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7 posts from February 2011

February 20, 2011

Which Gators team is most likely to win a title this spring?

There's a considerable amount of ass being kicked in Gainesville right now. The men's basketball team is hitting its stride and may finally be headed back toward postseason success, the baseball and gymnastics squads are both ranked No. 1, and the softball team is playing like the softball team always plays.

So here's the question: If you could only bet your life on one, which team would you pick to win a national title?

-Men's Basketball
The No. 14 Gators are 21-5, lead the Southeastern Conference with a 10-2 record and have won five straight after beating LSU without Chandler Parsons on Sunday. Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Vanderbilt present a pretty tough closing schedule before UF leads to the SEC Tournament, but they look destined for a solid seed in March Madness. Given this team's scrappy nature, I like their potential in the postseason, and if they can get Parsons, Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus (gasp!) all playing well at the same time, they have Final Four ability to me. That could be said about a lot of teams though, and slugging your way through the Tourney is a tall task, so I'm pegging the hoopsters No. 4 on my list.

-Baseball
One series isn't nearly enough to make a judgment on whether the Gators will live up to all the Omaha hype they started the season with, but the first three games (7-2, 4-1 and 5-0 wins against USF) didn't leave much room to poke holes, either. Starters Brian Johnson, Hudson Randall and Karsten Whitson combined to allow one run in 17 innings. They struck out a total of 21, faced just seven batters more than the minimum and walked ONE DUDE OUT OF 58. So UF's starters are boasting a Cliff Lee-like strikeouts-to-walks ratio right now. Whitson was really impressive, hitting 95 on the gun Sunday. I guess he should be, since he was the No. 9 overall pick in the MLB Draft and passed on $2.1 million to come to UF. Shortstop Nolan Fontana was the other baller this weekend, going 9-for-12 and making a great diving play Saturday to get out of a bases-loaded jam. This team is nasty, but a word of caution: The 2006 Gators started No. 1 after finishing second at the 2005 CWS. The year began well, but then they floundered and finished .500. So just remember there's still a looong way to go.

-Gymnastics
They're undefeated, No. 1 and came damn close to posting another score of 197 (which is good) Friday against Auburn despite resting some studs. Alaina Johnson is killin' it, as she posted the nation's best all-around score last weekend, and with three away meets left before the SEC Championships and NCAAs, this team sure looks poised for some hardware if it keeps up this pace. The gymnastics program has been solid for years but has rarely lit it up on the biggest stages, so mental toughness will be the key. Nerves can make a big difference in a sport where inches separate perfect 10s from stumbles, and they won't have the advantage of the home crowd when they (likely) reach the NCAA finals in Cleveland. I hope one of them does a LeBron James chalk toss while wearing a Heat jersey in warm-ups.

-Softball
The No. 5 Gators are 9-0 after sweeping No. 22 North Carolina by a total score of 22-0, and ace Stephanie Brombacher threw a perfect game last weekend. What else is new? Florida will probably go as far as Brombacher's arm can take it, which is looking pretty good right now. She's thrown 31 scoreless frames, while Hannah Rogers has given up just two runs in 21 innings. And they're hitting .386 as a team against .137 for their opponents.

-Breakdown
Power poll-wise, I'd say it's baseball, gymnastics, softball then basketball, but the hoops team certainly has the talent and could go on a run. Gymnastics has the easiest path to a title, since the team is performing well and doesn't have to worry about head-to-head competition. If they do their thing at regionals (they will) and in the finals (we'll see), they could easily take the crown.

For that reason, I'm picking gymnastics, followed by baseball, softball and basketball as far as likelihood of a title.

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Who you got? Track and swimming both won titles last year, so you can toss them in the ring as well if you like.

February 13, 2011

Gators sitting pretty after another nail-biter

Erv vs UT If you were looking for a reason to believe this season is going to be better than Florida's past few, it came last night. UF's mindset in recent years has seemingly been "Well, we've strung together a win streak. Better lose one." I'm not sure UF has moved on from that strategy since the Gators tried their best to lose to Tennessee on Saturday, but the difference is they were able to win despite themselves.

