Fox Force Five: The SEC Coaching Carousel Has Finally Stopped Turning

SEC commentary in five parts, as in there’s one, two, three, four, five of them.

The SEC looked anew in 2012. With two programs – Missouri and Texas A&M (don’t forget, Florida beat them both #smugface) – joining the mix, change had come. When the Aggies overachieved by knocking off No. 1 Alabama and producing a genuine Heisman candidate, we all took notice and realized the future of the Southeastern Conference would be cast in a very different light.

Joker Phillips - Kentucky Wildcats

This offseason doesn’t have the look of conference expansion or realignment for the SEC. The 14 teams that entered 2012 will remain in 2013 and no others will join. Sure, we’ll see a 16-team SEC one day, but that day isn’t immediately ahead of us. While 2012 was about new programs, 2013 will be about new coaches. Four, in fact. Out is a man with a secret exposed, a recent national champion and two that never found success. In are hopes and dreams.

1. Kentucky was the first program to find their new coach and we can hardly classify it as a good hire. That’s not a knock on Mark Stoops (Florida State’s former defensive coordinator who should have been run out of Tallahassee after the fourth quarter against the Gators. Uh, BOOM!). Stoops can be a good head coach one day, and at 45 he has plenty of time to do so, but this is Kentucky. The focus will always be on basketball and while the Wildcats will have a bowl season or two here or there, there isn’t much of a chance to make noise in the competitive SEC East. Stoops will most likely get the same three-year window Joker Phillips got.

2. Speaking of Joker Phillips, the Florida Gators finally have a true wide receivers’ coach. I like this hire and you should too. Phillips’s record at Kentucky was nothing special, but as mentioned above, it was Kentucky. It was no walk in the park to compete with the rest of the SEC. So Phillips goes back to the assistant coach ranks and the Gators should be pleased to have him (which I’m sure they are because otherwise Will Muschamp wouldn’t have added him to the staff). In addition to other responsibilities at times, Phillips has 18 years of experience as a wide receivers’ coach. And, oh yeah, he’ll also be the recruiting coordinator. Florida could do a lot worse. Welcome aboard Joker.

3. Gene Chizik came to Auburn from Iowa State where he compiled a record of 5-19. That’s right, he was 5-19. At Auburn, things got better and he brought the school a national title in 2010. Actually, Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn got the Tigers a championship. Did you know that without Malzahn on his staff, Chizik’s career record is 8-28? That’s bad, but even worse is that he went 2-22 in conference games. All he did with Malzahn was go 30-10 with a 15-9 record in conference play and win that title. So after Auburn fired Chizik, they hired Malzahn.. Good choice.

4. By default, I am a Wisconsin fan. Let’s be clear, my in-laws are Badgers’ fans and they would be my Big Ten team of choice if forced to pick a team from a conference that rarely crosses my radar. But over the past few years, I’ve learned to like Bucky and send good vibes the way of the Badgers. I was never much of a fan of Bret Bielema, but he won 10 or more games four times and three Rose Bowls in a row is three Rose Bowls in a row. Then he left to become the head coach at Arkansas, which I don’t understand. None of us do. Bielema has been outside of the Big Ten for exact two years of his coaching career (as co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2002 and 2003). This should be interesting to say the least. I don’t know if the phrase “good fit” even comes close to touching this one.

5. And finally, we waited and waited and waited to find out who would want to coach the train wreck of a program Tennessee has become. It wasn’t Mike Gundy and it wasn’t Charlie Strong (PHEW!) and it came close to being nobody. The Vols are down and recruiting has become tougher. The SEC (and specifically the SEC East) isn’t what it used to be and this will be an uphill battle. Butch Jones took the job and, for him, it makes sense. Tennessee may have its problems, but it’s a definite step up from Cincinnati. I don’t wish him good luck, because I’m not permitted to. I can only hope they are looking for a new head coach again in Knoxville in a few short years.

