Payton is the third 2015 prospect -- and second wide receiver -- to verbally commit to Florida in the past four days, who held its annual Junior Day over the weekend.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound First Coast wideout is largely an unknown, holding a recent offer from UF despite not carrying a single star ranking at multiple recruiting services (Rivals, ESPN).
Payton is Florida's fourth commit -- and third Jacksonville prospect -- in its 2015 class, joining Trinity Christian defensive back Deontai Williams, Bishop Kenny offensive tackle Tyler Jordan as well as Lake Nona receiver Deondre Farrier.
For the first time since 2007, Florida, winners of 19 straight games, was voted No. 1 in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Gators (25-2, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) earned 47 of 65 first-place votes, sliding into the top spot thanks to a pair of losses by Syracuse.
Unbeaten Wichita State (29-0) received 14 first-place votes and Arizona (25-2) earned the remaining four votes, prompting UF coach Billy Donovan to say, "On any given night there are a number of teams that could look like the No. 1 team in the country."
Florida hasn't reigned as the nation's top-ranked team during the regular season since February 2007, when a weekend shellacking (83-70) at Vanderbilt ended the eventual national champs' 17-game winning streak and No. 1 status.
Coincidentally, Florida travels to Vanderbilt on Tuesday with a chance to clinch a share of the 2013-14 SEC title.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida, hosting its annual Junior Day extravaganza, picked up a pair of verbal commitments for its 2015 class over the weekend.
Three-star wide receiver Deondre Farrier (Lake Nona) and three-star offensive lineman Tyler Jordan (Bishop Kenny) both pledged their commitments to the Gators, according to multiple recruiting reports.
Later, Jordan officially announced his decision on Twitter.
Jordan, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound tackle, held offers from Georgia, Stanford, Ohio State and others, while Farrier, a 6-foot-1, 173-pound speedster, chose the Gators over South Florida, Kentucky, Miami and others.
The two prospects became UF's second and third commitments in its 2015 class.
FACT: No. 2 Florida would not have beaten then-No. 13 Kansas, No. 15 Memphis or a juiced Arkansas team without the contributions of Dorian Finney-Smith.
FICTION: Finney-Smith is the college reincarnate of Detroit's Josh Smith.
He's more maddening.
DFS has absolutely murdered UF's (otherwise) efficient field goal percentage during conference play.
His mind-numbing shooting slump extends from the 3-point line to the rim, as the redshirt sophomore is shooting a disastrous 35 percent (37-for-105) from the field in 13 conference games.
DFS is also an are-you-kidding-me 11-for-47 from downtown in SEC play. The underclassman has obviously never heard of the red light district.
FACT: Finney-Smith was touted as a versatile, playmaking point-forward with freakish rebounding skills and a player some said to be the most dominant Gator in practices over the summer.
FICTION: DSF has a nasty shot-fake.
What's it worth if you can't finish?
FACT OR FICTION: Florida can win the national title without improved play from its enigmatic forward?
Finney-Smith, UF's 6-foot-8 super sub, is a tantalizing talent.
He may well win the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year Award this season, but too often -- especially over the last month-plus -- DFS has teased solid performances with way too many eye-gouging nights.
Ostensibly, Finney-Smith helps Florida space the floor and is an assertive offensive playmaker, but the redshirt sophomore hasn't made a trey in February (0-for-18) and is 0-for-21 since his last made 3-pointer.
Finney-Smith has also showcased as an inconsistent facilitator and finisher -- two of his most ballyhooed attributes at the start of 2013-14 -- currently touting the same number assists (46) as turnovers (46) this season.
Following consecutive solid performances against Arkansas and Georgia (22 and 14 points, respectively), Finney-Smith has tallied just a single game in double-digits (11 points, Texas A&M) over UF's last 10 victories.
Yet despite all the ups-and-downs: Finney-Smith stands as Florida's biggest X-factor heading into March Madness.
WIth Chris Walker predictably still in the diaper stage of his career and Will Yeguete practically useless on the offensive end, the Gators need DFS to emerge -- on a nightly basis -- as the frontcourt force that dominated minutes in the wins over Kansas, Memphis and even Tennessee (at home).
Earlier this season, Billy Donovan routinely ran iso-plays for Finney-Smith, now he's routinely yanking the forward for shody shot selection.
On the surface, a stat line of 9.1 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 1.9 assists per game is superb for a role player, but DFS is more than that. He is a glorified starter (see: minutes played, closing out games) and an integral player in UF's motion offense and 1-3-1 defense.
I don't know if the Gators can win a title if Finney-Smith can't rediscover his offensive potential, and it's a question worth pondering with just five games until the madness begins.
GAINESVILLE -- For nearly 40 minutes, a heavyweight bout between David and Goliath broke out in the O'Connell Center.
Fortunately for No. 2 Florida, Auburn -- 17-point underdogs entering Wednesday's showdown -- eventually ran out of stones.
The Gators (24-2, 13-0 Southeastern Conference) won their 18th straight, as senior center Patric Young delivered a monster second half to stave off AU's upset bid en route to a 71-66 victory.
Young sank a pair of clutch free throws with 19.4 seconds remaining, as Auburn Auburn'd down the stretch while the Gators rallied late facing (mounting) pressure.
Young was (un)intentionally fouled by center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum after AU guard Chris Denson missed the possible go-ahead free throw.
"I just told myself, 'Be great. Strive to be great right now,'" Young said.
The Tigers (12-12, 4-9 SEC) threw away the ensuing impounds pass, capping a sudden imposition following a fearless effort most of the night.
"We beat ourselves in those waning moments," AU coach Tony Barbee said. "But they didn't beat themselves, so give them credit."
Young, dealing with chronic knee pain, wasn't even expected to play Wednesday and his first half effort looked like he'd made the wrong choice to suit up.
But the senior responded with a Herculean effort after halftime, scoring all 17 of his points in the second half, adding seven rebounds and three assists.
"I thought Pat was just phenomenal," UF coach Billy Donovan said.
But for most of the game, the Gators were anything but.
Florida trailed by eight at halftime (38-30), its largest home deficit this season. Following two tough road battles last week, the Gators -- visibly mentally and physically fatigued -- played like they were running on fumes.
"I thought Auburn outplayed us," Donovan said. "No question we're going to get everyone's best shot, but 'Are we going to give them our best shot?' I didn't think we did that today."
Florida struggled defensively, especially guarding the three-point line, as the Tigers drained 10 treys -- six in the first half.
Freshman guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen tied a career-high, scoring 17 points with five 3-pointers.
"We didn't play very well in the first half, but we never gave up," senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
The Gators opened the second half on an 11-3 run but the game settled into a rowdy see-saw affair until Wilbekin (15 points, four assists), Prather (16 points, nine rebounds) and Young made the necessary plays late.
Florida finished the win on an 8-1 run, holding the Tigers scoreless from the field over the final three minutes of the game.
"We only got motivated because the game was in doubt," Donovan said. "I am very glad we won and I thought our guys showed resiliency."
THIS & THAT
Sophomore sniper-shooter Michael Frazier drilled a go-ahead triple with 41 seconds left in the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Frazier briefly exited the win with an apparent left hand injury, but Donovan said the sophomore is "fine." … The Gators shot 82 percent from the charity stripe (23-of-28), their best mark in conference play this season. … UF extended its school-record home winning streak to 30 games. … Dorian Finney-Smith was 0-for-4 from downtown. The redshirt sophomore has missed his last 21 attempts since Jan. 30.
Florida climbed to No. 2 in both national polls Monday, receiving a single first place vote in the Associated Press Top 25. The Gators appear destined for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and are (almost) assured of playing in Orlando for the second/third rounds.
Meanwhile, point guard Kasey Hill is doubtful for tomorrow's game against Auburn after injurying his groin in the win over Kentucky.
Head coach Billy Donovan said Monday, "I would not anticipate him playing Wednesday."
NEW FOOTBALL HIRE?
Jeremy Darveau, formerly the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Division II Southwest Minnesota State, tweeted Tuesday he has joined Florida's football staff.
FootballScoop.com first reported Darveau's move, but UF has yet to confirm the news.
Will Muschamp's staff is full (all 10 spots filled), so Darveau's position is unknown. The former Louisville offensive tackle could be assigned quality control responsibilities or come on as a graduate assistant.
Darveau played two seasons with the Cardinals under UF's new offensive line coach Mike Summers.
Miami Belen Jesuit placekicker Jorge Powell will walk-on at Florida, according to the Miami Herald's own Safid Deen.
Powell was originally slated to attend Penn State, but will instead compete against Austin Hardin, UF's lone scholarship kicker who suffered through a dreadful redshirt freshman campaign, walk-on Frankie Velez (6-of-8 field goals) and former Virginia Tech kickoff specialist Brooks Abbott.
According to The Gainesville Sun, Powell's father attended Florida and the placekicker wanted to play closer to home.
JACKSON'S CAREER OVER?
On Feb. 4, The Moultrie Observer published a piece on Florida redshirt freshman Octavius Jackson and the offensive lineman's persistent, but failing battle with multiple shoulder injuries.
Muschamp touted Jackson as one of UF's most promising linemen throughout the fall, but it appears the Colquitt County High standout will never play for the Gators following career-ending surgery.
Jackson also addressed the situation on Instagram.
ESPN.com announced last week Florida agreed to participate in a unique "barnstorming event" in December 2018.
The Gators, along with Michigan State, North Carolina and Texas, will play three games in eight days, one each in New York City (Madison Square Garden), Chicago (United Center) and Los Angeles (Staples Center).
According to ESPN.com, the teams will all travel together on a single charted airplane. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, an innovator in creative college basketball events including the first aircraft carrier game, is the brainchild for the non-conference showcase tour.
STAT OF THE DAY
Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin tallied 44 points (21 at Tennessee, 23 at UK), eight assists and zero turnovers in Florida two major road wins last week. Monday, UF's senior leader was named the SEC Player of the Week and one of 23 finalists for the Cousy Award, given to the nation's top college point guard.
GAINESVILLE -- From the wonderful wisdom of Ice-T: "Pimpin' ain't easy, but some somebody gotta do it."
No. 3 Florida won in Lexington for the first time since 2007, downing the talented Wildcats 69-59 for a significant victory.
The Gators extended their winning streak to 17 games and for all intents and purposes (likely) locked up the Southeastern Conference regular season title.
Comparisons (however faulty and careless) to the Oh-Fours are already trickling out, but the one definitive trait the two groups have/had in common: An obsession -- and joy -- in winning.
Florida's victory at Tennessee on Tuesday night was nice and full of fortunate happenstances, but Patric Young's Herculean-save exemplified this team's horror of losing.
Casey Prather's Superman snatch Saturday night was no different.
Saturday's victory in Rupp Arena was an efficient, fastidious evisceration over perhaps "the most talented team in the country."
Although "youth versus experience" became the anti-narrative leading up to the marquee matchup, the game played out as initially presumed.
UF freshman roadrunner Kasey Hill logged the fewest minutes of his collegiate career, as Donovan basically rotated six guys -- the four seniors plus sophomores Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith -- the majority of the game.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was fantastic, finishing with a career-high 23 points, zero turnovers and all the poise. The (potential) frontrunner for SEC POY was also 11-of-12 from the charity stripe in the face of a hostile crowd -- only missing his final attempt.
How did the Gators win in Rupp Arena shooting just 44 percent from the field -- including 3-for-13 from downtown -- and getting gashed (comparatively speaking) defensively in the first half?
Execution. Experience. Effort.
* Florida scored an insane 2.21 points per possession over the final 10+ minutes of the game. UF's efficient offense -- led by Wilbekin's weaving penetration -- ultimately won the game for the Gators.
* The Gators shot a season-high (in conference play) 78.6 percent from the free throw line (22-of-28), drilling 15 of their last 17 attempts.
* Florida outscored UK 22-11 following John Calipari's (rather mysterious) technical foul.
* The Gators had just five turnovers -- two from a pair of role players who combined for less than 20 minutes of action.
* For the all the talk of UK's dominance on the offensive glass, the Gators actually out-rebounded the Wildcats 10-9 -- the dagger Prather's board with 1:25 remaining in a five-point game.