Erving Walker was the hero, as his furious drive to the basket and left-handed lay-up between three defenders with 14 seconds left provided the winner in a 61-60 victory.

Here's what they overcame last night:
-Alex Tyus had an assist on the Gators' first bucket and scored their next six points. It was looking like a good night until he turned the ball over three times in four minutes, leading to six points in a 15-4 run by UT. Then, with 31 seconds left and UF down 60-59, he bricked two free throws and only avoided being the goat because UT missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Walker's heroics.
-They allowed five three-pointers and turned the ball over 10 times in the first half. "Robbed blind" doesn't quite describe Tennessee's nine steals before the half. It was more like a looting, yet they only trailed by six.
-Patric Young grabbed a rebound with 57 seconds left and a 59-58 lead, but he was stripped of the ball and UT's Cameron Tatum laid it in. Really stunning to see that from Young, who's been valuable because of his aggressiveness.
-Kenny Boynton was out from the 6:10 mark to the 0:25 mark.He got a technical for slamming the ball after being fouled, and Donovan sat him down. Vernon Macklin only played 10 minutes in the second half because of foul trouble, and Chandler Parsons limped through most of his game-high 37 minutes with a thigh bruise after colliding with Tyus (does Tyus owe some bookies money or something? He did have 11 rebounds though). Parsons scored just three points and had three rebounds, meaning three of UF's four best players were largely ineffective for the end of a Florida-Tennessee game.

You can probably think of more mistakes if you watched, but even all that wasn't enough to secure a defeat, and the Gators have two people to thank for that: Walker and Scottie Wilbekin. Wilbekin (henceforth referred to as either Drake or Drizzy) had five points and an assist, but without him, Walker never gets a chance to be the hero.

Tennessee's Scotty Hopson went OFF last night. He had 15 points in the first half and was at 21 with 7:40 to go. That's when Billy Donovan sent Drizzy into the game and told him to stick on Hopson. That's a lot to ask of an unheralded freshman, but Drake held Hopson to one point for the rest of the night. Amazing work. Thank Him Later.

And that brings us to Walker. He can be a liability on defense, and his height can make things difficult on offense sometimes, but boy does he seize the big moments. Donovan had drawn up a play for UF's final possession, but when Walker saw open space in the lane, he darted to the hoop and made a very tough lay-up to take the lead and prompt Tyus to say "Thanks for saving my ass" (pictured).

The best part of the postgame interviews was Donovan's assessment of Walker's mindset in clutch situations:

“I’ve coached guys that love to take the last shot because they don’t want to shy away from it, but they have no intention of making it. ... I think a lot of it has to do with, being his size, he can’t win the dunk contest and do all those things. He’s not a spectacular player, so the only way he’s able to win respect is through winning. I totally understand it, because I went through the same thing as a player.”

The first part of that quote immediately brings Nick Calathes to mind, and heading to the postseason with a fearless player like Walker is huge. He embodies the resiliency Donovan is always talking about with this team. They always seem to fight, scratch and claw their way out of trouble. The problem is, they haven't made the leap toward carrying themselves like an elite team. That's what Donovan is waiting for -- them to consistently play like they're the best team on the court (which they are).

Yes, they pounded South Carolina and Arkansas, who aren't very good, but three of their last four wins have come by a total of seven points. You'd like to see them play like the top-10 team everyone expected them to be, but at least they're winning. For the first time since 2007, I don't have to sit here and try to project the NCAA Tourney bubble. Barring a huge collapse, Florida (20-5, 9-2 SEC) is goin' dancing, with the possibility of landing a really high seed if it wins the SEC Tourney.

Side note: The win makes UF one of five schools to reach 20 victories in 13 straight seasons (Kansas, Duke, Syracuse and Gonzaga). Donovan said when he was hired that athletics director Jeremy Foley asked him how many 20-win seasons he thought Florida had. Donovan's guess was "20 or 25," and Foley shot back "Five."

