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The (Second) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The secret is out; I love college football. College football fueled my desire to start this site way back when on March 19, 2008. But, in the words of everyone’s beloved grandpa Lee Corso, not so fast. The first article posted to The Bull Gator was about college basketball. Okay, okay. That is not entirely correct; the first post was a welcome to the site that three people read—me, the affectionately-named One Eyed Willy, and my mom. But the first post of any substance was about college basketball. (Do not go back and read it; it is not very good.)

Patric Young, Florida Gators

In my mind, the most wonderful time of the year is and always will be college football season. A 4-8 record cannot stop me from believing that. There is a second place though and a good one at that. March Madness, the Big Dance, the NCAA Tourney, whatever you want to call it is great. For coaches, for players, for fans, for companies hoping to market the heck out of themselves, for sports in general, college basketball tourney time is a truly glorious time of the year.

It can (and does) get even better. When you are a fan of the nation’s No. 1 team, it is oh so much better. I will not be shy about that fact and at times will even become boastful over the next few weeks, assuming our top-ranked Florida Gators continue what has been a most wonderful stretch of victories. When your team makes the tourney, you are pleased. When they make a run, you are over the moon. When they enter as the prohibitive favorite to win it all, well, like the Grinch’s heart that day, your chest grows three sizes. If I played fantasy basketball, I would bet on the Gators for much more than the fact that I am a fan.

There is an obstacle between the Gators and the NCAA Tournament, sort of. Florida must first make their way through the SEC Tournament. A conference tournament championship will only solidify the Gators claim to the top overall seed, but it is far from necessary. We all would like Florida to carry momentum in to the bigger of the two tourneys, but a loss would not be the end of the world.

Wait, forget I said that.

Too many times in the past we have justified losses. Let us go ahead and stop that now. Yes, it is true a loss in the SEC Tournament would not destroy all hope of a Gators’ national championship, but it is also true that momentum can be a valuable commodity. Florida can go ahead and make it easy on everyone involved if they take care of business over the next three days and go in to the NCAA tourney with three more wins under their belt. Beat Missouri on Friday, take down the winner of South Carolina-Tennessee on Saturday, and win it all on Sunday.

That is all the Gators have to do. Get three more wins out of the way and move on to the next prize. Seems simple enough, and there is that pride creeping up. Expect it to be here for a while; it does not go away.

First things first, beat Mizzou. As always, Go Gators!

Florida Gators 67 – Tennessee Volunteers 58: Second Half Surge Leads to Victory, Again

Florida has this second half thing down. Tight first halves, followed by second halves during which the Gators march to victory after victory are becoming the norm. Florida did so again on Tuesday night, defeating Tennessee 67-58 in Knoxville.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Volunteers took a 34-33 lead into the locker room thanks to 62.5 percent shooting. Then the Gators tightened the reigns and pressed on defense. Tennessee’s hot shooting night quickly went sour as the Vols managed to shoot just 29.2 percent in the second half.

“…I thought we pressed predominantly most of the second half. We didn’t turn them over a lot, but it was just disruptive in terms of flow,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

The victory was the Gators’ 16th in a row and helped Florida improve its record to 22-2 (11-0 SEC). The Vols fell to 15-9 (6-5 SEC). The Gators have just seven regular season game remaining before the SEC Tournament. Up next for No. 3 Florida is a visit to No. 14 Kentucky.

The Gators relied heavily on a seven-man rotation throughout with all five starters and two reserves—sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman guard Kasey Hill—all seeing at least 20 minutes on the court. Freshman forward Chris Walker was able to get in for the third-straight game, but only saw five minutes of action.

Florida was led by senior guard Scottie Wilbekin who had 21 points and six assists. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was the only other player to score in double digits with 11. The Gators managed to pull off the victory despite shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor.

Florida Gators 78 – Alabama Crimson Tide 69: Gators Need Second Half to Pull Away

When Florida jumped out to an early 12-2 lead over Alabama on Saturday, it looked like the Gators were on their way to a blowout. That lead evaporated almost as fast as it grew and Florida would head into the locker room at halftime tied with the Crimson Tide.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The second half saw Bama give Florida much of the same as the Gators’ defense didn’t play up to it’s usual standards.

“If you play defense the way we did tonight, you’re not going to win. Thank God we had some offense today that helped us,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

That offense came in the form of 62 percent shooting from the field and a second-half surge that saw the No. 3 Gators improve to 21-2 (10-0 SEC) on the season. The loss dropped the Anthony Grant-led Tide to 9-14 (3-7 SEC).

