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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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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.”

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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


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