2013 Basketball Recruiting: Florida Gators November Recruiting Update

With the football season more than halfway over, election day today, and the Florida Gators’ basketball season three days away, it’s safe to say that this year has been flying by. That being said, it’s always the right time to talk about basketball recruiting. Below is an update on how Florida stands with three elite basketball recruits.

Dakari Johnson

Center, Dakari Johnson: Good news came for Florida when it was learned that former 2014 center Dakari Johnson reclassified to become the No. 1 center in the 2013 class. This comes a pleasant surprise for Florida because, of course, they can never have enough size up front. Even more of a pleasant surprise, Johnson is a teammate of Kasey Hill at the Montverde Academy of Florida. Kasey Hill’s friendship and Johnson’s already-formed relationship with Billy Donovan through the Under-17 Olympic team should factor as advantages for Florida to land the top recruit.

Leaders: Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse, Georgetown, Ohio State, and Georgia

Prediction: Florida receives Johnson’s commitment thanks in large part to his ties to fellow recruit Kasey Hill and coach Billy Donovan.

Forward, Julius Randle: The player who is regarded as the No. 2 recruit in the 2013 class by Rivals has been one of Billy Donovan’s primary targets in a recruiting year that has already been quite great. Randle is somewhat of an athletic freak, drawing comparisons to a more-skilled Terrence Jones. Florida’s angle on Randle is similar to that of Johnson. Randle was also coached by Donovan on the Under-17 Olympic team, and the two have a very good relationship. On a team that would be already incredibly athletic with Chris Walker, Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Demontre Harris (assuming Patric Young doesn’t return next season, even though that would be even more great), Randle would take it to a whole new level of athleticism.

Leaders: Kentucky, NC State, Florida, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma

Prediction: In what should be a very close race between Florida, Texas, and Kentucky, I can’t bring myself to bet against Kentucky pursuing a high-profile recruit that is very sought-after, though this one could go in any direction.

Forward: Jabari Parker: The 6’8″ Parker is the No. 1 prospect in all the land, but don’t count on Florida’s chances of landing him because they are slim. Florida was very fortunate to make his top-five, but the chances of Florida edging out Duke or BYU are very unlikely. Though it’s not likely to happen, stranger things have happened and the elite scorer would be an awesome surprise that I’m sure Gators fans would welcome.

Leaders: BYU, Stanford, Duke, Michigan State, and Florida.

Prediction: Duke beats out BYU in a close race. Michigan State is the dark-horse.

Video Time: Here’s a great video of the latter two of three recruits, Randle and Parker, battling against each other. Could they someday be teammates?

Monday Morning Driskel: Florida Gators Thoughts After Win Over The Kentucky Wildcats

Another win, another new Florida Gators feature at The Bull Gator. The name is inspired by our quarterback Jeff Driskel and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, which discusses a plethora of topics concerning the week’s NFL games. We hope to do something similar, but on a minor, more pertinent-to-us level. Don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as long.

And another happy week in Gatorland.

This week, the Florida Gators continued their football domination of the Kentucky Wildcats, shutting them out. Will Muschamp’s squad rose to No. 11/12 in the AP and Coaches Polls. The big story was the extension of the Gators’ 26-and-counting win streak over the Wildcats, a probable reason for the Kentucky fans to continue to revert their focus back to the basketball season, which is quite a while from now.

What Happened

Jeff Driskel continued his balling: Sir Driskel could eventually be one of the best Gators to play at Florida by the time he graduates. As a true sophomore, JD looks better in Brent Pease’s system than Brantley looked in Charlie Weis’. Part of that has to be because of Driskel’s mobility. His ability to avoid the pass-rush and make plays deep down the field thus far has been Roethlisberger-esque, and right now, he is leading our football team.