For the first time in over two months, all five Florida starters scored in double digits. The Gators were led senior guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 16. Senior center Patric Young added 11 and a highlight-reel block.

The Gators set a season high with 22 assists, but according to one Florida player, you aren’t going to hear Donovan praise them for that.

“Coach D is not going to tell us about that. As a coach, he wants us to see what we did wrong and get better from that. I think this game can help us learn. It better. Other teams are going to watch this film and see how we broke down and they’re going to run the same stuff,” said senior forward Will Yeguete.

The Gators have Sunday and Monday off before traveling to Knoxville, TN on Tuesday to take on 15-8 (6-4 SEC) Tennessee.

Gators Welcome Back Mike Peterson; Former Florida, NFL Linebacker Joins Staff

Former Florida linebacker Mike Peterson has joined the Gators’ staff in a full-time role. Peterson will be joining the weight room staff as of February 24.

Mike Peterson, Florida Gators

Peterson was with the Gators during the 2013 football season as he had returned to the University of Florida to finish his degree. Upon the completion of his degree, head coach Will Muschamp looked to bring him on full time. Peterson will start in the weight room with hopes of making a career out of coaching in some capacity.

With the Gators from 1995 to 1998, Peterson appeared in 42 games, starting 24. He was a member of the 1996 national championship team and was named an All-American as a senior in 1998.

Peterson was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 1998 NFL Draft. He played in the NFL for 13 seasons with the Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Atlanta Falcons. Peterson’s best season came in 2005 with the Jaguars when he was named a second-team All-Pro.

Matt Jones Undergoes Surgery; Running Back Out for Spring

On Wednesday, Florida running back Matt Jones underwent another surgery on his left knee. While Jones is actually ahead of the recovery timetable, the surgery will keep him out of Spring practice.

Matt Jones, Florida Gators

Jones was in the midst of a promising, although frustrating, sophomore campaign when he went down with the injury. He only appeared in five games during the 2013 season, with his yards per carry average going up and down.

The duo of Jones and freshman Kelvin Taylor was expected to be a good one, but we only saw the two carry the ball in the same game twice. There was no two-headed monster, much to the dismay of Gators’ fans.

In Wednesday’s press conference, head coach Will Muschamp mentioned that Jones’s knee was 90 percent healed. Jones is progressing nicely and should be ready to go in time for Fall practice.

Also missing the Spring sessions are linebackers sophomore Alex Anzalone, redshirt sophomore Jeremi Powell, and redshirt freshman Matt Rolin.

Florida Gators Recruiting: The Ups and Downs of National Signing Day

As seems to be the case every year, there were ups and downs for the Florida Gators on National Signing Day. At final count, the Gators added two (three if you count Andrew Mike the night before, and I do), reaffirmed one, saw two choose other schools, lost no one already committed, and had a current player announce his intention to transfer.

Treon Harris, Florida Gators

That’s not a bad day by any means. Actually, it’s a quite good one. No Florida commit flipped, while the Gators got a Florida State commit to do just that. When you gain two (or three) and lose no one, you’re ahead. Unfortunately, the last announcement that really meant something for Florida didn’t go the Gators’ way. Adoree’ Jackson signed with Southern Cal and in doing so proved to one side of the Florida fanbase that head coach Will Muschamp has no idea what he’s doing.

That’s the side that refused to acknowledge anything good that happened leading up to NSD or on the day itself and only focused on one player that got away and how it must be Muschamp’s fault. I’m sure I’ll be called a Muschamp supporter for even bringing it up, but so be it I guess. Maybe one day those fans will be able to find a silver lining in, well, anything. For now, I’m not a Muschamp supporter, but I’m not running him out of town either. He’s the coach whether any of us like it or not. Instead, I’m focusing on where the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class ended up, and all things considered it was a good one.

1. Florida lost no one. The Gators didn’t lose Adoree’ Jackson because they never had him. Florida also didn’t lose Derrick Kelly Jr. because, again, they didn’t have him. Both players would have been welcome additions to the class, but both signed elsewhere—Jackson to USC and Kelly Jr. to FSU. Jackson’s loss was a big one as the dynamic playmaker could have made an immediate impact and Kelly Jr. would have provided depth along the offensive line. Both went elsewhere; move on.

2. The Gators started a day early, getting offensive lineman Andrew Mike to flip to Florida from Vanderbilt. Mike needs to add a great deal of bulk, but bringing aboard a sixth offensive line commit was crucial. Depth across the line is one of the Gators’ biggest needs.

