Jordan Reed To Forgo Senior Season; Florida Gators Tight End Will Enter NFL Draft

Florida Gators’ tight end Jordan Reed has joined safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in declaring his intentions to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Reed–the Gators’ leading pass catcher in 2012–will forgo his senior season for a chance to play at the next level.

Jordan Reed - Florida Gators

Reed led the Gators with 45 catches for 559 yards and 3 touchdowns during his junior season. Despite being the most reliable receiver on the roster, his orange and blue career ended with a quiet 7 yards on 1 reception in the Sugar Bowl loss to the Louisville Cardinals.

Looking back on Reed’s career will always be enjoyable to say the least. He came to Florida as a quarterback and–though minimal–got his chance to play the position during the 2010 season. Reed’s most memorable performance as a QB came that season in a 55-14 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Reed was 11-for-19 for 120 yards, 1 passing touchdown and 1 interception while also rushing 16 times for 84 yards and another score.

Reed would only attempt one more pass after the 2010 season as the Florida coaches converted him to tight end full time in 2011. Over his final two seasons, he developed into a dangerous weapon with good speed and surprising power. Reed turned himself into an All-SEC TE and a possible future professional at the position. We should see Reed go in the first half of the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Gators have been building depth at tight end, but will miss Reed in 2013. This team has struggled to find go-to receivers in recent years and Reed clearly would have been the top choice next season.

Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd Head To NFL; Florida Gators Say Goodbye To Two Stars

Even if we did see this coming, the sting is still real. Florida Gators’ junior safety Matt Elam and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd have both announced they will forgo their senior seasons and enter the 2013 NFL Draft.

Matt Elam - Florida Gators

Eventually, there will be many things to smile about when looking back at the Florida Gators’ season. For the immediate future, we’ll only remember the Sugar Bowl loss, but when we come around and are ready to celebrate the 2012 season for it’s high points, Elam and Floyd will be among them.

Both came to Florida with great expectations and both left fulfilling them, using the hire of head coach Will Muschamp to springboard their success. Elam was an All-American as a junior and Floyd collected All-SEC honors. They both would have surely liked to have ended their Gator careers better, but neither can be blamed for testing the NFL waters either. Both are potential first-round draft picks and it’s hard to imagine either falling past the second round.

Elam was the spark to the defense in both 2012 and 2011. When there was little to celebrate during the 7-6 2011 season, Elam played like he was on fire. He was a vocal leader on the field and, although frustration could be seen rising from time to time, he played as an example to others. Elam’s reckless style earned him some unwanted penalties on occasion, but it also made him the player he was. Just take a look at the 2012 victory over the LSU Tigers as an example.

Floyd could be described as a little bit of a slow starter, but most defensive linemen are (ignore that Jadeveon Clowney character at South Carolina). Playing at one of the most difficult adjustment positions when it comes to learning the game at the college level, Floyd was moved from inside to outside and back again. He improved tremendously over the course of his career and was a dominate player wherever he lined up. We should be watching Floyd for years to come at the next level.

As Elam and Floyd make the next step in their football careers, we wish them the best of luck. Once a Gator…

Darrin Kitchens, Gator Nation Salutes You

The picture to the right is of Florida Gators’ linebacker Darrin Kitchens. But that’s not the picture of Kitchens you want to see. The picture of Kitchens you should be looking at is here. Go ahead and click that link; you won’t regret it.

Darrin Kitchens - Florida Gators

On Wednesday night, after the Gators suffered a shocking and embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals, Kitchens stood alone. The reserve LB stood and sung the alma mater with the Florida band. He didn’t have to–it’s usually a celebratory moment after victories–but he did anyway.

So today, one day after we watched 60 minutes of ugly, we salute something wonderful. Something profoundly orange and blue. And something–I’ve been told–Kitchens has done before.

There was a lot not to like about the final Gators’ game of the 2012 college football season, but I’ll choose to enjoy this for a long time. It’s hard to find anything wrong with that image and we shouldn’t be trying to. Darrin Kitchens, Gator Nation salutes you.

Louisville Cardinals 33 – Florida Gators 23: Gators Out-Coached, Out-Classed In Sugar Bowl

It ended 33-23, but that score doesn’t indicate what really happened on Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl. Closing the door on the 2012 season, the Florida Gators were out-coached and out-classed by the Louisville Cardinals. A few years ago, Gator Nation laid claim to the Ohio State Buckeyes after both football and basketball national championships. Now, it’s the Cardinals that own the Gators. First, the elite eight victory and now the Sugar Bowl.