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Thoughts on last night's game? A bunch of exciting basketball going on in the O'Dome lately, with close games and the top two crowds in school history in the last week. How good do you feel about this team heading into the postseason?

February 08, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2011 Cam Newton Memorial All-Transfer Team

Cam-NewtonIt's that time of year again. The letters of intent have been faxed, spring practice is right around the corner (March 16) and some student-athletes are re-evaluating their place with the Gators. Transfers are inevitable, and there are some prime candidates to get the heck up outta here in search of greener pastures.

The new coaching staff can work two ways when it comes to transfers. There are guys whom Urban Meyer loved despite their faults, and a fresh start is worrisome for them (COUGHDEONTETHOMPSONCOUGH). Excuse me. Then there are those who didn't seem to get their due but could now that everyone's starting at square one.

Now, I've written things like this in the past and usually gotten angry feedback, so I'd like to make myself clear first. From a UF fan's perspective, nothing could be better than playing for the Gators, but that's not necessarily the best fit for everyone, so this list is full of names for whom a move could be of benefit and is in no way meant as an insult. In fact, Gator Clause wishes any future transfers from UF nothing but the best: $200,000, a Heisman Trophy and a national title.

Now, let's get to it:

-QB: John Brantley and Tyler Murphy
Brantley made the decision to stay because he's happy with Charlie Weis and a pro-style offense. But he'll have to deal with Jeff Driskel in spring practice, and if Driskel gets off to a hot start and there's an open competition, I wouldn't be shocked to see Brantley up sticks (one of the best phrases known to man). However, Brantley handled a very tough situation last season like a professional. He never whined, and he held his leadership role even in the face of diminished playing time. Granted, he helped put himself in that situation by sucking, but I say that to point out that he's a resilient fellow.

If Brantley stays, Murphy has got to be leaving unless he wants to inherit the Jimmy Hoffa position on the depth chart. He'd be behind Brantley, Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Jordan Reed and probably be battling Gainesville High walk-on Ryan McGriff for scout-team duties. Side note: I saw McGriff play at GHS, and he's got a good arm. Good guy to have around.

-RB: Mack Brown
Brown never got a chance this season, and he fits into that category of guys who can impress and earn some playing time. But he's still got Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Mike Gillislee in front of him and Mike Blakely coming in. Blakely is out for the spring because of shoulder surgery, which makes Brown leaving less likely in my mind. This is a guy Florida should want to keep around since Demps and Rainey are gone after this year.

-WR: Andre Debose
Weis and Will Muschamp better be promising the world to Debose. I had him figured for a definite transfer until Meyer left, and if he doesn't feel like he'll be a bigger part of the offense during spring practice, I still wouldn't be surprised to see him leave. That would be a disaster, so I'd imagine Muschamp and Weis wouldn't let that happen. Then again, I would have imagined there was no way Meyer wouldn't realize Debose needed to play more, yet he seemingly didn't. If you were at the Florida-Kentucky basketball game Saturday, you witnessed the hilarity of Debose being honored with an award for being a baller kick returner, meaning his speed and elusiveness was impressive enough to warrant public commendation but not playing time on one of the most dysfunctional offenses in the country. LOL. And I'd expect to see a non-Debose receiver leave as well, because that happens just about every year.

-TE: Desmond Parks
Reed, Gerald Christian and A.C. Leonard are all likely ahead of Parks, and then there's pseudo-tight end Trey Burton. Roll out.