Florida's 17th straight win Saturday night didn't change the team's ceiling or alter any attitudes for those intimately aware of UF's consistent crunch-time coolness thisseason.
Instead, "Wrangled at Rupp" simply confirmed what many already knew: Florida is a damn fine team -- and seemingly getting better -- with a legitimate shot at bringing Billy Donovan his third national title.
The Gators -- dangerous and hungry -- have played like a championship-caliber team for nearly two months, and although their primetime win at No. 14 Kentucky suddenly vaulted them into the title discourse for the national press, they should've been the talk of college hoops already.
GAINESVILLE -- In advance of Saturday’s marquee matchup, No. 3 Florida coach Billy Donovan called No. 14 Kentucky “top to bottom the most talented team in the country.”
The Gators -- the lone undefeated team in Southeastern Conference play -- take on the Wildcats in Rupp Arena tomorrow night in primetime (9 p.m., ESPN College GameDay).
Kentucky starts five of the top nine freshmen in ESPN’s 2013 prospect rankings, led by double-double machine Julius Randle (15.8 ppg, 9.9 rebs) and the Harrison twins (Aaron, Andrew).
Florida’s coach downplayed the youth versus experience (UF starts four seniors) angle though, saying, “Those guys have played a lot of basketball against a lot of good players. Right now, everybody’s got about 24-25 games under their belt. Those guys certainly, all their guys have logged an enormous amount of minutes. They’ve grown, too. I don’t look at it like that. Maybe it’s different at the first game of the year. Right now at this point in time, you’ve got a very experienced team in terms of roles, responsibilities and what they’re going through.”
The Gators have dropped eight of 10 against John Calipari’s McDonald’s All-American factory Wildcats and haven’t won in (rowdy) Rupp Arena since 2007.
UF senior center Patric Young admitted, “We let one slip out of our hands last year (61-57). It would be really special to finally get one and not go my whole career not winning there.”
While expounding on Kentucky's talent, Donovan also acknowledged he is wary of UK’s size and rebounding prowess, calling it the “ultimate test” and “extremely important in the outcome in the game.”
“It’s an impressive stat. They get it back a little bit more than 41% of their missed shots,” Donovan said. “They do a great job on the glass. … Kentucky’s depth in terms of two guys on the bench with the same level of length and size and physical strength, it makes them a good rebounding team.”
Florida, in the midst of a 16-game winning streak and just one victory shy of matching a school record, hopes its staunch defense (No. 1 scoring defense) can contain Kentucky’s explosive offense (No. 2 in scoring). A win (very likely) wraps up the SEC regular-season title for the Gators and keeps them in line for a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 3 Florida upended Tennessee 67-58 Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Despite another hard-fought battle in Knoxville, the Gators (22-2, 11-0 Southeastern Conference) won their 16th straight game thanks to effort, equanimity and a continued pursuit of excellence.
The Volunteers (15-9, 6-5 SEC) were red-hot from the field in the first half, but the Gators managed to weather UT's shooting storm and play spoiler as Tennessee teased a national audience once again.
While Florida tightened up its interior defense in the second half and made critical plays (Michael Frazier, Scottie Wilbekin treys; Patric Young hustle rebound) when necessary, a (potentially) overlooked factor in Tuesday's victory was the improvement in UF's normally-middling free throw shooting.
The Gators shot 77 percent (17-22) from the charity stripe, easily its top mark in conference play all year.
For Florida fans, the hope is that its free throw percentage -- 66 percent for the season -- continues to improve. If not, it could doom UF's chances to win a national title.
I've purposely buried the lede here, but the last NCAA team to shoot under 70 percent and win a national championship: The 2006-07 Florida Gators.
Take a peak of the last decade, and only two teams have shot under 70 percent and won a title.
FREE THROW %
The 2013-14 Gators dominate both traditional (field-goal percentage, scoring, etc.) and advanced (see: kenpom.com) analytics -- with the notable exception of team free throwing shooting.
Coach Billy Donovan is certainly aware of the issue, as Florida ranks No. 292 nationally.
The Gators are on a roll and appear to be the nation's most complete (and underrated) team. They're experienced, talented, deep, measured and hungry, but even a lone scarlet weakness could torpedo the entire season come March.
GAINESVILLE -- Two weeks ago, No. 3 Florida smothered Tennessee 67-41, as the Gators defended possessed and frustrated UT's top scorer Jordan McRae all afternoon.
The Volunteers were a frightening 1-of-19 from downtown and held 34 points below their season average.
Florida has been dominant defensively this season, especially inside the comfortable confines of the O'Connell Center, but Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena has been a house of horrors for the Gators for nearly a decade.
UF has dropped seven of eight in Knoxville, last winning 81-75 in 2011.
"It's going to be a different game. I can feel it," senior forward Will Yeguete said. "We know McRae's not going to come in and go 1-for-15 in their place."
The Vols have won four straight at home, averaging nearly 80 points per game with seven made 3-pointers.
"If you look at their numbers at home from the three-point line, they’re pretty incredible," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "They’re not going to shoot that kind of percentage like they did (here). They are a very, very dangerous three-point shooting team and if you look at their home stats, when they’re at home, they are shooting a very high percentage from the three.”
Starting with tonight (7 p.m., ESPN), Florida (21-2, 10-0 SEC) plays four of its next five games on the road, all against the SEC's upper echelon.
Can the Gators extend their 15-game winning streak? Which team is more likely to snap Florida's undefeated record in conference play: Tennessee or No. 12 Kentucky on Saturday?
GAINESVILLE -- The Master continues to dominate his Protégé.
Billy Donovan moved to 8-0 all-time against good friend and former lead assistant Anthony Grant, as No. 3 Florida stayed perfect in Southeastern Conference play with a 78-69 win over Alabama on Saturday afternoon.
Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 16 points, leading all five UF starters in double figures. Sophomore swingman Michael Frazier added 14 points, while seniors Will Yeguete (12), Casey Prather (15) and Patric Young (11) all chipped in double-figures too.
Florida (21-2, 10-0 SEC) shredded Alabama's (9-14, 3-7 SEC) zone defense, finishing with a season-high 22 assists and 48 points in the paint.
Despite a lackluster defensive performance, the Gators topped the Crimson Tide for the second time in 16 days, extending two winning streaks (15th straight overall, 29th consecutive victory at home) in the process.
The Gators, who entered the contest holding their last seven opponents to 35.6 percent shooting and 51.3 points per game, sprinted to an 8-0 lead before the Crimson Tide ever crossed half-court. They hit their first seven shots and the rout appeared on.
Alabama managed to weather the early storm and actually jumped to a 20-18 lead after its own 16-4 run. Fueled by a trapping zone defense and senior guard Trevor Releford's ridiculous shot-making, the Tide frustrated the Gators into a seven minute scoreless stretch.
"We got off to a really good start," Donovan said. "But then we just turned the ball over and made some really poor decisions in open-floor situations."
Alabama was red-hot from the field in the first half, shooting 61 percent with 14 made baskets.
“Our defense was bad the whole game,” Donovan said. “It’s an everyday grind to be really, really good and we were not where we were supposed to be. Thank God we had some offense that helped us today.”
Florida eventually solved Grant's pressure-zone, scoring on nine of its final 10 possessions in the first half.
With the score knotted at 36-all, the Gators opened the second half on a 14-5 run, spending the rest of the afternoon fouling and slowly watering its lead.
Releford finished with a game-high 25 points, but the Tide eventually ran out of gas, as the Gators' tempo was too much.
Despite the win, Donovan was displeased with UF's trademark suffocating defense struggling against a below-average offense. Alabama shot 55 percent from the field, hitting six treys. Florida forced 16 turnovers, but kept UA in the game with lots of free throws and too many wide open looks.
"We just fouled way too much," Donovan said. "We're about to play some games where if you play defense like we did tonight, you're not going to win."
Florida's 15-point second-half lead was enough to overcome its sloppy play, as Alabama never trailed by less than seven following UF's run out of halftime. The Gators' 21-2 start is the second-best in school history, but Donovan was more concerned with the future.
"That's just a record of what has happened in the past," he said. "I'm not overly joyous we're 10-0 in the SEC. We've played most of our games against the bottom-half of our league."
The Gators hit the road for four of their next five games, starting with Tennessee on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN).
GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp delivered multiple zingers during his 30-minute press conference Wednesday, but none was more direct than his shot at Florida's putrid tight end production in 2013.
"It was a very offensive position when Jordan Reed was here," Muschamp quipped. "It was an offensive position last year."
Florida's tight ends -- Tevin Westbrook, Clay Burton and Clay Thompson (briefly) -- combined for just four receptions last season, as Muschamp publicly challenged the group throughout the year.
The Gators wasted little time addressing the position this offseason, signing three tight ends in their 2014 recruiting class, headlined by converted-receiver and four-star Taylor County standout Moral Stephens.
Three-stars C'yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby also signed with Florida, with both prospects targeted early in the process. While Lewis and Gooslby project as developmental players, all three freshmen are expected to compete for immediate playing time come fall.
“I felt like we needed to athletically improve ourselves at tight end. And I think we took some steps there,” Muschamp said. “Those guys need to step forward, probably have some young guys help us out there to be able to take the next step.”
During Kurt Roper's introductory press conference last month, Florida's new offensive coordinator never mentioned how he prefers (or plans) to use tight ends in his spread offense, but the stats suggest he schemes for tight ends to be involved … quite a bit.
In 2013, Braxton Deaver, Duke's junior tight end, was the team's second-leading receiver.
Deaver posted nearly identical numbers -- 46 receptions, 600 yards, four touchdowns -- to Jordan Reed’s heralded 2012 campaign (45 catches, 559 yards three touchdowns).
The Blue Devils' second- and-third string tight ends actually caught more balls (five) than Florida's entire group last season.
In 2012, Duke's top two tight ends combined for 50 receptions and four touchdowns.
It remains to be seen how Florida will integrate three raw freshmen with a group of underachieving upperclassmen, but Muschamp is fond of the phrase “competition is the best motivator” and appears geninuly excited about infusing the position with fresh talent.
“Cyontai is a guy that we targeted. Brian White was actually watching another player practice last spring and just kept noticing this guy's athleticism. We challenged him to come to camp. He came to camp and had an outstanding camp, and a guy that showed all the athleticism and ball skills to be really, really good. … DeAndre Goolsby is another guy we targeted early on. [Position coach] Derrick Lewis went out and evaluated him in the last spring evaluation, really liked his movement skills, his growth potential, his toughness, his point of attack and those things, and excited to have him on campus and a guy that can do some different things for you. And then Moral Stephens is a guy that we didn't think we were going to have room for. He came to camp. He did an outstanding job in camp. We really liked him, and then when we had some attrition, it opened up a spot for him, and we're really happy to have him.”
GAINESVILLE -- The roller-coaster recruitment of Immokalee cornerback J.C. Jackson ended Wednesday morning when the four-star defensive back held firm in his commitment to Florida, rebuffing strong advances by in-state rivals Miami and Florida State.
Following weeks of speculation of a possible third flip, Jackson, once an FSU commit, was actually one of UF's first signees to officially fax in his National Letter of Intent.
The Under Armour All-American is purportedly close friends with former UF pledges Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, leading many to believe he too would decommit from the Gators.
Wednesday afternoon, Florida coach Will Muschamp discussed Jackson's recruiting saga and much of the "misinformation" on the Internet.
“It’s amazing, I don't really follow the Internet much, but there's so much hearsay and as much information there is out there, in my opinion, there's a lot of misinformation,” Muschamp said.
“I get tons of phone calls about, ‘Well, I heard this, I heard that.’ I mean I can't keep up with all the what‑I‑heard stuff. I have to go off fact, and I go off talking to Lisa, his mother, and Chris, his father, and J. C. I deal with the family and I talk to them. And certainly I don't think our season helped, but I think that he saw his best opportunity to come in and play corner at Florida. You know, seeing Marcus [Roberson] and Loucheiz [Purifoy] and Jaylen [Watkins], our three top corners leaving and moving on that were upper classmen, seeing his opportunity here to play here at Florida, it was something he was excited about.
“I know he looked at some other places, no different than a lot of kids do, and I encourage kids to do, to go make sure they're making the right decision, to go take a look at another place. And so, you know, again, I never ‑‑ we never felt it was that much in the balance, maybe as what a lot of people seemed to think. We never felt that way. And you never know till you get the facts in. Any coach that tells you they know what was going to happen, they can't say that.”
