65 Reasons to Be Happy, If Even for a Moment

65-0 should be enough. For me, it is.

I woke up Sunday morning—one day after our beloved Florida Gators dismantled Eastern Michigan—and took to Twitter. There was plenty of positivity in Gator Nation and, for the most part, fans were happy. But there were still the few. Those that have to find the flaw in the win. Those that may finally be happy at an undefeated season and a national championship. Those that may never be pleased.

Kelvin Taylor - Florida Gators

That’s their right. Every fan has that right. Cheer when you want; critique when you feel the need. The type of fan a person chooses to be is a choice they stand by and I’m not here to tell them they’re wrong. All I’m here to do is to say that I’m happy and that happiness will last for more than just one moment.

EMU was far from an SEC opponent. They were not a world-class team. The Gators should have beaten them 65-0. But here’s the thing: one season ago, Florida didn’t beat the teams they were supposed to beat. The Gators lost to Georgia Southern at home. Go back one season further and you find a narrow win over Louisiana. Lately, Florida hasn’t been taking care of business against the teams they’re heavily favored against. Saturday was different; be happy.

To start, we saw football. The game wasn’t delayed. There wasn’t one play hours after the scheduled kickoff. There wasn’t a postponement that turned into a cancellation. Instead, there was football. Good football at that. For 60 minutes, it felt like the orange and blue channeled the teams of old. 65 points, 655 yards, and big plays. Oh those big plays. I grew up in the PlayStation generation. Video game offenses didn’t exist in real life, but they could get close. Steve Spurrier kept scoring. The brakes were never applied. That was Saturday. When your backup quarterback—a true freshman making his first appearance in The Swamp at that—goes deep on his first pass attempt (AND COMPLETES IT FOR A 70-YARD TOUCHDOWN!!!) you aren’t letting up.

Let’s stop there for a second and look at Treon Harris’s line:

2 completions, 2 pass attempts, 148 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1,051.6 rating.

Read that last stat again. The highest rating a college quarterback can possibly achieve is 1,261.6. To do so, he would have to have every pass attempt result in a 99-yard touchdown completion. Harris was darn close.

Yes, I know it was against a team without a great defense and he was doing so late in a blowout, but those facts do little to diminish what was a great first showing by the freshman. We may have ourselves quite the backup quarterback.

There were plenty of more good performances in the win. Jeff Driskel was solid and looked calm in Kurt Roper’s offense. The running game accounted for 259 yards on the ground and the trio of Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones, and Mack Brown averaged 8.7 yards per carry. Demarcus Robinson had 5 catches for 23 yards his freshman season; he had 6 for 123 and a touchdown on Saturday. Clay Burton led the team with 7 catches, more than doubling his career total of 3 going into the game. Andre Debose looked like the player we thought he could be all those years ago. Duke Dawson had quite the debut. Brian Poole was everywhere on defense. And the entire defense was smothering. Like I said, I’m happy.

Many will call this a warm-up game, and they would be correct in doing so. The Gators were supposed to get two warm-up games. Lightning wiped that plan away. Now, Florida will head to SEC play with one game and a big win under its belt. Kentucky has not looked like the Kentucky of old and could present a challenge, but I will gladly accept that challenge after Saturday’s showing. There are many worse ways to go into your first SEC game.

The Gators will be favored, and rightfully so, but we may not completely know what we have just yet. An explosive offense, check. A shutdown defense, check. Capable special teams, check. All looked good on Saturday and that’s enough to keep me positive, so for now I will be.

In one game, the Gators answered as many questions as a team could in only 60 minutes. There are 10 games to go, though, and Florida will be questioned going into every one. That’s fine and perfectly acceptable, but all I ask is that you try to keep that positive outlook. I’m not sure if cheering for a team is all that much fun if you go into a game seeking gloom and doom. Call it naiveté, but I enjoy hope and I’ll keep that hope going a little longer after the 65-0 win.

As for Kentucky, there’s a win streak to keep alive. We’ve seen some of those fall recently and would like the bleeding to stop. Let’s keep the Kentucky streak alive and in a few weeks extend the Tennessee streak. The Gators may not be a championship-caliber team yet, but they need to win the ones they should. Fall against the Wildcats and progress may be a dream at the moment. Handle their business against Kentucky and go into the Alabama game with two impressive wins and we’re headed in the right direction. All in all, just win. Win more then you lose. Don’t go 4-8. Becoming the orange and blue we all know they can be.

It’s hard to imagine that after just another 60 minutes, we’ll be a quarter of the way through the season. AH! MAKE IT SLOW DOWN! We were shorted a game and now that the season has started, it’s going ahead full force. 10 games to go, each one counts, blah, blah, blah. I could hype it up one hundred different ways. You don’t need me to get you hyped for the first SEC game. You know the importance. Go Gators! And again, Just Win!