Charlie Strong - Louisville Cardinals

There aren’t many worse ways a game can start than they way the Sugar Bowl did for the Florida Gators. For a moment, you might think “okay good, receiving the kick, let’s just get the offense out there and get the jitters out of the way, we don’t need a score on the first drive, but at least get them on the field.” Then a few seconds later, you find yourself banging your head against the wall wondering how what just happened really did happened. If you blinked you would have missed it and suddenly it was 7-0 Louisville.

It did get worse though. The offense sputtered, but we almost expected that much. This Gators’ team didn’t get where it was this season due to an explosive offense. It got to the Sugar Bowl thanks to an elite defense and an offense that came on when it needed to. It was still very much a work in progress. Unfortunately, the defense looked like it was only at that point too on Wednesday night. To say the Gators got out-coached would be a massive understatement. It looked like the Cardinals coaching staff had spent 24 hours a day every day studying the Florida defense and finding every possible way to exploit it. And exploit it they did.

Leading up to the game, several Gators commented that Teddy Bridgewater was the best quarterback they would face all season. That looked to be true. Not only did Bridgewater look like a legitimate future Heisman candidate, the plays called for him were nearly flawless. He picked apart the Gators’ defense even when facing pressure from the defensive line. Bridgewater was a model quarterback in the victory. His stats won’t jump off off the page at you–20-of-32, 266 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception–but there was an efficiency to his play that almost had you believing early that there was no way the Cardinals would lose. 9-of-14 on third down didn’t hurt their chances either.

In the end, this wasn’t a 33-23 game. It looked more like a 33-10 game–the score was exactly that after Louisville kicked a field goal with 7:54 remaining. Florida did what it does and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to edge closer, but it never appeared to be that close at all. One team didn’t convert on third downs; one team did. One team was plagued by stupid penalties and even an ejection; the other team wasn’t. One team looked lost and confused early; the other team appeared to be as prepared as you could possibly be. One team is 11-2 even though, at the moment, it doesn’t feel as such; the other team is 11-2 and feels as if they are on top of the world.

There will be more highs and lows for the Gators under Will Muschamp. 11-2 is something to celebrate, but the sting of this final, flat, disappointing loss makes any record good or bad tough to swallow. On the other sideline, we saw an elated and deserving victorious Charlie Strong and for a second we smiled (or smirked, or grinned, or even laughed). Two up-and-coming head coaches faced off and one flat out defeated the other.

Florida Gators Vs. Louisville Cardinals: Five Final Sugary Thoughts

In less than five hours, the Florida Gators will hit the field one final time to close out the 2012 season. Their opponent–the Louisville Cardinals–is an unfamiliar one, and the place–the Sugar Bowl–hasn’t been as known to the Gators as one would have hoped in recent years. The two teams face off with that pride thing on the line, but also much more. For the Gators, it’s a chance at an unlikely 12-1 season and a BCS bowl game victory one season before many thought it was possible.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

As we head into tonight’s game and the Time That Forgot College Football beyond it, here are five final thoughts on the Sugar Bowl.

1. Charlie Strong being a former Florida Gators’ assistant coach does not give Louisville an advantage. Okay, so having Strong as a head coach period might–the man is very good at what he does–but he didn’t leave Gainesville a year ago. He left long before the current staff and system was in place. This is his third season with the Cardinals. Do the math. Will Muschamp is in his second with the Gators and it feels like offensive coordinator Brent Pease only just got here. Strong gives his team many advantages, but familiarity with what the Gators do today isn’t one of them. Sure, he’s familiar with some of the older players and even had a large part in bringing some of them to the University of Florida, but that is vastly different than someone that may have left just one season ago.

2. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is that good. In only his sophomore season, Bridgewater is already one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He ranked seventh in the nation is passer rating–161.6–and sixth in completion percentage–60.0%. The sophomore is constantly improving. Even in Louisville’s two losses, Bridgewater’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was 5-to-2. The Gators’ secondary will be on alert. This kid can throw the ball.

3. The Gators’ sophomore quarterback–Jeff Driskel–hasn’t climbed as high as Bridgewater as quickly, but he has rather efficiently led Florida to an 11-1 record. Driskel may not wow you for 59 minutes, but then suddenly he does. He wasn’t asked to throw nearly as much as Bridgewater–216 to 387–but he showed signs of improvement over time. The passing yards aren’t there, but neither are the interceptions; Driskel only threw three all season. As the offense evolves, so does Driskel. He may never be a 3,000-yard passer, but in 11 starts in 2012 (come on, let’s just go ahead and give him the start for the Bowling Green game), he went 10-1. I’ll take it.

4. On that note, many of you will say “well, it was the defense, not the offense.” For the most part I won’t argue with you and because of that I’ll give a shout of to that side of the ball right here. Jon Bostic, gone. Sharrif Floyd, probably gone. Omar Hunter, gone. Matt Elam, probably gone. Those are just a few names. Just a few of the standouts on this year’s defense. Some of the stars will return, but others won’t. For some, this is it. This is their final game in a Gators’ uniform. Play for whatever you want to play for tonight, but make it count. Do it one final time and prove to the nation again just how good you can be.

5. And finally, enjoy it all. This isn’t just to the players, but also to us–the fans. This isn’t the Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl or Gator Bowl. This is the Sugar Bowl. It’s one of the big ones. It’s one of the ones many Florida fans feel the Gators belong in. We want this every year, so don’t look over it when it comes as a surprise. This is what we want to see from our Gators. We want 10+ wins, we want to beat Florida State, we want to be in the top five and we want bowl games. When a national championship isn’t in the picture, this is what we want. Enjoy tonight, because tomorrow starts the long, cold, dead period.

Florida Gators Vs. Louisville Cardinals: Surprise Sugar Bowl Appearance Couldn’t Be Sweeter

Ah, the familiar feel of the Sugar Bowl. Wednesday night will mark the Florida Gators ninth appearance in the New Orleans-based bowl game. Their record in it is far from spectacular, but it doesn’t make another appearance any less sweet.

Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

During the 1990s and the rise of now legendary head coach Steve Spurrier, the Gators and the Sugar Bowl practically went hand-in-hand. From 1992 to 1997, Florida went to New Orleans four times, compiling a record of 2-2. None of those appearances was as sweet as the 1997 edition, which resulted in the Gators’ first national championship. It didn’t hurt that it came after a thrashing of the rival Florida State Seminoles.

Since that wonderfully amazing day in 1997, Florida only made two more appearances in the Sugar Bowl. The Ron Zook years and some struggling times at the end of the Urban Meyer era and the beginning of the Will Muschamp one contributed to that. In 2001, it was a loss to the Miami Hurricanes in New Orleans that put an end to the season. In 2010, it was a beat down of the Cincinnati Bearcats and the end of Tim Tebow’s Florida career. Just three seasons later, the Gators are back and surprisingly so.

The 11-1 Gators will face an unfamiliar foe–the 10-2 Louisville Cardinals–with a familiar head coach–former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Strong has done exactly what Louisville hired him to–win. After back-to-back 7-6 seasons, he led the Cardinals to the Big East title and a BCS bowl game appearance in his third year. Strong will coach the Cardinals in their first-ever Sugar Bowl appearance not long after turning down a job opportunity with the Tennessee Volunteers to stay at Louisville and continue to build on the success he is now realizing.

Muschamp has also done exactly what his employer hired him to do. After a disappointing 7-6 season in 2011 during which Muschamp was given an incomplete roster and not a lot to work with, he has risen the Gators back to prominence in the SEC and across the country. The fact that Florida is playing in the Sugar Bowl in only his second season is a testament to that. He’s led the Gators there despite a new offensive coordinator–Brent Pease–and struggles on that side of the ball. Much of the thanks can go to what is becoming an elite defense and a team with more endurance than any of its opponents.

On Wednesday, two fairly inexperienced, but quickly successful head coaches face off in one of the biggest games of the bowl season. One has a chance to win its 11th game of the season, while the other has a legitimate shot at finishing as the nation’s No. 2 team. Not surprising for one, but downright shocking for the other. We’re over most of that shock now. After all, we’ve been through 12 games with this Florida Gators’ team. We’ve seen the highs and the lows. We’ve experienced the good and the bad. With one game remaining, we hope for the glory of a Sugar Bowl victory and a 12th win.

Wednesday night marks the end to the 2012 season of the Gators. After the final second ticks away, we go into hibernation for the long haul, so cheer loud, get behind the orange and blue and, as always, Go Gators!

Florida Gators Vs. Florida State Seminoles; The Rivalry Is Back Where It Belongs

I was thankful for a great many things yesterday–some sports-related; many not. Among those things I was thankful for was the return of the rivalry. I should clarify that before fans from both sides scream foul. When the Florida Gators face the Florida State Seminoles, the rivalry that comes along with it is always present. It wouldn’t matter if these teams had losing records. A rivalry of this kind is intense regardless of what the outcome means to the larger landscape of college football. That said, for many years it has taken a hit due to one or both of the programs underachieving. This season, that is not the case and, therefore, I’m thankful.

Ike Hilliard - Florida Gators

The Gators and ‘Noles enter Saturday’s game a combined 20-2. Not only do both teams have identical 10-1 records, they are both firmly (well, that could be argued) among the top 10 in the nation. Florida sits at No. 4 in the current BCS Standings thanks largely to the computer polls. FSU, on the other hand, holds the No. 10 spot due to those same polls. Let’s take a deeper dive, shall we?

The Florida Gators ranking line reads like this: No. 5 in the Harris Poll, No. 6 in the Coaches Poll, five computer rankings of No. 2 and one of No. 6. The computers have the Gators behind only the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which pushes Florida to No. 4 overall. Then look at the Florida State line: No. 6 in the Harris Poll, No. 5 in the Coaches Poll and computer rankings ranging between No. 15 and NR (that’s right, the ‘Noles are unranked in one of the computer polls). That hurts FSU in a number of ways and is what pushes them down to No. 10. All but one computer ranks the Clemson Tigers–a team the Seminoles beat–ahead of Florida State and you have to go all the way down to No. 18 to find a team with a lower computer average. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher may have been on to something when he spewed venom at the BCS.

But he only has half of an argument. Yes, the computers are screwing FSU to a point. As orange and blue as my vision is, I can admit that. However, there’s a little thing called strength of schedule that has to be taken into account. It’s not Fisher’s fault his ‘Noles play in the ACC where the level of competition isn’t always high. That’s not the fault of the FSU players either. He does have to live with it though. He also has to live with the fact that his team lost to a team they shouldn’t have–the NC State Wolfpack–that is now 6-5. Florida State would be either No. 1 or No. 2 right now if that hadn’t happened, but it did and Fisher has to live with the No. 10 ranking.

That doesn’t mean they won’t beat our mighty Gators tomorrow. The fact that FSU lost to NC State doesn’t necessarily give Florida an advantage either. Flip a coin and take your pick. What we’ll see if anyone’s guess, as it has been with most Gators’ games this season. There’s plenty to expect, but only one team will come out of this 11-1 and the best guess is to say something surprising will happen.

On both sides, we have elite defenses. Defenses that have won games for their respective teams. Defenses that will probably rule this matchup. Then we have the offenses and a whole lot of looking away from the television. I fondly remember the days when this game was always of national importance and with that came excitement over the offenses. The Florida offense would get the ball and you would move to the edge of your seat. Today, there are times when you’d rather go to the bathroom than see another three-and-out. On paper, Florida State holds the advantage in terms of offensive production. The problem with that is that you can throw away everything on paper from this entire college football season. Do I really need to prove that to you? Okay, here goes.

First of all, the Gators are 10-1. There’s joy in that record, but also genuine shock. The nation’s top team–the Alabama Crimson Tide–lost to one of the SEC’s newcomers in a game that didn’t feel as close as the score. Notre Dame is 11-0 and No. 1 only one season after I watched the USF Bulls beat them in South Bend. Florida State is 10-1 and NOT in the top five. Boise State has two losses and for once no one is talking about the Broncos. Only one week ago, we were discussing a National Championship featuring Oregon and Kansas State (?!?). And of the top 23 teams in the BCS Standings, only two have more than two losses this late in the season. Basically that means whatever the outcome on Saturday, it wouldn’t be surprising.

I hope for a Gators win, but I’m nervous. I’ve watched a determined team put together an impressive record with several notable victories and a lone loss to the nation’s No. 3 team. I’ve also watched an offense that looked to be improved early in the season, only to become something of a train wreck over the last month. I don’t know what to make of tomorrow because I don’t know what to make of the offense Brent Pease is attempting to get off the ground. Jeff Driskel will play, but I can’t be sure if that gives Florida a better chance than if Jacoby Brissett was taking snaps. The Gators have a primary running back and have run him ragged toward what will be the first 1,000-yard season since 2004, but he can’t do it alone. And, as always, there’s the offense line that we’re never really sure about. Put it all together and all I can manage is a shrug.

On Saturday, that shrug could turn into a raucous cheer or absolute anger. Time will tell on that end. The rivalry feels right again though and I am excited. Nervous, but excited. These teams should be playing for more than mid-tier bowl games. The rivalry means more to fans on both sides than that. Saturday will give us another chapter and another reason to hate each other. It’s part of what makes being a Florida fan or an FSU fan great. Both have the same philosophy for the game (even if we only promote it for one): just win.

Florida Gators To Face Ohio State Buckeyes In The Gator Bowl

Although factual, that title screams boring as much as boring could scream if it felt it was worth it’s time, which it wouldn’t, because it’s boring, so no screaming. (I’m entirely aware that I have issues.)

There were handfuls upon handfuls of other titles I could have come up with for a post about the Florida Gators upcoming trip the Gator Bowl to face the Ohio State Buckeyes. The topics alone are plentiful enough that there will be no shortage of discussion about the game between now and January 2.

To begin, since 2006, there has been a rivalry brewing between Florida and Ohio State. Not one of those that compares to the likes of Florida and the Florida State Seminoles, but enough of one that Gators hate Buckeyes and vice versa. For the record, the teams have not faced each other (in football at least) since they met to decide the national championship that season. It doesn’t matter though, because this mini-rivalry has fueled itself and something roughly the weight of a grown adult male was recently thrown on the fire.

As if a rematch of the title game wasn’t enough, former Florida head coach Urban Meyer went ahead and got himself hired by Ohio State mere days before the matchup was announced. Suddenly a bowl game between teams with matching 6-6 records looks like a battle to decide the fate of Middle Earth.

On the record yet again, Meyer won’t be coaching the Buckeyes when his new employer faces his old one, but he will be mentioned. The Bull Gator recommends watching the game on mute unless you’ve always had a strange desire to rip your own ears off. Love Meyer or hate him, he’s sure to be mentioned no less than 200-300 times. If this were a championship game or a BCS bowl, the announcers might focus on the happenings on the field. It’s not though. It’s a game to determine who won’t end the season with a losing record. Basically, nobody wins.

How you watch or listen to the game is entirely up to you, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. It’s a bowl game with a front-page storyline that occurred before the teams were even announced. I don’t know about you, but a teaspoon of cough syrup might be needed to help me through.

BCS, Take a Note

There are many things to hate about the BCS.  Too many to list here really.  We’ve probably gone over them before at some point or that may have been a dream.  We tend to blur the lines between what we say, what we write, what he hear, what we read, what we dream, and what we hope.  We may have been staunch supporters of the BCS in the past (in both 2006 and 2008 for example), but also could have wished for its downfall.

Like we said, there are many things the BCS gets wrong.  One was painfully evident last night.  Sundays mean the NFL.  Therefore, the NFL plays its championship game – that event you watched last night referred to as the Super Bowl – on a Sunday.  It’s played on a Sunday because the league’s fans are accustomed to the sport on that day of the week.  It’s also played at a reasonable enough time that even those of us on the East coast saw it end just a hair after 10:00 pm.  Those of us getting older by the second continue to have responsibilities that no longer allow us to throw caution to the winds of sport.  It’s a sad reality, but one we begrudgingly accept.  Due to that, we are thankful for sporting events that end at a reasonable hour.  Until the day this becomes our “real” job, we need to get to bed people!
Like Sunday means NFL, Saturday means college football.  But does the BCS schedule their National Championship game on a Saturday night?  No, of course not.  That would make sense and the BCS does little of that.  Instead they have it on every day that isn’t Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  The last time the game was held on one of those days was following the 2003 season when LSU beat Oklahoma on Sunday, January 4, 2004. Since then, Fridays and weekends have been off limits.  Last season’s game started at 8:38 pm on a Monday and wasn’t until January 10.  So much for the tradition of New Year’s Day (although that isn’t something we should really be complaining about anymore since that went away years ago).
People will give you the standard arguments as to why it happens.  Things like “the NFL Playoffs dominate the weekends that time of year” and “it’s the BCS, what do you expect?”  None of that is good enough.  It should change.  Simple enough.  You may enjoy playing the role of “oh well, it won’t change, what’s the point in debating it,” but that’s a boring existence and we don’t stand for it.  The game starts late on a weekday because of the West coast.  On a Saturday it could start at virtually anytime, although we are partial to the Super Bowl’s start time.  Think viewership is good on a Tuesday?  Imagine what it would be on a Saturday.
We hold no hope in it changing.  Things we dislike rarely change.  For instance, we are still required to wear pants to work.  The BCS doesn’t change and supports itself strongly whenever it is questioned in anyway.  Next year we will have another weekday game.  Millions won’t make it to the second half, let alone the end.  It’ll continue because it can and we will debate it because we can as well.  But hear this again, Saturday means college football and we’ll continue to talk about the things that can be fixed.