Jackson, at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, projects as an immediate contributor in Florida's depleted secondary and/or as a play-making returner.
GAINESVILLE -- Time for coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
First, Florida flipped its eighth prospect on the eve of National Sigining Day, landing the committment of offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tucson, Az.). The three-star prospect was formally pledged to Vanderbilt, but his commitment late Tuesday night likely means the Gators will miss on five-star tackle Damian Prince.
CONFIRMED LOIs (not including nine early enrollees)
WR Ryan Sousa
DB Quincy Wilson
DB J.C. Jackson
DT Khairi Clark
TE C'yontai Lewis
TE Moral Stephens
ATH Deiondre Porter
DL Justus Reed
DL Gerald Willis III
DT Thomas Holley
OL Andrew Mike
OL Travaris Dorsey
OL David Sharpe
QB Treon Harris
WR C.J. Worton
--- UF has received the LOIs from all 24 members of its 2014 class.
FLORIDA'S BIG BOARD (with announcement times)
DB J.C. Jackson (Immokalee) **** (8 a.m.) - CONFIRMED UF PLEDGE
GAINESVILLE -- Freshman forward Chris 'Sky' Walker took flight Tuesday evening, but it was No. 3 Florida's brilliant backcourt that dominated the Missouri Tigers in UF's 14th straight win.
Backed by Scottie Wilbekin's 19 points, including shooting 13-of-16 from the charity stripe, Michael Frazier's 14 points and Kasey Hill's six assists, UF scooted past Mizzou 68-58 for its 28th consecutive victory at home.
Florida (20-2, 9-0 SEC) held Missouri (16-6, 4-5 SEC) to its lowest scoring output since its last trip to the O'Connell Center on Jan. 2013, frustrating the Tigers into 12 turnovers and 39 percent shooting Tuesday night.
“We know since we're the top team in the SEC, we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” said senior center Patric Young, who finished the evening with 13 points and six rebounds.
“We don’t want any letdowns. We have to bring our A-game every night, and we know it."
The Gators again struggled to score in the half-court in the first half (just 1-of-11 from downtown), but Florida shot the ball from the perimeter much better after halftime -- mainly Frazier.
The sophomore sniper drilled three treys in two minutes, busting a close game wide open late in the second half.
"This was a really hard game for us, " UF coach Billy Donovan said. "It was a struggle all the way through. Nothing was easy."
The Gators everntually sprinted to a 15-3 run to put away a pesky Tigers team, as Donovan acknowledged UF’s ability to play inside-out allowed them to slowly exploit Mizzou's zone defense.
But while Florida's win was the ultimately entree on the evening, Walker's highly-anticipated debut was a delicious desert for UF fans.
The five-star freshman, who sat out 12 games after the NCAA ruled he received impermissible benefits from five different people, entered the game to a raucous standing ovation with 11:28 remaining in the first half.
The 6-foot-10 McDonald's All American immediately made his presence felt, delivering a vicious block and a silly two-handed slam off a lob from former AAU teammate Hill in a three minute span.
"It was nice," Walker said. "I kept a positive mind and just kept working."
"I just looked in [Hill's] eyes and it brought back flashbacks," Walker said.
Later, Florida's freshmen duo connected again, sending a packed O'Dome into a frenzy.
With seconds remaining in the first half, Walker flushed another thunderous alley-oop on a sweet feed from Hill. The scintillating slam was soured a bit, however, as Jabari Brown drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In all though, it was a solid debut for a tantalizing talent. Walker finished with four points, two blocks, two fouls and a rebound in just seven minutes. He missed a couple defensive rotations, displaying some brief (and expected) confusion, but he played with the energy, effort and swagger teased for weeks.
"I really had no idea what to expect," Donovan said. "I thought he contributed very positively."
While Embattled coach Will Muschamp struggled to win football games in 2013, his proficiency to flip star recruits (seven already) and build another stellar recruiting class (nine early enrollees) has dominated headlines since the calendar changed.
But how will UF finish tomorrow?
Early indications are a tad troubling (see below), but first...
QB Treon Harris (Booker T. Washington) **** (9 a.m.)
OT Damian Prince (Bishop McNamara, Md.) ***** (10:20 a.m., ESPNU)
OT Derrick Kelly (East Gadsden) *** (1 p.m.)
ATH Adoree' Jackson (Junipero Serra, Ca.) ***** (2:10 p.m., ESPNU)
DE Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga.) ***** (3 p.m., ESPNU)
According to reports from both Rivals & 247sports, UF appears to be losing steam with Prince and Carter, while McKenzie and Kelly are also unlikely to commit to Florida.
However, J.C. Jackson is considered (relatively) firm in his pledge to UF.
Ultimately, Florida's white whale remains Adoree' Jackson, but at this date not even Nostradamus has a clue where's he's going.
Which leads me to…
THREE NSD QUESTIONS
1. Can UF snag its must-have playmaker?
Jackson is a major need for UF and despite Florida building an-already nice class (No. 7 overall, per Rivals), some may view NSD as disappointing if the Gators don't reel in the five-star athlete.
2. How will UF finish in SoFla?
The decommitments of Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane stung (sharply), but many will still consider it a nice haul if Florida manages to poach J.C. Jackson, Worton and Harris from Miami's backyard (and a Florida State stronghold).
3. Paging Mr. Prince?
The Gators lost the last time they went head-to-head with the hometown Terps, and while Prince isn't the catch Stefon Diggs was (in terms of need), he'd still be a marquee player in UF's 2014 class.
As always, stay tuned.
Check back tommorrow for frequent updates on blog.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 3 Florida destroyed Texas A&M 69-36 on Saturday, coasting to its 13th straight win following another defensive masterpiece.
The Gators continue to make a mockery of the Southeastern Conference, rolling through the cupcake-riddled league like a hot knife through butter.
At one point Saturday, Texas A&M trailed by more points (38) than it ultimately scored overall, as the Gators limited the Aggies to their lowest point total on the year.
Led by Michael Frazier II's 22 points and Dorian Finney-Smith 11 points and nine rebounds, the Gators breezed past a woeful Aggies bunch, who dropped their fifth-straight game.
"We're not the No. 3 team in the country for no reason," senior center Patric Young said.
Added Fraizer II: "It's scary because that I think there are still a lot of things we can get better at."
In front of another sellout crowd, Florida (19-2, 8-0 SEC) extended its school-record winning streak at home to 27 games.
Behind a dominating rebounding advantage (57-27) and a quick-closing permitter defense (A&M shot a woeful 20 percent from downtown), the Gators tied their school record for the fewest points allowed in conference play since 1950 -- matching last season's performance against South Carolina.
Florida didn't shoot the ball particularly well either -- just 41 percent -- but 25 second chance points (17 offensive rebounds) and a 20-point advantage in the paint erased the team's streaky long-range shooting.
Young, who played with relentless intensity all afternoon, capped his 22nd birthday with a near double-double (nine points, career-high 13 rebounds) but fell just short after missing his final three free throws.
The senior's ridiculous follow-up jam was one of the few highlights in an otherwise ho-hum win.
"I thought Patric played exceptionally well today," coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought his energy was really, really good. I told him that I would tell him everyday was his birthday so he would play like that all the time."
Florida has won its first four SEC games inside the O'Dome by an average of 24.3 points.
Young said the Gators "dont really care" about the SEC's perception as a weak-hoops conference, before adding, "Our league is not the best but it's still a good league."
GAINESVILLE -- No. 3 Florida coach Billy Donovan said he was unaware of the exact findings in Wednesday's NCAA report outlining freshman forward Chris Walker’s 12-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits.
After missing 40 percent of the season, the 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American will make his collegiate debut Tuesday when the Gators host Missouri (9 p.m., ESPN).
On Friday, Donovan defended Walker’s role in the violations -- the NCAA report stated Walker received free cell phones, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel, among other things -- suggesting the freshman’s naivety of NCAA rules played a key role.
“Chris is a really, really good kid. I think one of the things that is very difficult in these situations is really whether they know the rules or not,” Donovan said.
“I’m sure Chris didn’t know a lot of those things. I think obviously if Chris knew some of those things were a problem, I would believe he wouldn’t have done those things.”
Florida’s coach also refused to fault Walker’s guardian, Jeneen Campbell, or blanket blame on all third parties.
Donovan highlighted the NCAA’s trouble educating prep prospects, acknowledging the governing agency is likely in over its head and cannot properly police all AAU programs.
“What exactly is the obligation of the institution or the NCAA?,” Donovan asked.
“I know the NCAA tries. They try at All-American events, summer events try to talk to the kids and explain things to them, but it’s very, very difficult in a lot of ways. … The hard part right now, what goes on in the summer time, I think it’s really difficult for the NCAA to police all of that stuff, and I would imagine in some way there are a lot of kids out there right now that don’t know that this is not allowed, that you can’t do this, that this is an extra added benefit.”
***** MORE DONOVAN UNPLUGGED *****
On third parties in college basketball...
“Everybody is involved with third parties. Everybody is involved. It’s everybody’s issue. It’s just kind of the way of the world. I think some of the rules to come out with third party and some of those things, like I said earlier, it’s impossible to police it all. Some of these guys that are involved with these kids in a lot of sense do a really good job with kids. They really, really help out a lot of kids. That’s probably where the argument comes in where is it allowed, is it not allowed? How long is the relationship? Those are all things you have to uncover in those situations. Jeneen Campbell, she’s a great lady. She’s done the very, very best job she can to help Chris. She doesn’t know the rules. She was kind enough to help out Chris at a time when he was growing up to give him a home and place to grow up and I really, really respect her a lot. Obviously, I think for her she’s probably looking at it like, ‘Why didn’t I know more?’”
On his reaction to the NCAA’s report…
“I haven’t even read the it. I didn’t even, to me it’s, I’ve just kind moved forward with it. I didn’t even go through the report. As I told you guys, there was stuff that I was not informed on because a lot of those meetings were closed meetings between Chris and the NCAA. It had really nothing to do with us and our recruiting of Chris. It had to do with obviously his AAU program, what happened in high school and those kind of things. I’m just happy for him that the NCAA has allowed him to at least play here relatively soon.”
On possibly improving rules awareness for prep athletes…
“I don’t know. I think for certain things there’s people that say, ‘What’s the big deal? Come on, give me a break. It’s not a recruiting situation where an institution is giving something to a kid. This is something that was going on.’ … I don’t know what we could do to try and help more kids, but it’s a tough thing because I do think in a lot of ways there’s a lot of kids out there, but Chris just happened to be one of those guys that got put to the forefront. Again, I think Chris in a certain standpoint probably was maybe a little bit taken back that some of those things were an issue. But there are kids out there that could potentially be in harm’s way, too. You don’t want to see anybody have to go through what Chris went through. I think it’s been a trying time for him. Like I said, I’m just happy that he’s moving forward. We tried to let the NCAA do their job and let the school handle it. We just tried to get prepared and ready to play games. I’m just happy he’s cleared and he’s able to play."
Florida hosts Texas A&M tomorrow at 4 p.m. on SECTV.
GAINESVILLE -- Chris 'Sky' Walker is finally free to soar.
No. 3 Florida's 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American forward -- cleared Wednesday by the NCAA -- will make his collegiate debut Feb. 4 in primetime when UF hosts Missouri (9 p.m., ESPN).
“We’re glad there’s a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said in a news release.
“We appreciate everyone’s participation in this process and are ready to move forward.”
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman first reported Walker’s reinstatement, with the NCAA and university quickly confirming the sourced report.
According to a release by the NCAA, Walker received a 12-game suspension -- or 40 percent of the season -- for accepting impermissible benefits from five people, including two agents.
The report states Walker received “free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel.”
Additionally, “individuals close to Walker received free airfare and lodging for nine different trips, including eight associated with Walker’s non-scholastic [AAU] basketball team competitions.”
The five-star forward is required to donate the $270 he received from agents to a charity of his choice and perform 80 hours of community service.
“I appreciate all the support from UF, Coach Donovan and my teammates,” Walker said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to helping the team any way I can.”
He later tweeted...