Becoming a Florida Gators Fan Again

Sports blogs have failed you. And this one is no different.

Years ago, when the first sports blogs appeared, the idea was simple: sports, from a fan’s perspective. You visited because you were intrigued and you returned because it felt like you were reading the thoughts of someone you could hang out with. Suddenly, your friends had a voice. Sports blogs were different than traditional sports journalism because of that voice. You didn’t see dry game recaps. No, you saw opinions. Opinions you yourself had or even those you vehemently disagreed with. But it was those opinions you latched on to and wanted more of. You wanted your rant to your dog after a heartbreaking defeat to be justified because someone out there somewhere felt the same way you did. It was a beautiful thing.

Florida Gators Football Fans

Then they became too popular.

Advertising. Networks. Partnerships. Sports blogs became the same large media outlets they had hoped to differentiate themselves from. Bloggers started to alter their writing styles to gain hits. They changed what they were writing about to drive page views. Opinions were still there, but they were lost in a sea of 100-word game recaps with post titles carefully constructed for SEO purposes.

During that time, many sports blogs became insanely successful and just as many bloggers made careers out of what was first a hobby. Let’s clear the air and say that not long after its inception in 2008 my goal was much the same with The Bull Gator. I wanted to be the next casual blogger turned buyout success. I too had lost sight of the reason I started TBG in the first place. But back to that in a moment.

None of this is a knock on those high-trafficked blogs and what they have become, even if it’s hard to call them blogs at this point. There are many of them I read weekly if not daily. My list of favorite writers includes a number of talented individuals that started as I did. They put in a lot of hard work to get where they are today and I’m genuinely happy for them. They have turned a hobby into something much more. There was a time when I wanted the same, but now I’m not so sure.

The point of all of this is to return to the reason I started TBG in the first place—because I’m a fan of sports, specifically college football and the Florida Gators. I and a group of friends would banter over emails chains that lasted days. We loved every aspect of college football and probably liked discussing it even more. We were simply fans, and then I started TBG.

TBG was an outlet for me to expand on my opinions. One of those friends once said “you should start a blog,” so I did. How many endeavors in the history of the world have begun that way? “You should see what’s across that ocean?” “You should make a rocket that will take people to the moon?” “You should definitely take that shot?” Okay, that last one is almost always a bad idea, especially if it’s after 2:00am.

So I went to Blogger, signed up, and TBG was born. It took a long time to find its focus and even today may not truly have one. I tried talking any and all sports. I tried focusing on the athletic programs of the two universities I had the pleasure of attending. I tried just one of those schools. I tried to be too much. I tried to be too little. Mostly, I tried. I wouldn’t say I failed, but I tried a lot that worked out and just as much that didn’t.

For the last few months, as TBG lay idle, I’ve thought about what its future held. More often than not, those thoughts came around to shutting it down and saying farewell to the world of blogging, but in the end that’s not what I really wanted.

What I wanted was to be a fan again. I wanted to share my opinions on the Gators. I didn’t want to rush to write a game recap as quickly as I could as soon as the final buzzer sounded. I wanted to write what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it. I wanted to go to games thinking about my love of the orange and blue, not worrying about how long it would be before I could get up a post about the latest injury, or highlight, or win, or loss. I wanted to be what I was in 2008 when I clicked the button that made the site live.

So today, I’m a fan again. A Gators’ fan. A fan that is seriously concerned over his choice of shirt and hat for the first game because superstition has set in. A fan that can’t wait to go to the bookstore and add to my all-too-large collection of Florida apparel. A fan that hopes with everything in his being that 4-8 was an anomaly we won’t see again. A fan that cheers during the good times and the bad times. A fan that spills his beer jumping out of his seat after a touchdown. A fan that paces in front of the television when the Gators are losing. A fan that truly believes it when he says “wait ‘til next year.” A fan.

I love the Gators in every way a diehard does. I’m angry at 4-8. I’m happy at the prospect of improvement. I experience the ups and downs of recruiting. I think Will Muschamp should be fired while at the same time think he needs more time. I blame injuries. I blame refs. I blame offensive coordinators. I blame myself for putting on a cursed shirt. I believe I can impact a game by yelling at the players from the comfort of my living room (my wife disagrees).

As that fan that I am once again becoming, I could not be more nervous about the upcoming season. 4-8. 4-8!!!!! It’s hard to think it let alone say it. There were so many factors that went into that record and so many excuses we could make for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Gators went 4-8 in 2013 and lost to Georgia Southern AT HOME! No, no, just no. I hardly had the energy to give out my signature line of “just win” last season because more often than not Florida couldn’t. To make matters worse, they started 4-1. That’s a whole lot of losing to end a season. I wasn’t a happy fan and if Twitter, Facebook, the Internet in general told the story, none of you were either.