The defense was, for the most part, dominant: Led by a surprise Jaylen Watkins pick six, the Gators’ defense forced three turnovers, all interceptions. All could pretty much be attributed to Morgan Newton’s erratic inaccuracy, which was really terrible, but we’ll still claim those turnovers. On a similar note, there were a lot of open Wildcats that Newton completely missed, which needs to be worked on. Other than that and some success for Kentucky in the run game, Florida’s defense did indeed look pretty dominant.

Kentucky as, same-old Kentucky: There’s a reason none of the players on Kentucky have been alive since the last Wildcat win over the Gators. Kentucky is back this year with their usual football mediocrity, and their cause wasn’t helped much by starting quarterback Maxwell Smith’s unavailability.

The game was secured early: The Gators led 24-0 at the half, and Jeff Driskel and other key starters started their rests in the fourth quarter. Mike Gillislee got his rest early, not playing after the first series in the second half.

Receivers are getting open: This can be largely attributed to Driskel’s ability to extend the play and give the receivers more time to get open, but there’s no doubt that this team is better than last year’s in the receiving corps. Sure, no player is averaging 100 yards-per-game, but a good number of the Florida receivers are chipping in with a few catches in each game. With 10 players targeted in Saturday’s game, speedster Andre Debose, who was largely nonexistent in all areas of the game, was the notable exception.

The defense is great in the fourth quarter: I put this up last week, and nothing changed this week, so I figured I’d put this up again.

More raving for Jeff Driskel: Driskel threw his first interception of the year on a terrible throw up into double-coverage in the end-zone, but give him loads of credit. He followed up his mistake with another game that showed his improvement. Another game note: his accuracy is amazing.

Ouch Video Of The Day

• Tight end Jordan Reed sandwiched: I really don’t know how Reed got up after this play, let alone held onto the ball. He came out of the play with a shoulder injury, but he appears to be fine.

This is also the play of the game, simply because I can’t find video of Jaylen Watkins’ interception and touchdown return.

Florida Gators 38 – Kentucky Wildcats 0; Shutouts Are A Wonderfully Beautiful Thing

The Florida Gators were kind enough to treat us to a shutout on Saturday as they defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 38-0. The win marked the 26th straight for the Gators over the ‘Cats which ties an SEC record. Oh what a far cry from the rivalry that has developed on the basketball court between these two schools. Before we get to my thoughts on the entire game, yet another edition of What I Wrote at the Half.

It wasn’t the fastest of starts for the Florida Gators, but we didn’t necessarily have to wait until the second half to see improvement either. 24-0 at the half is definitely workable and something to be happy about. That’s 24-0 with some obvious improvements to be made as well, so it’ll be interesting to see this team actually firing on all cylinders for 60 minutes.

Both sides of the ball suffered that slow start, but the defense managed to keep the Kentucky Wildcats out of the end zone and off of the scoreboard. All the while causing three turnovers. This one is for One Eyed Willy, but JAYLEN WATKINS IS THE GREATEST TO EVER PLAY THE GAME OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL! Now that that is out of my system, moving on. The Gators upped the pressure on Morgan Newton as the half went on, but at the same time are lucky he can’t hit an open receiver to save his life. Seriously, if Newton’s accuracy was even slightly better, this could be a closer game. Then again, as the defense warmed up, they started to shut down more of the run game that kept the Wildcats in it early.

As for the offense, well, things got going and the points did come. Jeff Driskel was a little off in the first half, but also on when he needed to be. He had a couple of throws get away from him, but also made the ones that counted. The interception wasn’t pretty and definitely a throw he wishes he had back. It should have been thrown right after the pump fake. The delay allowed the defense to tighten position. But hey, one interception in three and a half games is good for me, Driskel, Brent Pease, Will Muschamp and the entire Gator Nation.

So the Gators get ready to come out for the second half and I head back to the coach. All eyes are on 50 points.

As for the entire 60 minutes, there was offense and there was defense…neither of which came from Kentucky (HA HA HA). Sorry Kentucky fans, I have a 10 week old, which means sleep is no longer in my vocabulary, so the jokes get worse and worse and worse (not that they were ever top-notch to begin with).