The report states Walker was declared ineligible by the NCAA [at an unspecified date] and then Florida filed for Walker’s reinstatement Jan. 21. The two parties “worked to finalize the facts” until Wednesday’s decision.
“The NCAA membership has expressed continued concern about how third-party influence, improper agent involvement and the role of non-scholastic basketball impact student-athletes and prospects,” Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said in the statement.
“Out of concern for student-athletes’ wellbeing, our members have created rules that limit the involvement of these individuals. The 12 games Mr. Walker was required to sit out reflect the significance of these violations.”
Walker, a freak finisher and shot-blocker as prep prospect, didn’t enroll at Florida until Dec. 14 after failing to qualify academically last summer. The Bonifay native, who led Holmes County to the 1A state finals, spent the fall getting his academics in order, eventually completing the necessary requirements to enroll for the spring semester.
Florida confirms Goodman's report, saying Walker has been cleared and will debut against Mizzou.
In a statement, coach Billy Donovan said, "We're glad there's a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris. We appreciate everyone's participation in this process and are ready to move forward."
Walker, a five-star forward expected to bolster UF's frontcourt, added, "I appreciate all the support from UF, coach Donovan and my teammates. I'm looking forward to helping the team any way I can."
Meanwhile, the NCAA released a report on Walker's reinstatement, explaining the 12-game suspension.
According to the NCAA, Walker accepted $270 in benefits and is required to donate the same amount to a charity of his choice.
Walker must also serve 80 hours of community service for "the remaining benefits received."
More to come...
GAINESVILLE -- From the best source to date...
If true, the long nightmare for the 2013 McDonald's All-American would be over.
According to Goodman, Walker will be (officially) eligible to play on Tuesday (Feb. 4) when No. 3 Florida hosts Missouri in a nationally televised showcase (9 p.m., ESPN).
The university has yet to confirm Goodman's report or issue any sort of statement.
First things first, Florida jumped to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, its highest ranking since last February.
UF (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) leapfrogged unbeaten Wichita State and is no longer flying under the radar riding its 11-game winning streak.
Last season, No. 2 Florida was throttled on the road at Arkansas, and coach Billy Donovan acknowledged uncertainty with how this year’s team would respond to its newfound hype.
The Gators travel to Starkville to play Mississippi State on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“You always want to go into every game on edge and understanding that in any competitive situation, anything can happen. Hopefully, our guys will respond to that,” Donovan said. “It really doesn’t make a difference about anything that’s happened in the past."
A week after being held scoreless at Auburn, sophomore swingman Michael Frazier II was named the SEC’s player of the week following a pair of shining performances in wins over Alabama and Tennessee.
UF’s guard -- one of the premier shooters in the country -- scored 35 points while connecting on eight treys (8-for-19) in the two games.
Frazier also chipped in five assists and six rebounds and called the honor “great,” adding, “Just shows how hard work pays off.”
For the season, the sophomore is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting 46 percent from behind the arc.
#FREESKYWALKER HAPPENING SOON?
Just last week, Donovan said he was done talking about freshman forward Chris Walker, who remains ineligible awaiting NCAA clearance.
Not so fast.
With a report suggesting the NCAA could clear Walker sometime this week, Donovan addressed the McDonald’s All-American’s status and again tempered expectations.
Donovan said Walker would definitely play if/when eligible, later espousing his lengthy concern for fans’ prospects for the 6-foot-10 forward whenever Walker does see the court.
“My biggest fear for Chris is you have a highly exposed player and sometimes when a guy isn’t playing the ‘legend of Chris Walker’ grows greater than who he really is,” Donovan explained. “You know, it was the same thing with [Dorian Finney-Smith] last year. He’s sitting out and everyone is talking about this guy like he’s Magic Johnson. And Chris Walker now is, ‘Oh my, this guy is going to end up being Kevin Garnett,’ and he’s not that. And I think whenever he gets able to play if that’s their expectation of Chris Walker they’re going to be very, very disappointed because he’s not that. And my biggest fear for him is there is a level of anticipation and excitement of whenever he gets cleared to play, but I hope there is at least a level of understanding in terms of how much he’s missed in terms of coming in to where he’s coming in, and if anybody is expecting him to be savior it would really be unfair. He’s got a lot of growing to do. He’s got a lot of physical growing, mental growing, he’s got to understand the college game a lot more. There’s so much that’s in front of him to get better at and I just hope people will not look at it and say, ‘wow. I was expecting something different.’”
According to Donovan, Walker has maintained a positive attitude during the whole ordeal and has gained 10 pounds, improving his strength and conditioning over the past six weeks.
HARRIS MAKING PROGRESS
Suspended center Damontre Harris is slowly working his way back into Donovan’s good graces, but Florida’s coach confirmed the former South Carolina transfer has no chance to play this season.
“I think it would completely devalue what our team values are here in terms of what we’re trying to do each and every day,” Donovan said. “He had every opportunity back in November to do those things and he elected not to. You know I said, ‘we’re parting ways, he’s going to move on.’ Then obviously he reached out. But you have too many guys like Patric Young and [Will] Yeguete and [Casey] Prather and those guys that have been committed for years and really working to do the right things. For him to all of sudden just get injected back in there because he may help our team, I mean I think we’ve done fine without him. He’ll have to work to get better and improve but we’re not going to play him this year.”
Harris was suspended indefinitely to start the 2013-14 season and was eventually kicked off the team in late December. But over the holidays, the redshirt junior had a change of heart and pleaded with Donovan for an opportunity to rejoin the team.
Although Harris was granted his request, it came with major restrictions and expectations including never playing a game this season or sitting courtside on the bench.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 6 Florida entered Saturday’s showdown against Tennessee red-hot, winners of nine straight games including back-to-back road victories in Southeastern Conference play.
And yet, coach Billy Donovan was frustrated, believing his Gators were “winning the battles but losing the war.”
Following consecutive lackluster performances -- especially defensively -- at Auburn and Alabama, Donovan implored his team to play desperate.
“It’s a gift,” Donovan said. “A gift.”
Florida (17-2, 6-0 SEC) curb-stomped its recent Achilles heel, dominating Tennessee 67-41 for its 26th straight victory inside the O’Connell Center.
Saturday’s good ole fashion whippin’ was punctuated by alley-oop dunks, fastbreak layups and Michael Frazier 3-pointers, as the Gators avenged a three-game skid against the Volunteers.
But Florida’s win -- in Donovan’s 600th career game -- was ignited by a relentlessly suffocating -- and desperate -- defense.
“Coach [Donovan] had a reoccurring theme of being desperate -- desperate as if this was the national championship game,” senior center Patric Young said. “Every possession is the championship possession. We were locked in and focused on whatever it took to win. When you can hold Jordan McRae to five points and he gets frustrated, your team did something right. I think we did something right tonight."
The Gators -- led by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin -- defended possessed and feasted on the Volunteers’ inability to shoot, pass or dribble.
“We had a chip on our shoulder,” Young said. “They kicked our butts the last three times [we played them].
Said UT coach Cuonzo Martin: "Florida did a great job defending. Really. They turned us over, sped us up with the press. … We just couldn't make shots.”
Florida held Tennessee (12-7, 3-3 SEC) to a season-low 41 points -- 34 points below its season average, pressing Young to say afterwards, “I can't see an offense we can’t stop.”
The Volunteers were an abysmal 1-of-19 from 3-point range and committed 13 turnovers.
McRae, who averages 19.1 points per game, scored his lowest out-put of the season (five points), finishing with a stat-line (1-of-15, 1-for-6 from 3-point range, zero assists or steals) that would scare even the most fervent American Horror Story fans.
“I thought most all his shots were challenged,” Donovan said. “We made it really difficult.”
But before Florida wiped out UT, Saturday’s first half was a grind-it-out game.
Despite an 11-2 run -- which included the first of two highlight jams by Young -- Florida led just 26-19 at halftime as it was held scoreless for more than three minutes to end the period.
But an increase in intensity, coupled with an electric crowd and improved shot-making turned the back-and-forth affair into a rout.
“To be down seven at the half -- shooting like 20 percent -- we felt pretty good about ourselves,” UT senior center Jeronne Maymon said. “But we came out and they turned it up another notch and we kind of stayed where we were.”
The Gators opened the second half on a 21-5 run and later smothered the Vols into a five-minute scoreless drought. Junior center Jarnell Stokes (16 points, 10 rebounds) was UT’s lone bright spot, as the rest of the team combined to shoot an astonishing 19.1 percent.
Frazier paced the Gators with 17 points, also assisting on both of Young’s dunks including a lob for a ridiculous one-handed jam surely to be seen on SportsCenter.
THIS & THAT
Casey Prather topped double-figures (12 points) for the 17th straight game, while Wilbekin and Young added 13 and 10 points, respectively. ... UF was out-rebounded 40-35, including 16-7 on the offensive glass. ... Florida shot 51 percent in the second half.
"We'll see. I don't know if ESPN likes putting the Gators in the Top 10 all that much."
-- Young, on if his dunk would be featured on SportsCenter.
GAINESVILLE -- Fun fact: Billy Donovan has never beaten his coaching mentor Rick Pitino, but No. 6 Florida’s head coach also sports an unblemished record against his former protégé, Alabama coach Anthony Grant.
The Gators and Crimson Tide tangle tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Donovan is 6-0 all-time against his close friend and former head assistant, who spent 12 years (1994-2006) under Donovan at both Marshall and Florida.
Florida's coach acknowledged his uneasiness squaring off against close friends, saying, "I don't think anybody likes it, I don't like it."
Adding, "I think any time you compete against friends or somebody close to you that’s always difficult."
Grant, 95-61 in five seasons in Tuscaloosa, is under a bit of fire this year following a 8-9 start (2-2 SEC) -- this despite playing the nation's toughest schedule.
Alabama has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance under Grant, but Donovan staunchly defended his former assistant's resume with the Tide.
"I think he has done a really good job. I think if you go back, I think we played them here a couple years ago for an SEC championship game and they had a 12-4 record and an unbelievable year in the league," Donovan said. "They've been right there at the NCAA tournament the last couple of years. ... They've played the most difficult schedule of anybody in our league based on computer rankings and what other teams have done, so I don't think their record, per say, is any indication of what kind of team they are when you talk about playing at UCLA, playing at Duke, playing Wichita State, playing Xavier, playing some of the teams they've played against and it's been really challenging.
"I think Anthony has done an amazing job in a lot of respects. I will say when you do have some unexpected departure as he had from last year's team to this year's team, certainly there's some different guys and people that have to step up into different roles. But he's got a really, really good core group of young guys that will continue to get better. [Shannon] Hale, who's a freshman in the frontcourt, is going to be a great player in this league. They've got [Nick] Jacobs in the frontcourt who will be back. They've got a lot of different pieces right now, but certainly losing the one kid who transferred to NC State and then another kid who got in trouble there, those were two very, very good players, so sometimes it's hard to overcome those things. But I think Anthony, leading up to this year, really has done a terrific job, but I also think too, and we understand this as a conference and coaching, you start scheduling like that your non-conference record going into league play can look a whole lot different but maybe not tell the whole story."
GAINESVILLE -- Billy Donovan is done taking questions concerning Chris Walker's eligibly.
Florida's 6-foot-10 freshman forward, who enrolled at the school on Dec. 14 but has yet to play for the No. 6 Gators, remains in limbo awaiting a decision by the NCAA.
On Monday, a report by an Orlando TV station stated that Walker -- a five-star prospect from Holmes County High and 2013 McDonald's All-American -- would be cleared for Saturday's home game against Tennessee. However, the university immediately denied the report, as did the NCAA (per The Gainesville Sun).
Tuesday, Donovan, clearly frustrated by the NCAA's foot-dragging and the relentless questions regarding the subject, addressed Walker's issue for the final time, saying, "As it relates to Chris, just listen to us and our school. I’m not going to address it anymore. Certainly we’re hopeful he gets back soon, but there’s been no indication that there’s any truth to that at all."
Donovan continued to refute the report, adding, "Whenever [Chris] gets cleared -- and certainly we all hope it’s soon, believe me -- I’m not going to throw a guy in a game and have him pop up and you guys not be aware of it. The minute he gets eligible, cleared and he’s able to play, I’ll let you know. Anything else that’s out there about that is not true.”