-CB: Any and everyone not named Janoris Jenkins
This is going to be one hell of a position battle in the spring. Jenkins' surprise announcement that he's staying for his senior year cranks up an already intense struggle for the No. 2 spot. Jeremy Brown, Cody Riggs, Moses Jenkins and Jaylen Watkins all saw a fair amount of playing time there last year, and there's only so much to go around. Add in bigtime recruit Josh Shaw (now a redshirt freshman) and the whopping six defensive backs in this recruiting class, and there are bound to be some heading for the door. I have very close to zero insight on Watkins (not that much of a drop from my usual insight I suppose), but Riggs is the least physically gifted and will have to re-enact the Rudy routine that gained him favor with last year's coaches. Moses will lose all the goodwill he built up through years of special teams work, and Brown was one of those "Meyer guys" but struggled late in the year. This crew should be tripping over themselves to hold doors open for their new coaches.

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What do y'all think of this list? I tried to stick to the bigger names and not guys at the bottom of the depth chart. Any other names you're worried about? I'd expect the offensive linemen to stay since playing time is wide open for next year, and the annual rumors of more 3-4 defense make me hesitant to pick out any linebackers. There are some interesting cases like Earl Okine -- guys who bounced around positions and could be left drifting in the wind a bit -- but we'll have to wait and see what happens in the spring for those.

February 04, 2011

QB Brissett picks Gators, can still change his mind

Brissett Dwyer High quarterback Jacoby Brissett committed to Florida before his basketball game tonight, addressing two of the issues Will Muschamp raised at his press conference on National SIgning Day. Muschamp hinted that he was still waiting on a recruit and said he wasn't happy with the depth at quarterback.

It's a big pull for Muschamp to take Brissett away from Miami, especially because he already has Jeff Driskel in his pocket, BUT there is still a decent chance the Hurricanes end up with him anyway. Brissett didn't sign a letter of intent today and apparently won't do so until Monday. As you'll read in the story linked above, Brissett's momma ain't happy with the choice, and she'll be trying to change his mind all weekend.

Even if he flips, this should make people feel a little better about Muschamp and Charlie Weis as recruiters. They jumped on Brissett pretty quick and obviously made a good impression on him. Momma Brissett is upset Muschamp never met with her ("That man Mr. Muschamp is THE DEVIL!"), but she liked Weis, and this whole thing at least says Weis had some pull in recruiting after all.

Now, if Brissett comes to UF, it'll be really interesting to see what happens. Will he be the favored freshman because he was the one Muschamp and Weis picked? Or is Driskel the Golden Boy, meaning Brissett will eventually throw some expensive computer equipment out a window and win a national title at Auburn? Brissett is mobile, but he isn't truly a dual-threat quarterback, so he could fit into a Weis-run offense.

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Have any of you seen him play? What do you think of this pickup? Will it stick? I can already tell the comment cop is going to have his hands full on this one.

Fiction Friday: The truth behind Maurkice Pouncey's injury

Pounceys

Welcome to the first edition of Fiction Friday, a potential new semi-weekly feature on Gator Clause. This week, I chugged a bottle of NyQuil, spun in my office chair 25 times and typed until I passed out. This is the result:

IT'S THE NIGHT BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL, and Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey is in his hotel room, nervously pacing back and forth with a protective boot on his left foot. He’s just been ruled out of the game because of a sprained ankle, an outcome that had been planned for months. That was Step 1 of a devious plan. Step 2 is due any second.

There’s a knock at the door, and Maurkice hobbles over. “Who is it?” he asks.

The reply comes from a gruff but familiar voice. “Housekeeping.”

Maurkice opens the door, and in walks Temple football coach Steve Addazio, dressed as a maid and pushing a large laundry cart filled with towels and a snorkel popping out of the top. Suddenly, the pile of towels bursts into the air to reveal Florida center Mike Pouncey, wearing a Steelers tracksuit and boot. He climbs out and grabs Addazio and Maurkice for a bearhug.

“We don’t have much time,” Addazio says in a whisper, breaking up the emotional moment. “Mike, you know what to do. Climb in Maurkice.”

Maurkice steps into the laundry cart and is covered with towels. Addazio pushes him out of the room to an elevator, which he takes to the below-ground parking garage. Maurkice pops his head out.