But 2014 is a new season and with it comes a new offensive coordinator. Hope springs eternal in the life of a sports fan. The problem is that we hope for something along the lines of 10-2 when realistically 7-5 could signal a drastic improvement. And there is exactly where fans will divide. We could see a dramatically improved Florida team that does go 7-5. There will be the fans that seen that improvement and look toward 2015 and on the other side will be those fans that see 7-5 and don’t care what the Gators looked like to get there. To them the five losses are far too many, and they’re right.

That is too many losses. So is four, but I’ve always looked at it in terms of wins. For me, 10 wins is the mark. That’s what a program like Florida should hit season after season after season. The Gators play in an unbelievably competitive conference, you all know that, but based on so many other factors, they should be near the top of the SEC every single season. I want 10 wins, at least. I want it in 2014 even if I don’t think it’s realistic. I want it so my friends that like those other schools that will remain nameless shut up. And I want it so I’m happy. But mostly, for 2014, I want improvement. I want visible improvement to show the program is rebuilding and getting back to where it should be. And I think it will happen.

I do. Of my group of Florida fan friends, I’m the most optimistic one. It’s a fault, but also keeps me sane. I think. The glass is more than half full for me and I like it that way. 4-8 is behind us and all signs point to improvement in 2014. But again, that improvement may not show much in the final record. Maybe I just want to see good football. There were times, many times, last season where good football wasn’t present. There was a lot of bad, horrible, awful football. I can’t stomach even the thought of the loss to Vanderbilt. I was there that day watching who knows what. It was not good football and probably the farthest from it the Gators have played in quite some time.

That leads me to the bright spots. A healthy Jeff Driskel should fit into Kurt Roper’s offense. Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the nation’s best players. Dante Fowler, Jr. is a superstar in the making and someone we will be watching on Sundays for a very long time. And the running back position excites me as long as injuries and the fumble bug don’t hit. I like a lot about this team. I don’t believe it’s a championship team and I don’t think anyone else does, but if you look hard enough, turn your head to the left, squint, and tap your heels together three times, you might see that Florida is putting something together.

The first three games on the schedule could tell us nothing. September 20 will. A trip to Alabama that all too many have written off as a loss already. I’m not proclaiming a Gators’ win. I just want to see what happens. It will be a telling 60 minutes during which we’ll see where this team is and where they will go. Add LSU, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, and FSU to the schedule and, well…scariest environment imaginable. And I didn’t even mention Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Hence the “7-5 would be a drastic improvement” comments.

Regardless of what will or won’t happen and my hope or lack thereof, I’m excited. Today is the most wonderful day of the year (you know, every day I get to spend with my wife and son aside). It’s the start of the college football season. I have a Gators’ shirt on, I set up a patio television for my pool viewing pleasure (it’s hot in Florida this time of year, people), and in a few hours I pick up my cousin at the airport. That last part is important because my cousin may be the biggest Gators’ fan that has ever lived that has stepped on the University of Florida campus exactly once.

The two of us will be at the game on Saturday, so if you see two men tailgating behind a black GMC Yukon that look too old to be college students, but too young to be true Bull Gators, stop by, say hello, and join us for a beer. My name is Joel, his name is Scott, and we’re Florida Gators’ fans. We’ll cheer with the rest of you on Saturday and on every other Saturday for the next few months. We’ll be obnoxious to opposing fans when the moment calls for it. We’ll question every play that results in less than five yards. We’ll complain and moan if Roper doesn’t rain down offensive fireworks galore from the very first snap. Through it all, we’ll cheer and we won’t stop. We’re fans of the orange and blue and excited to kick off another season with hope.

And before I go, I have to leave you with two things—Go Gators! And Just Win!

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.

Florida Gators Recruiting: Offensive Lineman Andrew Mike Flips from Vanderbilt

Florida was hard at work on the eve of National Signing Day. The Gators added a sixth offensive lineman as part of the 2014 recruiting class in the form of Andrew Mike who flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt.

Andrew Mike, Florida Gators

Mike was not a member of the Commodores’ recruiting class for long, having committed to Vandy on Monday after an official visit to the school over the weekend. Then Florida came calling. The Gators reached out to Mike on Monday night, further expressing their interest in having him join their class. It didn’t take long for the offensive lineman to change his mind and on Tuesday night he committed to Florida.

The 6’7″, 270-pound Mike projects to offensive tackle at the college level. The height is there, but the weight needs to come. He is a three-star prospect across the board, ranking as the nation’s No. 60 offensive tackle according to Rivals and No. 61 according to 247. ESPN and Scout are a little higher on Mike than the others, putting him at No. 32 and No. 44 respectively at his position.

Despite having six offensive lineman as a part of the class, the Gators may not be done. Florida has a strong chance of adding four-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. on National Signing Day.