According to various reports, Walker allegedly received improper benefits from former AAU coach Matt Ramker, but Donovan wouldn't address any specific issue delaying Walker's clearance.
"I don’t know all the details because it doesn’t involve our institution. I’m just focusing on our team, the guys that are here right now and letting our administration handle it," Donovan said. "I have not been privy to any conversations between the NCAA, our school, Chris or any of those other things. The only thing I’ve been trying to do with Chris is each and every day trying to help him get better as a player, provide the resources he needs academically, try to work with him on the court to get better.
"In terms of all the details and hangs up, I don’t know all those details because when there’s something going on like this, there’s ethical conduct forms that are signed. That stuff has to be kept confidential, be kept between Chris and the NCAA, kept between our administration and the NCAA. I’m not involved in any of those conversations. I trust our administration and what they’re doing. Hopefully it will be resolved in a timely fashion."
GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp discussed a number of recruiting topics last week, including a brief breakdown of Florida’s nine early enrollees.
UF’s coach -- on a sizzling streak flipping prospects as UF looks to complete its highly-ranked 2014 class -- offered his thoughts on eight of UF’s newest freshmen.
DL Taven Bryan (6-5, 250) ***
“From Casper, Wyoming, he is broad-shouldered, looks great. Excited to get him on campus. Did a fantastic job at our summer camps this past year. … He is a guy that was very athletic in the workouts here. He showed great athleticism, for a guy that’s 6-5, 6-5 ½, 265 pounds to run like he runs. There’s a tremendous upside and there’s multiple positions he probably could play. He’s still young for his age who knows where his body’s gonna grow. But you always think size and speed when you have the athleticism. Great work ethic, great toughness, and a guy that I’m really pleased to have as a part of the program. I think he’s got tremendous upside as a player.”
DB Duke Dawson (5-11, 195) ****
“From Dixie County, over in Cross City, a guy that we feel like had a great senior season and a guy who continued to impress and improve.”
TE Deandre Goolsby (6-4, 225) ***
“We need some help at the tight end position. He’s a guy that’s going to come in here and be here and certainly get his opportunities.”
QB Will Grier (6-2, 177) ****
“[He has] the ability to learn, athleticism. Obviously you look at accuracy as a thrower, being able to throw the ball into tight spots. He’s shown the ability to do that. We had him in camp multiple times. He showed tremendous leadership ability here while he was on campus positively affecting guys around him. The athleticism and accuracy, we feel like is, there.”
OL Kavaris Harkless (6-5, 270) ***
“Had a little change of heart there at the end where he was going to go to school. We’re fortunate to been recruiting him throughout the fall of his senior year. Had a great senior year. Had a great state championship from Trinity Christian.”
RB Brandon Powell (5-9, 167) ****
“[He] was a running back we’ve been on and had an opportunity there to get him there [after he flipped from Miami].”
OL Drew Sarvary (6-7, 310) ***
“He is a junior college offensive lineman from Tyler, originally from Tallahassee. He finished his senior year at North Florida Christian. [He’s] a guy that had been on our radar at the time. We we’re not going to take a junior college lineman, and then we had some attrition there at the end of the season and felt like we needed a more mature guy to step up up front and go through the spring with us.”
DB Jalen Tabor (6-1, 186) *****
“He was a corner we added late there [afrer flipping from Arizona]. A 6-1 corner that’s got a lot of length and athleticism on the top, and he can finish some plays.”
Muschamp also mentioned four-star OL Nolan Kelleher (6-6, 285) but did not offer any added thoughts on the South Carolina native.
(All rankings according to Rivals.com)
On current 2014 class…
“I feel like considering we didn’t have a great season, I feel very comfortable where we are recruiting wise.”
On Florida’s sales pitch to offensive recruits…
“Help us improve. I think a great opportunity to walk into a great situation to improve, play in an exciting offense. This is still the University of Florida. It’s a great education. We’ll compete and play for championships. That hasn’t changed. Not in one year, that hasn’t.”
On flipping so many recent prospects…
“You stay on guys and try to make valid points you’ve made throughout the entire recruiting process all the way through. Some guys, again, recruiting is happening so early sometimes maybe they don’t have all the information and they make a decision before they’re ready. For whatever reason, that’s kind of the way it’s fallen out.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers -- a 34-year coaching veteran -- has a bio that reads a lot like a presidential candidate's tour schedule.
The 57-year-old career assistant has coached at Southern California, Louisville, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, Texas A&M, The University of the South and the Atlanta Falcons, but his long journey has finally brought him to the Sunshine State and a job he's eyed his whole career.
“There are jobs out there when you start out in coaching and look at and think this is where I’d love to be someday," Summers said. "Florida has always been that for me. I grew up in Kentucky, grew up in SEC country and have always looked at Florida from the outside wishing I could be on the correct sideline. I’ve been in this stadium several times on the wrong sideline and I’m very thankful to be coming out of this locker room and be a part of this program. The reputation of this program is strong. I've been doing it long enough to know that at every program has ebbs and flows to it, but this foundation and the reputation of this program will always been strong. The things that I've seen in a short time that I've been here makes me encouraged that we're going to get right back to that point."
Summers came to Florida despite the tumultuous landscape surrounding the program -- especially the offense's consistent failures -- and is tasked with turning around a porous offensive line that allowed a conference-high 66 sacks the past two seasons.
Florida also struggled to run the ball last season, averaging just 3.63 yards per carry.
But Summers -- a well-regarded teacher and tactician -- insists he's unconcerned about the offensive line's past failures and only wants his players to eye the future.
"I've been fortunate to have been doing this long enough that I might be able to call it a career here in another couple of years, so hopefully the things that I bring to the table will make a difference," he said. "How quickly that happens? We'll just have to wait and see, but we're going to stay hard at it. The one thing that I know is that the players I've met on this football team are hungry to be successful. And they believe in Coach Muschamp. They believe in this program. And all of those feelings have come through to me just in the short time that I've been here. I'm encouraged that when we start into the offseason program that they've got that hunger that's burning to get themselves back to where they want to be."
Florida's newest offensive line coach -- hired Jan. 6 from USC -- refused to discuss specific personnel while still evaluating tape and meeting the players, but Summers was adamant the line would be "the foundation for our football team."
"They ought to be the example of how we want to play, the example of how we want to finish, the example of how to do things the right way. So that's the standard of excellence that's going to be set for them to rise up to. I think the older I get the less tolerant I am. I don't lower my standards to get to them. They have to come up to the standards that I set, and those standards are going to be real high."
Summers spoke extensively about building relationships with his players -- something he highlighted as critical to a team’s success.
He's excited about the latest -- and possibly final -- challenge of his career.
"Coach [Kurt] Roper has come in, and he has an energy and a passion with what he does. We’ve been able to cross paths in the last seven or eight years in different places. We even go back further than that. His energy, Coach [Joker] Phillips’ experience, all of us coming together, I feel so good about this offensive staff right now and all of us being able to get in there and lock arms and present a united front to the offensive players on this team," Summers said. "They’re going to know that they’ve been coached and they’re going to be coached by a group of guys that really cares about them, cares about the University of Florida.”
GAINESVILLE -- Gators coach Will Muschamp struggled to win football games last year, but his proficiency to flip star recruits has dominated the headlines since the calendar changed to 2014.
Florida's flipapalooza continued Wednesday, when four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley switched his commitment from Penn State to UF.
Holley's flip has been as been rumored ever since former PSU head coach Bill O'Brien departed for the Houston Texans.
According to Rivals.com -- who first broke Holley's change of heart -- the Brooklyn, New York native waited on any final decision until the status of former PSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson was resolved.
Johnson was not retained by new Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin and is now a part of Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State.
Holley, a 6-foot-4, 299 pound Rivals100 prospect, is just the latest coup on the recruiting trail for Florida, including flipping the commitments of five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, four-star tailback Brandon Powell and four-star defensive lineman Gerald Willis III.
The Under Armour All-American is Florida's No. 21 commitment for its 2014 recruiting class.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 7 Florida dismantled Georgia in a laugher Tuesday night, dominating a rattled Bulldogs team 72-50 en route to a school-record 25th consecutive victory inside the O'Connell Center.
Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier scored a career-high 21 points, as Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC) drilled a season-high 11 3-pointers -- including six-straight during a shooting barrage in the second half.
"We did a really good job tonight -- to our guys' credit -- not baiting and taking the first three," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "We moved the ball. When it hit the paint, it came back out and we shot it. Those are the threes you want to shoot."
Frazier, who struggled early (just 1-of-8 from downtown) and was actually pressed by teammates and coaches to shoot more, nailed four treys in three minutes as UF extended its lead to a game-high 31 points with three minutes remaining in the second half.
"[Donovan] sparked me," Frazier said. "He told us sometimes he has more confidence than we do un ourselves. Once he said that I just kept shooting."
Georgia (8-7, 2-1 SEC) actually entered the meeting undefeated in conference play and briefly led 2-0 in the game's opening minute, but the Bulldogs never held a lead the rest of the night.
UGA's recent run of surprising play was quite short-lived, as Florida -- playing without leading scorer Casey Prather (knee bruise) -- jumped out to a 36-16 halftime lead thanks to 17 points off 12 UGA turnovers.
The Bulldogs scored a season-low 16 first-half points.
Florida -- No. 16 nationally in defensive efficiency -- suffocated Georgia with a blitzing full-court press and a constantly changing two-man trap.
The Gators exploded for a 26-4 run -- including 11-0 and 10-0 spurts -- to cruise towards its eighth-straight victory.
UGA, clearly rattled by UF's relentless pressure, self-combusted facing UF's tenacious press coupled with its raucous crowd.
"We did a really good job with our press," Donovan said. "I was happy with the way we played."
Georgia point guard Charles Mann, the reining SEC Player of the Week, had a disastrous performance, as Scottie Wilbekin & Co. harassed the sophomore guard into five turnovers -- all in the first half. Mann finished the evening with just two assists and eight points.
"We lost our poise," Georgia forward Marcus Thornton said. "Once you get behind the eight-ball in a place like Florida, they will crush you quickly. The game was decided right there in the first half."
Per usual, Florida was forced to overcome a short second-half lull, but Georgia never cut the deficit under 14.
"It's really hard to get guys to try to sustain that intensity for 40 minutes," Donovan said. "We had a spurt there in the second half where we weren't great, but then I thought we exploded late. With about 10 minutes to go in the game we really exploded offensively and got some stops."
Seniors Will Yeguete (12 points, six rebounds) and Patric Young (10 points, nine rebounds) -- on Patric Young Beard Night -- chipped in solid performances, while sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points, five rebounds, three assists) continued his recent consistent play.
THIS & THAT
Several students wore homemade "FREE CHRIS WALKER" t-shirts, as the freshman forward remains in limbo waiting for the NCAA's ruling on eligibly.
Florida's Rowdy Reptiles continuously chanted the slogan throughout the evening. … Former Gators Chris Richard (2003-07) and Erik Murphy (2009-13) were in attendance. … Florida's backcourt -- Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill -- combined for 10 assists (five each), four steals and zero turnovers. … The Gators and Bulldogs finished with identical rebounding numbers: 23 total, 11 offensive.
VIDEO: Donovan talks UF's defensive effort and getting his senior-laden team to buy into his scheme
GAINESVILLE -- Outsiders -- especially much of the media -- see the current state of Florida’s football program as a cesspool of turmoil, risk and unmitigated stubbornness.
Kurt Roper sees it differently.
He sees opportunity.
Florida’s newest offensive coordinator, officially introduced Monday, called UF “a special place” and refused to shy away from the lofty expectations and potential do-or-die scenario of 2014.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for my career,” Roper said, who confirmed he will install an up-tempo scheme with lots of spread principles.
“Leaving Duke was never easy. I’m a guy that hasn’t moved much in this profession. I’ve been fortunate. It’s not easy. My brother works on that staff. I had to leave him. And I got two kids that were growing up with his two kids. So none of those decisions are easy. But I think it goes to show why this is such a right decision, for me to walk away from that situation is I think this is a great opportunity.”
A longtime Lieutenant of Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, Roper said he came to Gainesville because “Florida is one of the obvious mainstays of college football,” and “it’s a chance to compete for championships.”
Roper’s affable moxie and Southern drawl seem straight out of Mayberry, but the 18-year assistant is hardly in store for any wholesome fun in Gainesville this offseason.
The quarterbacks guru and well-regarded playcaller -- hired on Dec. 26 -- is tasked with transforming UF’s dumpster fire attack into an explosive offense -- one that’s finished in the bottom-20 nationally (No. 113, No. 103, No. 105) for three consecutive seasons and has started five different quarterbacks in the past three years.
Roper inherits an attack devoid of direction, development and depth. Late in Florida’s 4-8 season -- its first losing campaign in 34 years -- coach Will Muschamp called the offense’s struggles “infectious” and now the unit’s improvement (however quantified in 2014) likely holds the fate to Muschamp’s future with the Gators.
“The expectations are obviously high, but that's a good thing,” Roper acknowledged. “That's why you end up with good football players here because they want to come to a place where winning has happened and winning will happen again. … I think every coach understands winning is the bottom line in this profession, no matter where you go.”
Roper further scoffed at any one-and-done urgency, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any season not thinking we couldn’t win. All the tools are going to be in place for us to go and win football games. And we’ll learn more about the players that we have in place here. But obviously, there’s guys that can catch the football, run the football, throw the football, and we’ve got to figure out the best way to structure it to put those guys in place to do that.”
Muschamp, who hired his third offensive coordinator in four seasons, said he “had a little more time” to research his latest hire, honing in on Roper following a detailed search.
“We needed to be more tempo. We needed to create more snaps. We needed to create more space plays,” Muschamp said. “I formed about four or five candidates that I felt had serious interest in the job and Kurt Roper's name kept coming up.”
While Muschamp has seemingly embraced a different offensive philosophy, Florida’s coach continued to preach “balance” and again denied the assertion he’s handcuffed his two former coordinators (Brent Pease, Charlie Weis).
“I have called that many plays since I’ve been at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said, making a zero with his hand.
“[Kurt] will have the autonomy to run the offense and stay balanced.”
And yet, Roper never mentioned the word balance during his 20-minute session with the media.
His philosophy is much simpler and less measured: score points.
“Our whole philosophy on offense is points per game,” he explained. “It's not yards. It's not going up and down the field. It's how many points we can get. Hopefully we're a PPG team. … If you can play the game with some tempo and speed and you can play it in space, you can create as many 1-on-1 tackle opportunities as you can.”
Points over platitudes -- for the January win, at least.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp formally introduced three new assistant coaches Monday, but he also updated UF’s extensive injury report and hinted at a blank-slate approach to spring practice.
The Gators -- decimated by 11 season-ending injuries during their dismal 4-8 campaign -- will enter spring camp (tentatively starting March 19) with their former starting quarterback healthy but remain shorthanded elsewhere.
Junior signal caller Jeff Driskel, who broke his leg against Tennessee last September, should be ready for spring practice, according to Muschamp.
“His rehab is coming along very well,” UF’s coach said.
The Gators pushed back camp roughly one week in order to give Driskel the most time to heal.
The prognosis was not so good for junior tailback Matt Jones, who sustained a complete radial tear in his left meniscus (Oct. 12) and will miss spring practice following a second procedure expected to take place in about a month.
Muschamp said Jones’ initial surgery repaired “60 percent of the meniscus” and is hopeful the tailback will be ready for the start of preseason camp in August.
“He had a radial tear, which basically splits the meniscus in half,” Muschamp explained. “We’re going to go back and build the quad back and then we’re going to come back in three or four weeks to have a scope to repair the remaining 40 percent. Our orthopedics feel very confident that they’re going to be able to do so. … We’re very optimistic about the meniscus being fine.”
Also sidelined for spring practice are linebackers Matt Rolin (torn ACL) and Alex Anzalone (torn labrum), as well as special teams ace Jeremi Powell (torn ACL). Wideout/kick returner Andre Debose (torn ACL) is expected to participate in all non-contact drills, while offensive tackle Tyler Moore (fractured elbow) will have an X-ray in a couple weeks to determine his status for the 15 practices. Finally, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Octavius Jackson had offseason shoulder surgery to repair “a chronic issue,” and is questionable for camp.
Meanwhile coming off the school’s first losing season in 34 years, change is afoot and no one is guaranteed a starting job, according to Muschamp.
Florida’s coach refused to tab Driskel as UF’s No. 1 quarterback for 2014, saying, “Every job is open. When you go 4-8, it’s all open.”
“You are what your record is,” Muschamp continued. “I’m a 4-8 coach, and we’ve got a 4-8 ball club. We need to work hard to get better and improve in every facet.”
NINE NEW FACES ON CAMPUS
UF officially announced nine early enrollees including five-star defensive back Jalen Tabor. The rest of the group includes TE DeAndre Goolsby, QB Will Grier, OL Kavaris Harkless, OL Nolan Kelleher, OL Drew Sarvary, RB Brandon Powell, DL Taven Bryan and DB Duke Dawson.
JOKER AN OC CANDIDATE?
As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips is one of three finalists for Texas’ offensive coordinator position.
On Monday, UF’s offensive line coach Mike Summers -- who actually recruited Phillips to Kentucky in 1981 -- and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper both spoke glowingly of Phillips and acknowledged their strong ties to the assistant was a factor in their decision to come to Florida.
Musuchamp said he does not anticipate any more changes on his coaching staff.
“As far as an injury update, I’m not going go through everybody, but what I’m going to do is if I don’t say anything about them, that means they’re a full go for spring. And if I hit on guys — there’s different guys, and I’ve got multiple dates and we could be here all day if you want me to go through it.”
Florida’s 2014 class continues to have tons of movement, as the last week continued a whirlwind of upheavel (both good and bad) with two new commitments and a pair of (not-so-surprising) decommitments.
In the last prospect update, I wrote, “I'm sure it will be a crazy month. Stay tuned.”
I only shortchanged the chaos by three weeks.
The bad news first.
On Friday, five-star wideout Ermon Lane (Homestead) officially announced his decommitment from UF (via Twitter), following in the footsteps of his South Florida buddy, five-star tailback Dalvin Cook.
Lane -- like Cook -- Gator chomped for cameras throughout the week during the Under Armour All-American practices, but the talented receiver was actually considered a Florida State lean after word leaked he planned on taking an official visit to FSU in late January.
The Gators also lost four-star cornerback Chris Lammons (Plantation High), who decommited Thursday, but not without a mega (pleasant) surprise earlier in the day.
Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, an early enrollee and the No. 24 ranked player nationally, flipped his commitment from Arizona to Florida. According to reports, Tabor is set to start classes in Gainesville on Monday.
Powell, another early enrollee, is currently UF's lone running back pledge.
Florida also inched closer to landing defensive tackle Thomas Holley. The four-star prospect, formally a longtime Penn State commit, reopened his recruitment following former PSU head coach Bill O’Brien’s departure to the NFL. Now, the Gators are the presumed favorites to land the Rivals100 defensive lineman.
Finally, 2015 cornerback Deontai Williams (Trinity Christian Academy) committed to Florida in a school ceremony Thursday. Williams is currently UF’s sole pledge for its 2015 class.
Y’all get all that?
In all, the early returns of 2014 have been rather profitable for UF. Since losing Cook on New Years Eve, the Gators have snagged the commitments of Tabor, Powell, Gerald Willis III and Kavaris Harkless, with more likely to come.
Whiffing on Cook and Lane definitely hurt Florida (a lot), but the Gators no longer appear destined for a sputtering finish.
As always, stay tuned.
Kerfuffle complete: UF's 2014 class remains at 20 commitments.
M L King (PA)
Edna Karr (LA)
Davidson Day (NC)
Tyler J.C. (TX)
Friendship Academy (DC)
UF’s early enrollees: Powell, Tabor, Sarvary, Bryan, Dawson, Goolsby, Grier, Kelleher and Harkless
GAINESVILLE -- Senior forward Casey Prather, No. 10 Florida's leading scorer and one of the most improved players in the country, will miss Saturday's game at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) with a bruised knee.
Prather, averaging 17.1 points per game while shooting a league-high 63 percent from the field, banged his knee during UF's win over South Carolina on Wednesday and missed the last two days of practice with significant swelling.
Florida feared potential structural damage to its star forward, but an MRI revealed only swelling.
"We actually thought maybe there had been some cartilage tear," coach Billy Donovan said Friday. "But his knee structure, all that stuff is fine but he is out tomorrow."
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who sprained his right ankle late against USC, also missed practice this week but should play against the Razorbacks.
Donovan labeled Wilbekin's status as "questionable," before adding, "I would say he'll probably give it some kind of try. We'll see what we can get out of him, but I really don't know at this time."
Wilbekin is not expected to start.
Meanwhile, senior center Patric Young is battling knee tendinitis, but said, "When the buzzer sounds I think I'll be ready to go."
Donovan wasn't so sure, calling Young "questionable" for Saturday's road game.
"He did not practice today, so I mean he's cleared to play but I don't know how much we'll actually be able to get out of him."
With Prather out and Wilbekin and Young hobbled, Florida's recently revived depth will be tested again.
The Gators will square off against a Razorbacks team dominant at home -- winners of 25-straight at Bud Walton Arena -- with a new-look lineup, as freshman point guard Kasey Hill, sophomore swingman DeVon Walker and sophomore forward Dorian-Finney Smith possibly join the starting five.
NOTE: Freshman forward Chris Walker, who continues to wait for clearance by the NCAA, was seen leaving the practice facility Friday but his status was not updated.
GAINESVILLE -- Redshirt junior center Damontre Harris, dismissed from the No. 10 Florida men's basketball team in late December, has been granted a second chance.
Following Wednesday's 74-58 win over South Carolina, Gators coach Billy Donovan abruptly announced at the end of his postgame press conference that Harris, a 6-foot-10 transfer from USC, has re-enrolled at Florida in hopes of working his way back onto the team.
Donovan said Harris, who has yet to play a single game at Florida, contacted him via text message several times during the holidays, "realizing he'd made a big mistake."
"He wants to be here," Donovan said.
Harris was suspended indefinitely Nov. 1 for undisclosed violation(s) of team rules. On Dec. 21, the center was officially dismissed from the team and was contacted by various schools as a potential transfer prospect.
But the center had a change of heart and Donovan said Harris could resume practicing with the team sometime this spring.
Florida's coach was adamant Harris will not play at all this season.
"He wants to work his way back," Donovan said. "It's going to be similar to the Scottie Wilbekin situation. He has to meet lots of terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don't know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story."
GAINESVILLE -- No. 10 Florida throttled South Carolina 74-58 Wednesday night in its Southeastern Conference opener, but UF's record-trying 24th straight victory at home was overshadowed by injury as senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin exited the game late with a right ankle sprain.
Wilbekin, recently challenged by coach Billy Donovan to be more efficient offensively, scored a game-high 17 points (on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range) with three assists and zero turnovers before landing awkwardly on a drive with 2:39 remaining in the second half. Florida's senior was immediately assisted to the locker room by head trainer Duke Werner, souring a bounce-back performance by the point guard.
Wilbekin, visibly in pain, rolled the same ankle he hurt late in UF's buzzer-beating loss to Connecticut on Dec. 2.
After the game, Donovan called the senior "questionable" for Saturday's tilt at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2) and explained that he had a substitution for Wilbekin waiting at the scorer's table as the injury occurred.
The Gators (12-2), winners of five straight over the Gamecocks (7-7), tied their homecourt winning streak set during UF's first title run in 2006-07. Florida's last lost in the O'Dome was in 2012 to eventual national champion Kentucky to close out the regular season.
UF's performance Wednesday night was hardly dazzling, but thanks to an early suffocating defense (forcing 15 first half turnovers) and a transition attack (10 fast break points), the Gators jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the game's first six minutes. USC failed to score a field goal until the 10:32 mark in the first half, but the Gators -- a Jekyll and Hyde team all year -- had a lengthy lull of mediocre play on both ends of the court, allowing a undermanned USC team to hang around until early in the second half.
Following Gamecocks guard Desmond Ringer's and-one layup to cut USC's deficit to eight (43-35), Florida regrouped with a pair of binge scoring runs -- 9-2, 12-0 -- to turn the two teams' first league game into a rout.
Senior center Patric Young, who chipped in 13 points (6-for-7 from the floor) and seven rebounds, acknowledged after the game the Gators currently "lack a killer instinct" and relax too often against teams they're "better than on paper."
Donovan, admittedly "irritated" by the reoccurring "theme" of UF's tendency to allow other teams back into games, said, "We have a very, very hard time sustaining intensity."
At least on Wednesday night -- against an SEC bottom-feeder -- Florida's up-and-down effort was enough.
THIS & THAT
UF led by as many as 23 points in the second half. … Casey Prather submitted another ho-hum performance, scoring 13 points without missing a shot from the field (5-of-5). … USC opened the second half shooting 7-of-10 after making just six field goals the entire first half. … UF was out-rebounded (28-25) for just the fourth time all season. … The Gators shot a paltry 26 percent from the 3-point line (5-of-19), as sophomore sharpshooter Michael Frazier struggled to find his touch (just 2-for-7 from downtown) all night.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida no longer has any coaching vacancies.
The Gators completed their offensive overhaul, hiring Southern California offensive line coach Mike Summers to the same position, the school announced Monday.
"I'm excited to have Coach Summers join our staff," UF head coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. "He has 34 years of experience, has been an offensive coordinator for 15 years and has coached in the SEC. He has a diverse background and has experience in the NFL. He will be a great addition to our staff."
Summers, 57, definitely brings a wealth of experience, with multiple stops in the SEC including a two-year stint at Kentucky (2010-12) working under former Wildcats head coach and current UF receivers assistant/recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips.
A graduate of UK, Summers was also a pivotal member of Bobby Petrino's staffs at Louisville, Arkansas and the Atlanta Falcons. Florida will serve as Summers' 11th stop in his lengthy coaching career.
"I'm honored to be joining Coach Muschamp and his staff," Summers said. "I have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp, the staff and the support system in place. Having been in the SEC, I have always held the Florida program in high regard and I'm looking forward to getting right to work."
Summers replaces Tim Davis, fired Dec. 1 after Florida’s offensive line surrendered a conference-high 66 sacks in two years despite operating in a run-oriented attack.
GAINESVILLE -- Former No. 1 overall recruit Ronald Powell opted to forgo his final year of eligibility at Florida and will enter the 2014 NFL Draft, the school announced Monday.
"This hasn’t been an easy decision because this is a tough place to walk away from," Powell said in a release. "But really you never walk away from being a Gator. I never thought it would be this hard to make this decision -- most people think it’s easy -- go for the money. It’s hard to leave my brothers behind, but we’ve shared so much more than our time on the field. We’ve lived our lives together and we are truly a family. This place has so many memories that I will carry forever, and I will never forget my coaches, teammates, trainers, strength staff, professors and the entire support staff that helped me during my time here."
(Courtesy Tim Casey | GatorCountry.com)
Powell -- Urban Meyer's premier recruit in UF's lauded 2010 class -- never reached fans' lofty expectations, as the athletic pass rushing linebacker/defensive end struggled with injuries, maturity and consistency during his time at Florida.
The redshirt junior, who tore his ACL twice in 2012 and missed the entire year, was frequently praised by coach Will Muschamp this past season for his improved attitude, leadership and overall development.
“Ronald has informed me that he has made a decision to declare for the NFL Draft,” Muschamp said in the statement. “This hasn’t been an easy decision for him. I talked to him several times over the Holidays, but it was important for him to come back and look me in the eye and tell me what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it. It’s one of the great experiences as a coach to watch young players mature. It’s been well documented the hardships he has had to overcome and he has always kept a positive attitude."
Powell, a tweaner who projects as a stand-up linebacker at the next level, finished the 2013 season with 26 tackles, eight hurries, four sacks and seven tackles for loss as he constantly shifted between linebacker and end.
Powell was close to teammate Dominique Easley, a fellow 2010 hotshot prospect, who did not leave early last season and returned in 2013 only to tear his ACL before the fourth game of the year. With two major surgeries already, a third knee injury could derail Powell’s career and likely influenced his decision to turn pro.
“I want to thank the entire Gator Nation for making a kid from California a part of their family,” Powell said. “It’s hard to put into words what this whole experience has been for me. I’ve had so many opportunities and met so many people. All of them have been supportive and helpful in my time here. Because of that, I’ve had a chance to grow and mature into the man I am today and the man I am going to become in the future. …
"I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve experienced because they have all helped me grow. I will miss running out of the tunnel into The Swamp and all of the tradition and great rivalries. It has been an honor to be a part of Gator history and I will always represent The Gator Nation and bleed Orange and Blue. Thanks again to everyone and much love for The Gator Nation. Once a Gator, Always a Gator! Go Gators!”
GAINESVILLE -- With all the high school showcases, all star games and combines complete, Florida looks to make a final surge on the recruiting circuit one month until National Signing Day.
UF's 2014 class currently stands at 20 commitments -- with several recent additions plus one marquee decommitment.
M L King (PA)
Edna Karr (LA)
St. Augustine (LA)
Davidson Day (NC)
Tyler J.C. (TX)
Four-star tailback Dalvin Cook is (obviously) no longer listed on UF's board, as the electric Miami Central running back flipped to rival Florida State in a bizarrely presented "announcement" on ESPNU last Tuesday evening. Despite Gator chomping for cameras and fans during the Under Armour All-American practices all week, Cook finally decommited after months of rampant speculation.
Cook's flip was a major blow to coach Will Muschamp's class, and the residual effects are likely to be felt for the next month. Cook's decommitment may result in a series of dominos damaging to UF's class. Ermon Lane (WR) and J.C. Jackson (CB/WR), two highly rated prospects close to Cook, are rumored to be a package deal and positioned to follow the playmaking tailback to FSU. While they currently remain pledged to UF, most recruiting experts do not expect either to maintain their verbal commitments.
In lieu of Cook's flip, the Gators immediately turned their attention to Rivals100 tailback Jeff Jones, MVP of the Under Armour showcase. Jones, a Minneapolis native and talented running back, is currently committed to Minnesota but will take an official visit to UF on Jan. 24.
The Under Armour game also delivered a surprise commitment for the Gators, as Florida poached four-star defensive end Gerald Willis III (Edna Karr, New Orleans) from LSU's backyard. The Gators also added another offensive line prospect, flipping three star tackle Kavaris Harkless from Louisville after former head coach Charlie Strong accepted the same position at Texas.
Harkless, an early enrollee from Jacksonville's Trinity Christian, was actually already in Louisville to enroll before hearing the news of Strong's departure. According to Rivals, Harkless turned around and went home and is set to enroll at UF immediately.
Harkless is one of seven early enrollees scheduled to report to campus this week.
As for the rest of Florida's class, its remaining targets include Jones, four-star wideout Isaiah McKenzie, five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson, five-star linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter, four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley and a couple others.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 12 Florida survived a scare against a pesky Atlantic 10 team, sneaking past Richmond 67-58 at the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Gators (11-2) extended their home-winning streak to 23 games -- the third-longest streak in the nation and one victory away from a school-record -- to close out its brutal non-conference slate.
Florida struggled through a sloppy and disinterested first 30 minutes before exploding on a 12-0 run to ultimately seal the win.
Following 12 lead changes -- 10 in a topsy-turvy second half -- the Gators held shifty point guard Cedrick Lindsay (game-high 19 points) and the rest of the Spiders (10-5) scoreless for over a three minute period late, while seniors Patric Young and Casey Prather took over offensively.
Young scored 15 points -- on an efficient 6-of-8 from the field -- and chipped in six rebounds and two assists.
UF's senior center sparked a listless group after receiving a foul call during a contested offensive rebound midway through the second half. Young screamed multiple audible expletives in jubilation, energizing the sleepwalking Gators and a quiet O'Dome.
Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier, who finished with a team-high 18 points, immediately drilled consecutive three-pointers to kickstart UF's rally.
"I didn't think we had any leadership in the first half from our seniors," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "We looked pouty, moody, inconvenienced, not focused. … It got much better in the second half. We battled."
Florida shot a lowly 26 percent from downtown (5-for-19), but Frazier (3-of-7 from the 3-point line) connected on three key second half treys to shift the game's momentum.
"Every time Mike Frazier shoots the ball we think it's going in," Young said.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin labored through an ugly first half -- 1-of-9 shooting, two fouls, just one assist -- before chipping in a solid second period as Florida finally discovered some offensive rhythm.
"I put a lot on Scottie's plate," said Donovan, who challenged Wilbekin in front of the team at halftime for playing too much 1-on-1 ball. "I don't think we're selfish at all," Donovan continued, but "we'd be great on a horse track."
While Florida's peripheral passing vision waxed and waned, the Gators grinded out a win by mauling the Spiders on the glass (44-22 advantage), dominating the paint (38-20 advantage) and controlling the tempo late.
UF capped an impressive non-conference schedule that included wins over Memphis, Kansas, Florida State, Fresno State and Middle Tennessee State.
"We aren't going to see anything in our leage that we haven't see up to this point in time," Donovan said.
THIS & THAT
UF again struggled at the charity stripe, shooting just 53 percent (10-of-19). The Gators allowed the Spiders to hang around by closing the game just 2-for-8 at the line. … Dorian Finney-Smith grabbed 13 rebounds. … Eight different Gators scored at least three points, with four players -- Frazier, Wilbekin, Young and Prather -- in double-digits. … Florida hosts South Carolina on Wednesday to kickoff SEC play.
VIDEOS: Donovan talks UF's win and the team's impressive non-conference record, while Frazier dishes on his back-to-back 3-pointers.
GAINESVILLE -- Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson became Florida's third underclassmen -- and second cornerback -- this offseason to declare for April's NFL Draft, the school announced Friday.
Roberson, an All-SEC standout in 2012, played in just seven games this season, battling knee and ankle injuries and recording just three pass breakups. The Fort Lauderdale native was also suspended for the South Carolina game, but the 6-foot-1, 190-pound cornerback opted to forgo his senior year after receiving a favorable grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.
Despite an enigmatic junior campaign, ESPN's Scouts Inc. tabs Roberson as the fourth-best draft-eligible cornerback and the No. 26 player overall. Although durability issues are a concern, Roberson projects as a late-first to mid-second round pick due to his size, physicality and ball-skills.
“I’m very thankful of everyone at Florida that helped me to get to this point in my career," Roberson said in a release. "From Tony Meacham, my academic adviser, to Jeff Dillman to Coach [Will] Muschamp and the entire coaching staff. It’s been a great experience here and now that it is over I can truly appreciate everything that is in place here for players to be successful and have an opportunity to play at the next level.”
Roberson is the sixth player -- and third defensive back -- to leave early for the NFL under Muschamp since 2011.
“Marcus has informed me that he has made the decision to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL,” Muschamp said in a statement. “Marcus was part of our first recruiting class and it was a pleasure watching him mature and develop both on and off the field during his time here. I look forward to watching him play on Sundays and, like all of our players, I encourage them to return to complete his degree.”
With Roberson and tag-team cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy leaving early for the NFL, Florida is left with just three returning (scholarship) cornerbacks -- Vernon Hargreaves III, Brian Poole and Nick Washington. Senior safety Cody Riggs, formally a corner, could transition back to his old position this spring. Meanwhile, UF currently has four verbal commitments from cornerback prospects in its 2014 class and is among the favorites to land five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson, the nation's No. 6 overall recruit.
GAINESVILLE -- Tim Tebow has found his next football job -- as an analyst for ESPN.
The former Florida Gators star quarterback signed a three-year contract to become a commentator for the SEC Network -- which launches in August 2014 -- the network announced Monday.
The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion will make his ESPN debut during ample pregame coverage of the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 6.
According to ESPN, Tebow's contract will "not preclude him from continuing to pursue playing opportunities in the NFL."
NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoprt added...
“When I was six years old I fell in love with the game of football, and while I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC," Tebow said in a statement released by ESPN.
Tebow, who was cut by the New England Patriots in August and did not play in the league in 2013, will serve a variety of roles for ESPN, but the former "SEC icon" will mainly appear on the new network's SEC Nation -- the conference's version of GameDay (a traveling pregame show) -- alongside host Joe Tessitore and commentator Paul Finebaum.
“Tim is a SEC icon with a national fan base and broad appeal," ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly said in the news release. "He brings a wealth of knowledge about the game, the conference and the passion among SEC fans.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida tabbed Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper as the man to revive UF’s anemic attack Thursday.
Florida’s stagnant offense morphed into a national punching bag this fall, as the Gators stumbled to their worst record -- and first losing season -- since Jimmy Carter was president.
During his introductory teleconference, Roper -- who remains with the Blue Devils through their Chick-Fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M (Dec. 31) -- openly acknowledged he knows very little about Florida’s personnel and has no preconceived notions or predetermined offensive scheme.
But unlike his predecessors, Roper seems intent on evaluating UF’s talent first and then building a blueprint that best suits his players.
While ESPN.com reported the Gators would transition to an “up-tempo spread offense,” Roper laid out a straightforward offensive philosophy not pigeonholed to any set system:
“It's very simple, but it's the truth of the matter. Our whole philosophy is five points: We want to get 11 people on the field. We want to get them lined up. We want to get them set with motion. We want to snap the ball before the playclock runs out, and we want the ball at the end of the play. And those things are what we will coach. Coaching is not plays or formations or this; it's how to make decisions and how to play the game with effort and those types of things. We've got to go in and find out who are the playmakers with the ball and what our players of capable of doing up front and what we're capable of doing at the quarterback position."
Admittedly, the K.I.S.S. philosophy sounds awful familiar, but the idea of tailoring a system that best suits your players is a totally different tune.
GAINESVILLE -- Christmas officially came a day late for Gators fans.
Florida announced the hiring of Duke offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper to the same positions on its staff Thursday -- two days after ESPN.com first reported the news on Christmas Eve.
"I'm excited to have Coach Roper join our staff," UF head coach Will Muschamp said in a news release.
"He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best. The most important thing though, is he has always remained balanced. He has had success calling plays in the SEC and has tutored three NFL quarterbacks. He has had players produce at every offensive position and he is one of the most well-respected coaches in the country."
Roper, an 18-year coaching veteran and the Blue Devils offensive coordinator since 2008, is tasked with resurrecting a Florida offense ranked in the bottom-20 nationally for three consecutive seasons. Known as a quarterbacks guru, Roper is also charged with developing Jeff Driskel and five-star freshman signee Will Grier. Roper will serve as Florida's third offensive coordinator in four seasons under Muschamp.
“The expectations are high,” Roper awknowledged Thursday. “And they should be. They've won a lot of games at Florida and won a lot of championships at Florida.”
Roper will remain with the Blue Devils through Tuesday’s (New Years Eve) Chick-Fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M.
While immediate details of Roper’s contract were not released, The Gainesville Sun reported he will make $600,000 annually.
Muschamp interviewed Roper for nearly seven hours Monday in Gainesville after receiving clearance from Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.
A longtime Lieutenant of Cutcliffe, Roper was named a finalist for the Broyles Coaching Award as the nation’s top assistant this season.
Cutcliffe was very complimentary of Roper, calling him “an intense coach” and “the total package.”
“I’ve known Kurt most of his adult life,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m very appreciative of all of his contributions whether it was at Tennessee, at Ole Miss and certainly here at Duke through the years. It’s been an enjoyable professional relationship and certainly a friendship.”
While not as ballyhooed as other prospective (and rumored) candidates, Roper is a highly regarded assistant recognized as a flexible offensive mind willing to run multiple systems to adjust to personnel.
Roper won’t hit the recruiting trail for UF until he’s settled in Gainesville next week, and admitted he was rather unfamiliar with Florida’s team.
“I know Driskel’s the quarterback and don’t know much beyond that,” he said, chuckling.
In 2013, Duke’s attack ranked No. 69 nationally in total offense (408.1 y/g) and averaged 31.6 points per game. The Blue Devils scored over 20 points 10 times in 2013. Under Brent Pease -- UF’s embattled offensive coordinator fired three weeks ago -- the Gators tallied 20-plus points just 13 times in two seasons.
“The biggest thing is you got to find out the strengths of your quarterback and the strengths of your offensive line,” said Roper on his philosophy. “Once you find those strengths then you can start putting together what you're going to start hanging your hat on offensively. … We want to play fast but we want to play smart and take care of the football.”
Roper has extensive experience in the Southeastern Conference and coached against Muschamp (while at LSU) three times as the playcaller at Ole Miss. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1996-98), first connecting with Cutcliffe.
Roper then followed Cutcliffe to Ole Miss for six seasons, serving as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator where he tutored Eli Manning. After brief stops at Kentucky (quarterbacks coach, 2005) and Tennessee (running backs coach, 2006-07), Roper piloted a Duke offense that produced two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season (2012) and two 3,000-yard passers (Sean Renfree,Thad Lewis).
“Coach Muschamp is really excited about the future [at UF]. He's excited about the talent level that he has there. I think he's excited about the opportunities that Florida has to compete for championships,” Roper said. “I don't have any limitations or any preconceived thoughts going in. I'm going down there to coach to the best of my ability and try to win games and win championships."
GAINESVILLE -- The last time Florida poached an offensive coach from Duke it worked out quite well.
Could it happen again?
********** UPDATE NO. 2 **********
Well about a lengthy wait...
I was told there is unlikely to be an official announcement during the holidays but that "could change."
********** UPDATE **********
While I don't know the validity of others' sources, this much is definitely true: Muschamp knows he must hit a home run with this hire. Patience and prudence are key, as Muschamp's future at Florida rests on the success of UF's next OC. Other factors are in play here too. Many candidates are presumably off the board after receiving raises, extensions or head coaching jobs, while others may not be cleared to interview until after their school's bowl game. Same goes for potential NFL suitors. ...
...According to CoachingSearch.com and Flight Finder, Gators head coach Will Muschamp interviewed Blue Devils offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for the same position Monday.
Duke's attack ranked No. 69 nationally in total offense (408.1 y/g) and Roper was named a finalist for the Broyles Coaching Award as the nation's top assistant.
Roper has been a longtime offensive Lieutenant of Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe. He has extensive experience in the Southeastern Conference, starting his career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1996-98), working as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Ole Miss (1999-04) and serving as Kentucky's quarterbacks coach for a lone season (2005).
GAINESVILLE -- After weeks of innuendo, Damontre Harris was officially dismissed from the Florida basketball team Saturday morning.
The 6-foot-10, 228-pound South Carolina transfer never played a game in a Gators uniform.
Harris, who sat out the 2012-13 season after leaving Columbia, was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
Coach Billy Donovan publicly expressed his disappointment in the troubled center for weeks and just five days ago acknowledged Harris was unlikely to ever play at Florida.
On Saturday morning, Harris’ fate was officially sealed.
“He was never disrespectful as far as his attitude,” Donovan said in a statement. “He was a nice kid and never blamed anybody for what was happening. We tried to help him off the court and help him with some of the challenges he was dealing with, but there was never this reciprocation of wanting to be helped, or wanting to do the things necessary.”
Harris, who was expected to be a rotational frontcourt piece this year, was injured (hamstring) at the start of training camp and his role with the team quickly unraveled. Already suspended in the preseason, the center stopped showing up to the practice facility for treatment and rehab. Last month, Donovan announced Harris never practiced with the team since the season started.
“I think he realizes that a big opportunity for him is now gone,” Donovan told the school website Saturday. “The thing I tried to get across to him, if he has any aspirations of playing professional basketball there is not one team in this country or overseas that is going to tolerate this type of behavior, and I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t hold him accountable for these things.”
Harris, who did complete the fall semester in good academic standing, is permitted to transfer to any school without restrictions.
No. 16 Florida (8-2) faces Fresno State (6-5) today at 4:30 p.m. (Sun Network) in Sunrise at the Orange Bowl Classic.
GAINESVILLE -- The Gator Nation is impatiently wishing for a shiny new offensive coordinator this holiday season, but Christmas is still five days away.
Instead, UF officially announced the hiring of Coleman Hutzler, formally at New Mexico, as its new special teams coordinator -- a position not known to be vacant until late Thursday evening.
Jeff Choate, UF’s outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator in 2013, resigned to “pursue other coaching opportunities" according to a release by the school.
“Coleman is a young coach with a very bright future,” coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. “He has a great work ethic and obviously is very familiar with our special teams’ schemes. It will be a seamless transition for our players.”
Hutzler, just 29, is a familiar face in Gainesville, serving on UF’s staff from 2010-11 as a defensive and special teams assistant alongside current defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.
Durkin and Hutzler, who has been on the Lobos staff since 2012, also worked together at Stanford (2007-2009) under coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I’m excited to be returning to Gainesville and be a part of the Gator family again,” Hutzler said in a news release. “I enjoyed my time there and have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp and the administrative team in place at Florida. I understand the value placed on special teams under Coach Muschamp, and look forward to getting to work.”
Hutzler piloted a strong special teams group in 2013, as New Mexico ranked in the top 25 nationally in net punting (No. 25), punt-return defense (No. 19) and kickoff returns (No. 24). The Lobos also had the country’s only player (sophomore Carlos Wiggins) to return three kickoffs for touchdowns.
UF’s special teams struggled under Choate last season, marred by inconsistencies in the kicking game.
Kyle Christy went from All-American punter to the pine, while the Gators missed 10 field goals -- second most nationally. Although UF’s coverage units were strong, the Gators blocked just a single kick all season after blocking at least four kicks every year since 2010.
Choate, who was scheduled to make $290,000 in the final year of his contract, will move onto his fifth job in 24 months after coming to UF on the strong recommendation by former offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
According to FootballScoop.com, he is reportedly looking for a job at Washington under new Huskies coach Chris Peterson, where Pease recently signed on to coach wide receivers.
Choate worked under Peterson at Boise State from 2006-11.
ANOTHER VACANCY FILLED
Muschamp also announced the hiring of Drew Hughes as Florida’s director of player personnel.
The administrative position has been vacant since Jon Haskins resigned during the 2013 season.
Hughes held the same title at North Carolina State in 2012.
“Drew will be a great asset to our program,” Muschamp said. “He is extremely organized, and based on his experience he has a very good understanding of how we operate and should fit right in.”
Hughes joined NC State one year after serving as Central Florida’s director of player personnel. He also spent five seasons at Alabama (2007-11) working in the recruiting office under Ed Marynowitz, now the assistant director of pro scouting for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work for Coach Muschamp and the University of Florida,” Hughes said. “It will be great to get back to the state of Florida and the SEC – the best conference in the nation. I’m very much looking forward to helping the Florida coaching staff attract student athletes who will be champions both on and off the field.”
GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since George H.W. Bush was President, the Gators will play a non-conference game outside the state of Florida.
UF will kickoff its 2017 football season in primetime against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the school announced Thursday.
The Cowboys Classic is scheduled for Sept. 2.
“You don't get these opportunities very often,”' UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Our schedule has been pretty consistent through the years. We were presented this opportunity and just thought it was something that our fans would embrace, our program would embrace.”
The Big Ten-SEC matchup will be the Gators' first non-conference game outside the state of Florida since losing at Syracuse (38-21) in 1991, but Foley called the marquee non-conference game "the exception, not the rule."
"I think when you are presented with unique opportunities you need to look at it for your fans' sake, for your program's sake,'' he said. "It's something we will not do on a consistent basis because we like playing seven home games. Seven home games are obviously important to our program, important to the city of Gainesville. It will be very much the exception, not the rule, but to sit here and totally close the door on these opportunities just doesn't make sense."
UF and Michigan have met twice -- 2003 Outback Bowl, 2008 Capital One Bowl -- both wins by the Wolverines.
Each school will receive 25,000 tickets for the neutral-site game. According to the Michigan release, Florida will serve as the home team, while the officials will come from the Big 12 conference.
According to David Jones of The Florida Today, the Gators will receive a $6 million payout for participating in the Cowboys Classic.
AT&T Stadium, originally Cowboys Stadium, opened in 2009 and hosted Super Bowl XLV. The $1.2 billion stadium can seat over 100,000 (with expanded standing-room only tickets) and is scheudled to host the 2014 NCAA Men's Final Four and the first college football national championship under the new playoff format in 2015.
“This is a great opportunity to expose the University of Florida nationally, playing one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, I think a tremendous trip for our fans,” Foley said. “We just haven't done much of this, certainly as long as I've been athletic director. I think there are a lot of positives that come out of it.”