“Coach, where do I go? I’ll have to lay low so know one figures it out.”

“Don’t worry,” Addazio says. “I have a guy for that.”

A black Thunderbird with tinted windows is idling a few feet away. Addazio gives a quick whistle, and the driver’s door opens to reveal former Oakland Raiders center Barret Robins.

“You’re in good hands,” Addazio says. “If anyone knows how to hide a center before the Super Bowl, it’s Barret.”

Maurkice walks to the car and turns back toward Addazio, holding back tears.

“It’ll all be OK,” Addazio assures him. “This is the only way. We’ll be back together soon.”

Continue reading "Fiction Friday: The truth behind Maurkice Pouncey's injury" »

February 02, 2011

If you're hoping Muschamp will be like Meyer, 2011 NSD is a good sign

A first-year Florida coach signs 18 recruits, gets mixed reviews on his first class and finishes way behind Florida State. Sound familiar? It happened in 2005, when Urban Meyer brought in his inaugural crew, and that was the case this year for Will Muschamp.

Why do I bring this up? Because it's a coincidence and SPORTSWRITERS LOVE COINCIDENCES!

This doesn't mean Muschamp is headed for unprecedented success and years of happy hunting on the recruiting trail, but it's important to cut him some slack based on the tough situation he walked into. He officially took over a month before National Signing Day and didn't get his full staff together until...today, when he hired Derek Lewis to coach tight ends and moved Brian White to running backs.

The Gators finished No. 14 on Rivals.com (Meyer's first class was No. 15. Just sayin) and could move a bit since there are still a few players out there who've yet to sign. I'd name them, but last time I did that it turned out to be a gigantic jinx, and I don't want to piss off my readers.

No. 1 prospect and apparent attention whore Jadeveon Clowney is waiting to announce until all eyes are on him (this feels like a Super Sweet 16 episode or something). He's probably not Florida-bound, to which I say you should be thankful. That punk thought it'd be funny to "announce" on Facebook that he's headed to a crappy team a few months ago and freak everyone out. He picked East Carolina as his joke school, and as a lifelong Pirates fan, I'm confident that the football gods will punish him with a career to match his last name.

Some good and bad news today, and I'll make it quick because I'm burned out.

Bad first, we'll end happy: Lake City DT Timmy Jernigan is going to FSU, and Richmond (Va.) LB Curtis Grant is going to Ohio State. Both are considered the bluest of chips, and Muschamp couldn't get Jernigan despite the fact he grew up a UF fan. That always hurts, and apparently Jernigan was upset with the way Meyer and Dan McCarney left, so I suppose Muschamp can't shoulder the blame.

Good: WR Ja'Juan Story and DB Marcus Roberson are headed to Gainesville, and as of writing, Jeff Driskel is still alive and well. Story committed to UF in June, but he and the Buckeyes had been casting sultry glances at each other, and he said he hadn't even made up his mind when he sat down to announce today. Roberson is a big pickup, a South Florida DB to go along with Jabari Gorman. Y'all have to be pretty happy with Muschamp for snagging those two.

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Like I said, I'm beat, but I'm planning a new feature for Friday that you will either think is hilarious or the dumbest thing you've ever seen. What did you guys think of NSD and Meyer's work on ESPN? No matter how bad you think it was, no UF committs were arrested for fondling girls the night before, so you'll always have that to hang your hat on. Kid gets an A for creativity though.

February 01, 2011

5 kids who will totally (maybe) be stud college football players and might sign with the Gators but also might not

Remember when you were a little kid and the day before Christmas produced a kind of jittery feeling inside? So much anticipation and excitement, and the joy of unwrapping That Thing You Always Wanted was just hours away. Well, National Signing Day is that emotion for grown-ups who follow college football.

Consider me Jewish for the purposes of this discussion, but I certainly understand why NSD matters. There are high school football players out there who still haven't settled on a college, and some of them will have the same impact on their future schools that guys like Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin had on UF. There's no denying that it's a huge deal.

So who do the Gators still have a shot at? Below are five top prospects who are still considering Florida, and the addition of any one of them would be a big help to the legacy of Will Muschamp's first recruiting class, as discussed in my story last week: LINK. Here we go (rankings from Rivals.com):

LB Stephone Anthony
(6-3, 220 pounds, Wadesboro, N.C.)
-Competition: Clemson and North Carolina
-Why He'll Sign: The nation's No. 3 OLB has a good relationship with UF linebackers coach D.J. Durkin and was happy when Durkin was retained, and with the departures of A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards, there are openings on the depth chart.
-Why He Won't: People in the know seem to think he's headed to Clemson.
-Meaningless Percentages: 40% Clemson, 35% UF, 24% UNC, 1% Tulsa Welding School

Brissett QB Jacoby Brissett
(6-5, 225 pounds, West Palm Beach)
-Competition: Miami and Wisconsin. He just eliminated Washington, which is a shame because Seattle is a lovely city.
-Why He'll Sign: The No. 3 dual-threat QB would be a great fit for Urban Meyer's spread offense! Oh, right. Well, Meyer only offered Brissett a grayshirt, but Charlie Weis has been all over Brissett like a...OK I'll skip the fat joke since it made y'all mad last time. Weis is supposed to be a great recruiter, and he's giving Brissett the full court press, so there's smoke here even though it looks unlikely on paper. He also has former Dwyer High teammates Matt Elam, Gerald Christian and Robert Clark in Gainesville already, and he wants to play basketball as well.
-Why He Won't: He's only a two-star fence-climber, so experts fear he won't be able to escape Al Golden's State of Miami and flee north. Also: Jeff Driskel.
-Meaningless Percentages: 65% Miami, 30% UF, 5% He Freezes His Ass Off For 3-5 Years

LB Curtis Grant Grant
(6-3, 222 pounds, Richmond, Va.)
-Competition: Ohio State
-Why He'll Sign: The biggest fish in the pond for UF, Grant is the No. 2 overall recruit in this year's class, making him a stone cold lock to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. For real though, this kid is a baller and would seem a natural fit at the coveted middle linebacker spot. He kept the Gators in his sights despite all the turmoil of Meyer leaving, so he must like Florida quite a bit.
-Why He Won't: The Buckeyes are the leaders, and part of that is surely due to the fact they don't have a new coach and a few years of uncertainty ahead of them.
-Meaningless Percentages: 70% Ohio State, 20% Florida, 10% Culinary School

Jernigan DT Timmy Jernigan
(6-2, 275 pounds, Lake City)
-Competition: Florida State
-Why He'll Sign: Timmy is one of the top-rated players at his position, and he grew up a Gators fan just a short drive from Gainesville. Now, he has a chance to make his dreams come true, but he finds himself considering a school he once hated. Sound familiar? Jernigan even played for the same HS coach as Tim Tebow, Craig Howard. He's a priority for UF, as defensive line coach Bryant Young was meeting with Jernigan before even being announced as hired.
-Why He Won't: The 'Noles are putting together one hell of a recruiting class, and they're the leaders for Jernigan's signature. In cases like this, I won't believe anything til ink hits paper, but Florida appears to be the underdog.
-Meaningless Percentages: 55% Jernigans Roast Marshmallows Over A Bonfire Of Their Old UF Gear, 45% I Get To Make A Tebow Comparison In My NSD Story

WR/TE Junior Pomee
(6-3, 210 pounds, Moreno Valley, Calif.)
-Competition: USC, Utah and Arizona
-Why He'll Sign: He played with Ronald Powell in high school and the two are close friends.
-Why He Won't: Pomee's dad said Monday that he's headed to USC, then Pomee came out and denied it. I say he's just trying to keep some suspense for NSD.
-Meaningless Percentages: 100% USC, 100% That's A Total Guess

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Which one of these guys do you want the most? Think any will sign with UF?


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