunbar+Vanderbilt+v+Florida+eCEPoexJyv8l WR Quinton Dunbar | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

GAINESVILLE -- Quinton Dunbar was benched against Missouri after three straight weeks with critical drops, but Florida’s senior receiver didn’t sulk and made the most of his opportunties in Saturday’s 34-10 win at Vanderbilt.

With Ahmad Fulwood sidelined with a turf toe injury, Dunbar hurled in four receptions for a career-high 97 yards.

Considering how another fifth-year senior handled similar circumstances, coach Will Muschamp was thrilled with Dunbar’s performance.

“He dealt with [the benching] very well,” Muschamp said.

"We weren’t getting the production we needed and Ahmad had been a guy that had done a nice job getting those opportunities. Quinton went in and did a good job. So you go in and cash in on your opportunities when you have it. Man down, man up and that’s what he did. So I’m very proud of how he handled the situation. … It’s the way you’re supposed to handle it.”

The former Miami Booker T. Washington standout had a 32-game reception streak snapped against LSU, and the following weekend, he failed to start for the first time since 2012.

In 2013, Dunbar registered career-highs in receptions (39) and yards (528), but his senior campaign has been lackluster, to say the least. 

Still, teammates say he never sulked or stopped working hard despite the adversity.

“He came out every day as a professional. He’s a senior, a fifth-year senior that’s just not starting after starting for three years,” junior wideout Latroy Pittman said.

“It’s kind of rough, but he never lets it get to him. He never badmouths anybody or acts out in any kind of way. His attitude has stayed the same. He just works hard and stays focused. 

“He knew what the situation. Obviously we all knew what the situation was. It just worked out that way to where he had to be benched. He came in the game and stepped up when Ahmad got hurt and had a big game.” 

THIS & THAT

Florida will host Eastern Kentucky at noon Nov. 22 on the SEC Network. … Fulwood (turf toe) and freshman defensive tackle Gerald Willis III (ankle) are probable for Saturday’s noon showdown with South Carolina, but sophomore starting safety Keanu Neal (high-ankle) and special teams ace Jeremi Powell (knee sprain) are doubtful to play. … Former All-American safety Matt Elam (2011-13) will serve as Florida’s honorary ‘Mr. Two Bits’ this weekend.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

November 10, 2014

Orr apologizes but Muschamp rules out return

GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive tackle Leon Orr was dismissed from the football program Saturday after he left the team hours before its 34-10 win over Vanderbilt.

Since the senior’s spat with the coaching staff over the starting lineup, Orr has been apologetic on Twitter, contritely copping to his mistake.  

Still, coach Will Muschamp ruled out a return for Orr on Monday, bluntly saying, “No.”

“Muschamp is Muschamp,” senior center Max Garcia said.

“He’s not going to tolerate (Orr) putting himself about the team. It’s unfortunate what happened. We’re going to miss him because he was a big part of this team.”

Late Sunday evening, Orr posted a series of tweets apologizing for his actions. 

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.12.20 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.14.28 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.14.11 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.13.37 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.13.14 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.12.47 PM

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 09, 2014

Gator Grades: Music City Crushing

Treon-harris-ncaa-football-florida-vanderbilt-850x560Gators QB Treon Harris | Mark Humphrey/AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida avenged last season’s embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt, teasing its future aerial attack under freshman quarterback Treon Harris.

The Gators rolled the Commodores 34-10, scoring 24 unanswered points after an early touchdown deficit. UF's slim conference title hopes remain alive … for now.

OFFENSE – B+

Florida completed a forward pass. Multiple in fact. Harris was solid in just his second-career start, finishing the evening 13-of-21 for 215 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

The duel-threat star flashed his complete skill-set, slicing Vandy’s defense with downfield throws (48 and 60-yard completions) and dashing runs (33-yard touchdown rush).

Florida’s grit-and-grind offense stalled in the third quarter, but after both teams traded punts the Gators’ new-look balanced attack eventually put the game away in the final period. UF totaled 429 yards (214 on the ground), mixing personnel (Jeff Driskel’s role was revealed, Brandon Powell, Chris Thompson and Quinton Dunbar all received playing time) all evening. Red zone woes are still an issue, though, and Florida survived (at least Saturday) a litany of offensive line injuries. 

DEFENSE – B+

Aside from a couple secondary busts (eye control, communication issues, no Keanu Neal), the Gators’ defense was excellent. Vandy converted just 4-of-16 third downs, and turned the ball over four times.

Freshman quarterack Johnny McCray was frustrated by UF's consistent presure -- Dante Fowler Jr. was unblockable, although the stat sheet disagrees -- as McCray was just 14-of-35 for 160 yards and two interceptions. 

Freshman defensive backs Jalen Tabor (a ridiculous, SportCenter highlight interception) and Duke Dawson (six tackles) delivered solid performances, as did Jon Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves III. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B

Senior kicker Frankie Velez has become automatic (2-for-2 Saturday, 11-of-12 on the season, and Kyle Christy averaged 47.6 yards on five punts.

Andre Debose had several returns negated by silly penalties (multiple block in the back flags), while Florida’s coverage units were good aside from Darrius Sims' 33 yard return. 

OVERALL – B+

The Gators avoided a letdown, and Muschamp avoided becoming the first UF coach to lose back-to-back games against the ‘Dores. Effort remains excellent, and slowly the team's execution errors are going away. Saturday's showdown with South Carolina suddenly looms large.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton