February 11, 2016

Bullard, Hargreaves among eight Gators invited to combine

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will have plenty of familiar faces at the 2016 NFL Combine, as eight former players were officially invited Thursday to participate in the event at the end of the month. 

UF’s cadre includes all five juniors who turned pro early, and only Alabama (9), Notre Dame (10), Ohio State (14) and UCLA (9) had more players invited than the Gators.

* DL Jon Bullard (17.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

* CB Vernon Hargreaves III (4 INTs, 4 PBUs, 23 tackles)

* LB Antonio Morrison (103 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

* FS Keanu Neal (96 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT)

* DE Alex McCalister (9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

* TE Jake McGee (41 receptions for 381 yards, 4 TDs)

* WR Demarcus Robinson (48 receptions for 522 yards, 2 TDs)

* RB Kelvin Taylor (1,035 yards, 13 TDs) 

Senior cornerback Brian Poole was notably not invited to participate. Poole did suffer an injury in the East-West Shrine Game in January. 

Hargreaves and Bullard are regarded as potential first-round picks, while Neal is reportedly climbing draft boards already. 

The NFL Combine runs from Feb. 26-29 in Indianapolis.

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February 10, 2016

Florida holds off Ole Miss, sweep the Rebels on the season

GAINESVILLE -- On ’90s night, Florida needed an old-school effort to continue its march toward the NCAA Tournament. 

The Gators (16-8) equaled last season’s win total with a nail-bitting 77-72 win over the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday, overcoming a sloppy offensive performance with a gritty defensive effort and some timely shots late. 

With 1:19 remaining and the shot-clock winding down, enigmatic guard Kasey Hill hit a circus shot off the glass to give UF a three-point lead. After another key defensive stop, freshman guard KeVaughn Allen delivered the dagger with a deep 3 on the very next possession. 

“What a big play that was,” Florida coach Mike White said, who moved to 2-0 against his alma mater this season. 

“What a huge play. We were stifled. Searching. Kasey came up with big play.”

The Gators had five players score in double figures, with senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith carrying load (16 points, 6 rebounds) once again. Allen finished with 15 points and Hill had 10, while UF center John Egbunu chipped in a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Hill had another poor shooting night (just 2 of 7), but the junior tallied a team-high six assists and locked down the SEC’s leading scorer, holding Stefan Moody to 19 points on 11 shots. Hill harassed Moody all game, recording three steals and forcing Ole Miss’ senior guard into eight turnovers. 

Moody, who had scored at least 21 points in every conference game entering the night, never found his rhythm and was plagued by foul trouble throughout. He eventually fouled out on a charge with 1.09 remaining. 

Meanwhile, Florida struggled mightily against Ole Miss' zone, getting outscored 28-14 off turnovers and consistently settling for poor shots. However, the Gators played with a persistent energy and tenacity on the defensive end, oftentimes spirited by an unlikely contributor.    

Sophomore forward Devin Robinson, not known for his defense, delivered a fantastic effort, drawing the offensive foul on Moody to seal the victory. 

Robinson had 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting, adding a career-high three charges. The 6-7 forward drilled a pair of 3s in the second half and spurred Florida’s 7-0 to end the first half with a pair of hustle plays (shot-block leading to a transition 3, drawing a charge). 

“I thought this was the best game of his career,” White said. 

“It’s the best day that Devin’s had since I’ve coached him.”

With the win, the Gators moved to 13-1 at home and host Arkansas on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

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February 03, 2016

Report: UF hires Virginia Tech's Torrian Gray as next DB coach

GAINESVILLE -- During his National Signing Day press conference, Florida coach Jim McElwain hinted he was close to tabbing a new defensive backs assistant.

McElwain said he would wait until after National Signing Day to announce the hire, though. 

Too late. 

Gray replaces Kirk Callahan, who was fired two weeks ago. 

The longtime Hokies assistant is regarded as a strong recruiter and solid position coach. Gray logged 10 years at Virginia Tech -- his alma mater -- developing NFL standouts Kam Chancellor, Kyle Fuller and Brandon Flowers.

He is also a Lakeland native and will likely recruit the Tampa area -- a region Callahan struggled pulling prospects. 

Two hours before the news leaked, McElwain told reporters, “We’re down the road on that. Obviously, it goes back to something I believe in. I’m not going to run anybody’s [day]. This is something we’re ready to do. It will happen. You guys will probably know it via Twitter or whatever before I do, but yea, it’s ready to go.” 

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What compliment? McElwain fires back at Bielema's quip

GAINESVILLE -- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema mades waves Wednesday when he called Florida “the new Ole Miss,” adding, “They’re doing some things in recruiting that kind of shocks you a little bit.”

Shots fired? 

Not so, according to Bielema, who quickly backpedaled and explained that he was actually complimenting Ole Miss, currently under an NCAA investigation for recruiting violations, and Florida. 

Gators coach Jim McElwain wasn’t buying it, though. 

“You got to get a kick out of it a little bit because obviously this guy doesn't know who the heck I am,” McElwain said.

“I sure as heck don't know who he is. I'm not sure we really ran into him on the recruiting trail, but you know I know what I'm all about. I know what the University of Florida is all about and I think if you were to poll anybody in college football I think that they'd know that Mac does it right. I have no idea what this guy was talking about to be honest.”

During Wednesday’s National Signing Day, JUCO three-star cornerback Joseph Putu flipped from Arkansas to UF, while the Gators also beat out the Razorbacks (among others) for talented four-star receiver Tyrie Cleveland. 

Bielema told reporters he called McElwain to apologize, and it was “received well.”

“I said something earlier that came across in the wrong way, I guess. I was paying a compliment to Florida. We’ve seen them kind of pop up everywhere. Before my last couple years here, really had only competed against Florida in Georgia and Florida itself a lot, because I love to recruit Florida. Well, this last week we were competing against them on a wide receiver in Texas, a running back, a player in Louisiana and a player in North Dakota. And I’ve never seen that before; that’s all I was making reference to.

“It’s kind of like last week, we stumbled across an offensive lineman in Illinois and I really liked him and started to proceed with him and found out he _ before I got anything going _ had had committed to Ole Miss. And I told my staff, ‘Ole Miss, they’re everywhere.’ That’s kind of the comment we make. It wasn’t in reference to anything other than that. I mean that wholeheartedly and honestly, and when I said that earlier, I was paying a compliment to Florida.”

Interestingly enough, Florida travels to Arkansas for the first time since 2003 on Nov. 5.

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January 30, 2016

Gators topple Mountaineers, boost NCAA Tournament résumé

GAINESVILLE -- Florida eviscerated No. 9 West Virginia 88-71 in a sold-out O’Connell Center on Saturday afternoon, giving new coach Mike White his first signature win. The Gators' dominating victory in the BIG12/SEC Challenge is suddenly the gold star on UF’s NCAA Tournament résumé.

Some notable postgame musings…

“Tonight was one of those nights were we put it all together. … Sometimes it [just] comes down to making shots.” 

“I’m extremely proud. We’ve come a long way as a team. Not that we’ve arrived. We’ve got a ways to go, but I asked our team after the game if we are a tougher team and a better team than we were two months ago and the answer was a resounding, ‘Yes.’" — UF coach Mike White 

“This we a game we needed. We felt like we can play with any team in the country and today we showed it.” — UF point guard Chris Chiozza

“They shot 60 percent from three, which they haven't done and we haven't given up. ... The way it was going in, I was surprised Mike [White] didn’t hit one.” — WVU coach Bob Huggins

“We needed a big win. … We needed one to let us know we could do it. We showed each other what we’re capable of.” — UF forward Dorian Finney-Smith

THIS & THAT

Finney-Smith (24 points, five rebounds and three assists) topped the 20-point mark for the third time in four games. … UF went 12 of 20 from behind the arc against the nation’s best 3-point defense. … The Gators got valuable minutes from their bench Saturday, as little-used backups Brandone Francis-Ramirez (9 points) and Schuyler Rimmer (2 points, 6 rebounds) played well, particularly to end the first half (9-0 run by UF). Francis-Ramirez was 3 of 3 from downtown after hitting just one of his last 23 attempts from 3-point range. … Florida’s largest lead was 21 points and it never trailed. … The Gators are now 1-4 against ranked foes in 2015-16. ... The two teams combined for 48 fouls and 47 free throws.

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Report: Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier staying at Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier isn’t going anywhere. 

According to multiple reports, Nussmeier is no longer interested in the vacant head coaching job at Southern Miss and will return to UF for another season. 

Feldman added in a story that “Nussmeier didn’t feel like the situation at USM was the right fit.” 

Nussmeier -- who interviewed for the opening sometime last week -- presided over the nation’s No. 112th ranked unit, but his return gives the Gators some much-needed continuity heading into Jim McElwain’s second season in Gainesville. 

The report comes just five days before National Signing Day and also allows UF to avoid searching for its seventh OC since 2008. 

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January 23, 2016

En Fuego: UF hammers Auburn behind scorching shooting effort

GAINESVILLE -- It (briefly) snowed in Florida on Saturday.

Seriously. 

So naturally, the Gators were white-hot inside the O'Dome on a frigid night, hitting a flurry of 3-pointers en route to a 95-63 trouncing over Auburn. 

Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led the way with 24 points and eight rebounds, while three others scored in double figures. 

Auburn’s nightmares versus Florida (13-6, 5-2 SEC) continued, losing for the 11th straight time in Gainesville. 

Three takeaways from UF’s third-straight conference victory:

BLISTERING START

UF shot Auburn out the gym from the tip, jumping to a 20-5 lead behind an 18-0 run in the first five minutes of action. They led by as many as 25 in the first half, hitting 11 of their first 16 shots -- including five 3-pointers. 

Finney-Smith had 10 points, four rebounds and one assist before the first media timeout. 

“They were firing on all cylinders,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said. 

Florida led 53-32 at halftime and continued its scorching shooting in the second half. The Gators hit a season-best 56.9 percent from the floor, scoring 80-plus points for the third straight game and matching a season-high with 20 assists. Florida -- normally brick-layers at the charity stripe ranking No. 346 nationally -- even hit 20 of 24 free throws. 

“We just made shots,” Finney-Smith said. 

“There’s some nights like this when you just can’t miss.” 

NO ANSWER

With Florida (nearly) flawlessly spacing the floor and sharing the basketball, the Tigers had zero answers defensively. Zilch. 

The Gators played inside-out, as UF center John Egbunu dominated the paint. The 6-foot-11, 255-pounder was a board short of recording his third double-double on the season with 12 points and nine rebounds. Egbunu consistently overwhelmed AU with his size and power, ducking in for easy dunks and short hook shots. 

Even when the sophomore got into foul trouble, freshman big-man Kevarrius Hayes provided some of the best minutes of his collegiate career (six points, six rebounds). 

“They got whatever they wanted inside,” Pearl said.

“Whatever they wanted.”

Meanwhile, Florida’s point guard duo -- Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill -- gave the Tigers fits, too, combining for 28 points and 12 assists.

BOTTLED UP

The Gators also frustrated Auburn’s top offensive option, holding dynamic point guard Kareem Canty (averaging 19.4 ppg) to just 12 points on 15 shots -- and zero 3-pointers for the nation’s second-best volume shooter from downtown. Canty was 0 of 6 from 3-point range, oftentimes forcing tough, deep shots due to UF’s aggressive defense. 

“He is a handful to defend. He’s got an ability to be in range when he crosses half-court,” Florida coach Mike White said. 

“For him not to make a three was huge for us. I thought Chris and Kasey did a terrific job on Canty.”

After a two-game homestand, Florida plays at Vanderbilt on Tuesday. 

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January 22, 2016

Florida's Orange & Blue Debut turning into Friday Night Lights

GAINESVILLE — Jim McElwain isn't shy about making changes -- even with Florida’s spring game. 

The Gators will hold their annual Orange & Blue Debut under the lights for the first time in school history, hosting a spring scrimmage on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m.

Admission is free. 

The move away from a traditional Saturday afternoon scrimmage is yet another change by McElwain to elevate Florida’s brand. Television details will be released at a later date, but by playing on Friday the Gators won’t be competing with the Masters or spring games of several marquee programs (FSU, Auburn, Clemson) on April 9. 

The move also allows UF to showcase another nighttime atmosphere for recruits and fans. 

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January 19, 2016

Clutch: UF completes comeback after Egbunu's timely free throws

UnnamedGAINESVILLE -- John Egbunu shoots a team-low 40.9 percent from the charity stripe during SEC play, but Florida’s sophomore center walked calmly to line, let out a deep breath and drilled four clutch free throws inside the final minute to help UF complete a thrilling 81-78 comeback win over Mississippi State on Monday. 

“I can’t explain it,” UF coach Mike White said, shaking his head. 

“It’s a unique deal. … But I’m glad he made them.”

Egbunu finished with 16 points (8 of 12 from the free throw line) and seven rebounds, helping Florida erase an 11-point deficit midway through the second-half.

Despite shooting just 55 percent from the line on the year, the center is a perfect 8 for 8 inside the final minute in UF's last two home games against LSU and MSU. 

"I just stepped to the line with confidence," Egbunu said.

"We shoot a lot of pressure free throws in practice."

The Gators (12-6, 4-2 SEC) survived a see-saw finish, needing a 24-5 run to turn a double-digit deficit into an eight-point advantage before barely holding on late. 

Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led all players with 20 points and 13 rebounds -- his fourth double-double in his last five games. UF’s freshman guard KeVaughn Allen chipped in 19 and five, while sophomore swingman Devin Robinson finished with 11 points on just six shots. 

The Gators overcame 15 turnovers, poor transition defense (they were outscored 35-7 on fast break/points off turnovers) and an unusually quiet night from point guard Chris Chiozza. 

They were listless early, too, trailing MSU 42-37 at halftime after Fred Thomas’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Although the Bulldogs, now winless in the SEC, fought valiantly thanks to the efforts of guards I.J. Ready (20 points) and Craig Sword (17 points), the Gators -- a NCAA bubble team -- could ill-afford a home loss to a SEC bottom-feeder with the worst RPI in the conference. 

Florida hosts Auburn on Saturday at 8 p.m. 

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January 18, 2016

One last ride: Maye and Davis to return for senior seasons

GAINESVILLE -- National Signing Day is still a little more than two weeks away, but Florida officially hauled in its two biggest recruits on Monday. 

Defensive stalwarts Jarrad Davis, the team’s best linebacker, and safety Marcus Maye both opted to return for their senior seasons after mulling early entrees into the 2016 NFL Draft. 

Davis finished second on the team in tackles with 98, and the hard-hitting ‘backer added 11.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and a team-high seven quarterback hurries. Following UF’s blowout loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Davis told reporters he was “definitely” coming back but the 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was reportedly reconsidering his options before officially announcing his intentions Monday. 

Maye also tweeted his announcement with a simple message. 

The safety ranked fourth on the team in tackles with 82, forcing an SEC-best five fumbles. He added two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and was named a USA Today All-American. 

The Gators lost All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, safety Keanu Neal and pass rusher Alex McCalister to the NFL Draft, but with Maye and Davis remaining in the fold, Florida’s defense should remain formidable in 2016. 

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January 15, 2016

Florida Gators make staff change three weeks before NSD

GAINESVILLE -- Florida parted ways with defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan on Friday, officiating announcing the move with a statement from head coach Jim McElwain on the school's website.

“We’re making a change on our staff,” McElwain said.

“Moving forward, Kirk Callahan will be looking at some other opportunities and he has a long career ahead of him.”

The move comes just three weeks before National Signing Day on Feb. 3. 

The 30-year-old assistant played at Central Florida and started his career as a student assistant at UCF before working as an intern and graduate assistant at UF. 

Callahan returned to alma mater to coach defensive backs for three seasons before joining McElwain in Gainesville last January. 

He signed a two-year deal, so UF is likely on the hook for his $315,000 salary in 2016. 

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January 12, 2016

UF adds 13 mid-year enrollees, checks in at No. 25 in final polls

GAINESVILLE -- Florida officially welcomed 13 mid-year enrollees -- including a dozen freshmen -- on Monday. 

The Gators updated their spring roster, as four-star quarterback Feleipe Franks was the last player to arrive on campus after playing in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl in Texas. 

UF also confirmed the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby, formally of Purdue. 

After Florida’s 41-7 blowout loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, coach Jim McElwain already had an eye on the future, saying, “We’ve got a bunch of guys coming in here at the break. Just know, we’ve got some good guys coming. Lots. Believe me, I’m excited as heck.”

UF's baker's dozen of mid-year enrollees is reportedly the most in school history. 

The complete list:

QB Feleipe Franks

QB Austin Appleby (graduate transfer)

QB Kyle Trask 

RB Mark Thompson (JUCO)

WR Joshua Hammond

WR Freddy Swain

WR ‘Dre Massey (JUCO)

OL Stone Forsythe

DE Jordan Smith

LB David Reese

DB Chauncey Gardner

DB McArthur Burnett

K Eddy Pineiro

FINAL RANKINGS

Florida checked in at No. 25 in the final AP and Coaches Poll. 

The Gators (10-4) finished the season on a dispiriting three-game losing streak -- getting throttled a combined 97-24 against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan. 

Florida climbed as high as No. 8 in the AP poll after upsetting then-No. 3 Ole Miss and moving to 6-0. But the Gators mostly treaded water the second-half of the season, going just 4-4 down the stretch. 

Considering UF’s finish and the school’s continued quarterback uncertainty, the Gators aren’t listed in ESPN, CBS or SI’s early 2016 Top 25 rankings. 

SOMETIMES, THE JOKES WRITE THEMSELVES

THIS & THAT

Electric playmaker Antonio Callaway was named a 2015 FWAA Freshman All-American, earning a spot as a punt returner. The Miami native scored two touchdowns as a returner and nearly broke the school-record for yardage in a season (435 yards). … Offensive tackle Marcus Tatum, long considered a UF lean until a change of heart late in the process, committed to Tennessee on Monday. The Daytona Beach-Mainland product is a three-star recruit. 

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January 09, 2016

Grit & Grind: Gators overcome Simmons' star night with 68-62 win

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GAINESVILLE -- On the heels of a demoralizing and embarrassing loss at Tennessee, Florida rebounded with a gritty win over LSU on Saturday, knocking off future No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and the Tigers 68-62 in the O’Connell Center. 

Florida (10-5, 2-1 SEC) led wire-to-wire, but in a one-point game with 50 seconds remaining, Gators center John Egbunu dropped in a baby hook to seal the win. The sophomore center sandwiched the shot around four clutch free throws, too. 

“That was about a 160-degree [turnaround],” UF’s first-year coach Mike White said.

“We just played really, really hard.”

Three takeaways from Saturday’s victory. 

KING OF LEON

White recently inserted Justin Leon into the starting lineup and the former JUCO All-American has clearly embraced his newfound role.

The junior bested his career-high performance in the loss to Tennessee (11 points) with a 14-point, 9-rebound showing Saturday. Leon was 6 of 8 from the floor and drained a pair of three pointers -- suddenly a new wrinkle to his game. Leon, who shoots flat-footed, has connected on five treys in his last two games after making three total 3-pointers in Florida’s first dozen games. 

Leon was critical in helping bottle up Simmons in the half-court, too, drawing a pair of second-half charges. 

On Friday, Leon said, “It’ll be nice to know in the future like ‘I played against him when I was in college.’” 

Now it’s sure to be a good memory.

STAT-SHEET STUFFER

Speaking of Simmons, LSU’s freshman superstar was spectacular. The 6-foot-10 point-forward poured in 28 points, 17 rebounds and four assists, recording his 12th double-double on the season. He was 14 of 16 from the charity stripe and consistently displayed his elite body control, handle and vision. 

But since the rest of LSU’s team (notably Tim Quarterman and Craig Victor) didn’t bother to show up, Simmons tried -- and ultimately failed -- to win the game by himself. The freshman pressed late, turning the ball over eight times -- all in the second half. 

Simmons scored LSU’s final 12 points but he also coughed up the rock twice (once on a travel) and fouled out. 

EFFORT AND ENERGY

“We can control how hard we play,” White said. 

They definitely did Saturday. 

After a listless showing at Tennessee, Florida brought plenty of intensity against LSU. 

The Gators overcame another dreadful shooting performance (3 of 17 from downtown and 13 missed free throws) thanks to terrific half-court defense and second-chance points. They forced 17 turnovers, outscoring LSU 15-5. 

They talked on defense, had active hands and crashed the offensive glass. 

Now we’ll see if they can replicate that energy on the road

The Gators travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday and then play at Ole Miss next weekend. 

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January 07, 2016

Notebook: Six Florida players undergo offseason surgery

GAINESVILLE -- Five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey was among six Florida players to undergo offseason surgery this week. 

The 6-foot-5, 302-pound freshman had shoulder surgery after exiting early in UF’s 41-7 blowout-loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Ivey started eight games this season, mostly at guard. 

Meanwhile, sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson (sports hernia), sophomore wideout Brandon Powell (foot), junior defensive tackle Joey Ivie (sports hernia), walk-on kicker Neil MacInnes (ACL) and sophomore defensive end Jordan Sherit (knee) also had surgeries this week.  

Florida did not announce return dates for any of the injured players, but the Gators are counting on Wilson, Powell and Sherit to have increased roles next season -- especially considering the early departures of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, safety Keanu Neal, defensive end Alex McCalister and wideout Demarcus Robinson. 

THIS & THAT

Redshirt junior linebacker Jeremi Powell will not return for his senior season, opting to take “an eye toward the future outside the game,” according to Florida’s team website. … The Gators landed four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel (IMG Academy) on Tuesday. UF’s 2016 class now stands at 26 commits. … Fifteen former UF players will participate in the NFL Playoffs, per Florida’s team website. 

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January 06, 2016

S Keanu Neal becomes Florida's fifth underclassmen to go pro

GAINESVILLE -- Last one out turn off the lights, please. 

Safety Keanu Neal is the latest UF player to forgo his senior season and enter the 2016 NFL Draft, announcing the “hardest decision” of his life in a lengthy Instagram post. 

 

A photo posted by Keanu Neal (@42problemz) on

Neal is Florida’s fifth underclassmen to declare for the draft, joining All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, tailback Kelvin Taylor, defensive end Alex McCalister and wideout Demarcus Robinson. 

The Gators are still awaiting decisions by safety Marcus Maye and linebacker Jarrad Davis, who initially told reporters he was “definitely” coming back but is reportedly having second thoughts. The deadline to declare is Jan. 18. 

Neal finished third on the team in tackles with 96, missing UF's first two games with a hamstring injury. Known as a vicious thumper and an excellent run-support safety, Neal also added 2.0 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception. 

The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is projected as a late second or third round pick by several draft sites. 

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January 04, 2016

Hargreaves announces decision to enter the 2016 NFL Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III officially filed his early entry paperwork for the 2016 NFL Draft, confirming his "likely" decision to forgo his senior season following the SEC Championship Game. 

The All-American cornerback fizzled in his Florida finale (he was benched after getting burned twice for explosive plays against Michigan), but Hargreaves ends his career as one of the best defensive backs in school history. The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder was a first-team All-SEC selection all three seasons and earned first-team All-American honors as a sophomore and junior. Hargreaves recorded four interceptions and four pass breakups in 2015 and is projected as an early first-round pick in the upcoming draft. 

Meanwhile, tailback Kelvin Taylor is also entering the NFL Draft, as is defensive end Alex McCalister and wideout Demarcus Robinson, according to UF coach Jim McElwain. 

Linebacker Jarrad Davis announced his intention to return for his senior season, but Florida is still awaiting NFL decisions by safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye. 

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January 01, 2016

Trickeration: UF scores crazy touchdown in the 2015 Citrus Bowl

ORLANDO -- Florida’s offense stinks, but this is was all sorts of awesome.

  

Here's another angle. 

The Gators tied the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter with the touchdown. 

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GameDay Primer: Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines

Unnamed

ORLANDO -- Florida is playing football on New Year’s Day.

Seems right, doesn’t it?

The No. 19 Gators look to end a two-game skid against the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines, hoping to avoid a frustrating finish to a promising season few expected. 

Most expect a low-scoring, slobberknocker, so UF’s offense must avoid another no-show. 

The Gators are the lone underdog of 10 SEC teams, but hey, even they scored 15 points against Alabama. 

WHERE: Citrus Bowl

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WATCH: ABC

LINE: UF +4.5 

THREE QUESTIONS

1. A 2012 Sugar Bowl repeat? Will UF actually show up?

2. Can Florida bottle up Michigan tight end Jake Butt?

3. Will the Gators implement more read-option, designed quarterback runs in what could be Treon Harris’ final game behind center?

QUICK NOTES

* Florida’s punchless attack eclipsed 300 yards just once in the final five games of the season.

* The Wolverines beat the Gators 41-35 in overtime in 2008, the final game of Hall of Fame coach Lloyd Carr’s career.  

* The Gators suspended four players for today’s game, but the team’s injury situation is largely unknown. 

* UF is 2-3 all-time in the Citrus Bowl.

LINKS - UF vs MICHIGAN

South Florida quarterbacks ready to duel

No quick fix for Florida’s offense

Is UF’s offensive line in store for more lumps?

Jon Bullard glad he returned for his senior season

Notebook: Scarlett suspended, Neal & Maye mum on NFL

Gators look for bowl win to erase end-of-season disappointments

Florida embarks on its final “business trip” of the year

UF is grooming new leaders

Q&A: Kelvin Taylor

SKINNY SIX-PACK

How about one final skinny six-pack to help cure that New Year’s Eve hangover! Still looking for that elusive 5-0 week. 42-22-1 ATS on the season. 

Ohio State (-6) vs Notre Dame

Stanford (-4) vs USC 

Tennessee vs Northwestern (+10)

Ole Miss (-7) vs Oklahoma State

And finally, Florida (+4.5) vs Michigan. TAKE THE UNDER. TAKE THE UNDER. TAKE THE UNDER. Oh, and grab the points because this game could come down to a safety. Even the two Jim’s joked during Thursday’s luncheon that the first to four points wins. 

Enjoy all the New Year’s Day football, y’all. 

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December 31, 2015

Is Florida's OL in store for more lumps against Michigan?

ORLANDO -- Florida will start four underclassmen -- including a trio of true freshmen -- against No. 17 Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on Friday (1 p.m., ABC).

Hardly ideal.

Despite fading late in the season, the Wolverines rank No. 4 in total defense and No. 3 in passing defense.

“They're outstanding,” UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said.

“They're top five in about every major category. The great thing about us, we get to practice against our defense, so that helps to prepare us.”

It didn’t late in the season, though.

For the first half of the year, Florida’s offense was efficient and steady. Its makeshift offensive line slowly gelled, tailback Kelvin Taylor churned out tough yards and former quarterback Will Grier made just enough plays with his arm.

But following Grier’s suspension on Oct. 12, the Gators’ offense stalled and the young line experienced some serious growing pains during the final month of the season. Florida averaged just 14 points in its last five games, scoring a single offensive touchdown against Alabama and Florida State. Quarterback Treon Harris was sacked 10 times in the last two games, and Florida ranks No. 2 nationally in sacks allowed (43).

On Friday, Florida will start freshman Fred Johnson at right tackle in place of suspended senior tackle Mason Halter, and the Royal Palm Beach product will be joined by freshmen guards Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan and sophomore left tackle David Sharpe.

That's a lot of youth against a defense that nearly shutout four-straight opponents earlier in the year. 

"Here's the good thing we’ve got some guys that are getting some great reps," Gators coach Jim McElwain said.

“They're going to learn and get a little bit better based on their experience. I look at it as this is bright for the future of the Gators because these are guys that’ll keep getting better. There’s no replacing taking the rep."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 30, 2015

Gators DT Jon Bullard glad he returned for his senior season

ORLANDO -- A year ago, Jon Bullard put his NFL dreams on pause, but Florida’s dominant defensive tackle hasn’t sweated his choice all season. 

“It’s the best decision I made in my life,” the senior said Wednesday.

“I thought about coming out with the coaching chance. You hear things about how that’s going to be and you have to learn new things. But I buckled down. Me and my family made a decision to come back, and I think it was a great decision. I’m playing the best ball I’ve played since I’ve been here.”

After a solid junior season, Bullard was viewed as a potential mid-round pick, but the former five-star recruit opted to return for one final year in Gainesville and his decision is likely to pay significant dividends for the future.  

Bullard earned All-American honors in 2015 and emerged as a possible first-round pick after leading UF with 17.5 tackles for loss -- third-best in the SEC. He also recorded 6.5 sacks, tying pass-rushing specialist Alex McCalister for the team lead. 

First-year coach Jim McElwain has praised Bullard’s selflessness and maturity all season, and on Wednesday, Florida’s defensive coordinator Geoff Collins called the senior “the poster child” for how Bullard handled both his NFL future and Florida’s coaching transition. 

“Him being a premier player last year, I’m sure he wrestled with the decision to come back or to leave,” Collins said. 

“But the things he did in the offseason, the things he did throughout the year to make himself one of the best players in college football, you don’t see guys do that a lot.”

SHOW YOUR BRAND

As Florida prepares for Friday’s Citrus Bowl showdown against No. 17 Michigan, a handful of future Gators are readying to showcase their skills on the same field the very next day. 

Four UF oral commits will participate in Saturday’s Under Armour All-American Game (Noon, ESPN2): WR Josh Hammond, DE Antonneous Clayton, CB Chauncey Gardner and OL Brett Heggie.

A number of other blue-chip targets on Florida’s board will also play in the all-star game, including linebacker Mack Wilson, wideouts Nate Craig-Myers, Eli Stove (Auburn commit) and Sam Bruce (a Miami commit) and defensive tackle Shavar Manuel. 

With so many top prospects in the same area code, Florida’s first-year coach Jim McElwain said Friday’s game is “an opportunity to show your brand.”

“Look, that’s part of advertising, right? This is no different. We get a chance to take a three-hour block and put the University of Florida on for a three-hour commercial.” 

Florida’s 2016 class currently has 25 commits and ranks No. 8 nationally according to 247Sports. 

THIS & THAT

Both Michigan and Florida spent time with kids from a local Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday.  … McElwain said Florida’s practices this week have been “pretty darn good.” … Michigan’s freshman star Jabrill Peppers remains questionable for Friday, as the three-way playmaker is reportedly battling an undisclosed hand injury. Peppers, a former five-star recruit, is the Wolverines’ starting safety, and the redshirt freshman also returns kicks, punts and plays a little running back. On the season, he has 45 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two touchdowns on 72 yards rushing. UF is wary of Peppers’ talent, but sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said, “We’ve got 11 Jabrill Peppers on defense. Michigan, they only got one of him. We got 11.” 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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