3. Of course Quincy Wilson was the first to fax in his signed Letter of Intent. Has there been a commit more positive about all things Florida during the recruiting process? No, there hasn’t.

4. For the last few weeks, many considered J.C. Jackson to be a goner. FSU and Miami pushed the defensive back up until the last minute. In the end, Florida won out and Jackson stuck with his commitment. This may have been as big of a get for the Gators as anyone on NSD.

5. When C.J. Worton decommitted from FSU most expected him to sign with Florida. He did. Go Gators!

6. The flip of the day, at least where the state of Florida is concerned. Treon Harris had been rumored to be seriously considering making the switch from the Seminoles to the Gators on NSD. He pulled the trigger and he, Florida, the staff, and fans couldn’t be happier. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper got his man.

7. Not exactly recruiting news, Cody Riggs will transfer. It relates in that it frees up a roster spot, but for who? Riggs wanted to player cornerback; coaches wanted him to play safety. He will search for a program where he can play at his position of choice.

The 2014 recruiting cycle was a busy one like all of the others. It had its ups and its downs and we won’t know how good this class truly is for years. In the meantime, on to 2015 recruiting!

Hoping to Play Cornerback, Cody Riggs Will Transfer from Florida

Later today, Florida head coach Will Muschamp will announce the transfer of Cody Riggs. Riggs started 12 games at safety, but hopes to return to his natural position of cornerback.

Cody Riggs, Florida Gators

Riggs spent his first three seasons at Florida at cornerback. He played in 26 games, starting 13, over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Riggs was improving and looking forward to a successful 2012 campaign when he injured his foot and took a redshirt. He was moved to safety for the 2013 and started all 12 games, finishing with 51 tackles

Riggs will have one season of eligibility remaining. There is no word on where he will transfer, but immediately playing time at cornerback will be the determining factor. Riggs ends his Florida career having appeared in 40 games, starting 26.

Florida Gators Recruiting: Quarterback Treon Harris Flips from Florida State

Florida pulled off one of the biggest gets of National Signing Day, flipping quarterback Treon Harris from Florida State to the Gators.

Treon Harris, Florida Gators

Once hired as Florida’s new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper made Harris one of his top targets. Despite being committed to FSU, Harris was open to listening to what Roper had to offer. The quarterback seems to fit well into the offense Roper hopes to run and brings a different skill set to the position than early enrollee Will Grier.

Jeff Driskel will be the starter, but the junior has a history with injuries and, at times, inconsistent play. While many fans hoped Grier could come in and win the job immediately, the best course of action for the Gators was always to bring in two quarterbacks. Two transferred out; two are coming in.

Harris could actually be the one to relieve Driskel during the 2014 season as he may fit the offense better from day one. That’s not to say Grier is now on the outside looking in, but the best course of action for him may be to redshirt while the offense evolves. There are worse things than three quarterbacks all learning during the transition season to be ready for 2015.

Fans will instantly think back to John Brantley and Cam Newton and then to Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Keep hope that this time around, the two quarterbacks will have bright futures for the Gators.

Florida Gators Recruiting: Wide Receiver C.J. Worton Signs with Florida Over West Virginia

Former Florida State commit C.J. Worton has signed with Florida. The wide receiver announced his decision on National Signing Day, selecting the Gators over West Virginia.

C.J. Worton, Florida Gators

When Worton first reopened his recruitment, many believed Florida was the school to beat, but West Virginia came on strong. The Mountaineers pushed Worton until the very end, hoping to add the three-star wide receiver. In the end, his familiarity with Gainesville–his brother Cody was there from 2006-2010–won out.

Worton joins a wide receiver class that may not be completely closed. Adoree’ Jackson is still in the play for the Gators.

Florida Gators Recruiting: J.C. Jackson Sticks with Commitment

The one Florida commit that seemed the most likely to flip has stuck with the Gators. J.C. Jackson has signed with Florida after all.

J.C. Jackson, Florida Gators

Jackson wavered through most of his recruitment and it was largely due to being very confused about the decision he had to make. Having committed to the Gators after decommitting from Florida State, Jackson was pursued heavily by both FSU and Miami. He could have signed with any one of the three schools and it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

What was a surprise was a last-minute, unexpected visit to Florida this past weekend. Jackson wanted to take in the school one more time. Evidently, he may have been doing one final check to be sure he had made the right choice.

On Wednesday morning, Florida received a signed Letter of Intent from Jackson. The Immokalee, FL (Immokalee) defensive back will be a Gator.