The second half was quieter than the first with the Gators only scoring 10 points. Still 10 points to 0 from the Wildcats is a win. Florida kept mostly to the ground. Driskel had an impressive third quarter in which he completed seven of eight attempts, but that would be all Florida would throw the ball. Jacoby Brissett got decent time in mop up duty, but only handed off the ball or ran himself. Yes, that’s right, Brissett didn’t put the ball in the air once. I have to admit that’s a little surprising to me. Surely, the coaches didn’t want to embarrass Kentucky, but it wouldn’t have been an awful idea to let the backup throw the ball in a game situation. Any way…

Driskel is growing up right in front of us and looks like he will have no problem manning the job for the foreseeable future. There were the throws that got away from him, but he’s still a much improved quarterback and oh my the composure. The difference from last season to this is night and day. Nothing gets to him and that’s an attribute you want from a quarterback, not only in the SEC, but in any conference or even in any level of organized football. It’s looking more and more like this is a position the Gators don’t have to worry about.

If we had a true negative from the game (yes, there were needs improvements, but let’s go with the negative side for a moment), it was penalties again. Seven is about three or four too many. I’d even take five consistently at this point. While they are becomimg less and less stupid – if that makes sense – they are still there and there are still too many of them. In a 38-0 victory, that’s reaching for something to be upset about, but it is what it is. (I apology for that last line. I hate that saying and will blame my keyboard on putting it out there.)

The Gators move to 4-0, but what’s more important is three of those victories are conferences ones. A third of the way through the schedule and the Gators are already 3-0 in SEC play. That’s big and needed with a team like LSU on the horizon. The bye week comes at a good time. Work on penalties, shore up the areas of improvement, and get people healthy. October 6 looms over us now, but until then we can breath a heavy sigh of relief, enjoy the rest of the college football world, and remember how great it is to be a Florida Gator.

Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Kentucky Wildcats; Gators Look To Replicate Magic Of Seasons Past

The Florida Gators play host to the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday afternoon in an SEC game that has had a very familiar outcome of the years. For the last 25 seasons, the Gators have won this contest and the last four haven’t been close.

2008 marked the second-straight season during which the teams would meet in October instead of September. It confused those of us that don’t do well with change, but the result wouldn’t deviate from what we were used to. The Gators scored 63 points on only 446 yards of offense. Not that 446 yards is a small number, but 63 points is usually accompanied by much more. The first half was good to the Gators. Florida was up 28-0 at the end of the first 15 and headed to the locker room with a 42-3 advantage. A redshirt freshman quarterback that went by the name John Brantley even got into the action, finding David Nelson for a 38-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

The game would return to September in 2009 and the Gators would get out of the gate on fire yet again. 31-0 after the first quarter had us believing we could see records set on that day. Urban Meyer called off the dogs though and Florida would only add 10 more throughout the final 45 minutes to win 41-7. Senior quarterback Tim Tebow would only attempt 10 passes during the game, but would rush for 123 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Gators to victory. Brantley, now a redshirt sophomore, would come in late once again and add another fourth quarter touchdown pass, this time to Riley Cooper. This was the famous Tebow concussion game. For many long minutes, as Tebow lay motionless on the field, we thought the season and even his Florida career may be over. We all know now, it wasn’t.

Before the game in 2010, Florida and Kentucky came to an agreement that touchdowns would only count if scored by players wearing the number eight. 60 minutes and nine touchdowns later, both teams had lived up to the bargain. Fortunately for the Gators, their No. 8s were just a tad better. Freshman Trey Burton was introduced to the nation, scoring six times. Burton ran for five touchdowns and caught another (from Brantley; for those keeping track at home, that’s touchdown passes in three consecutive Kentucky games for the quarterback). Jeremy Brown – wearing No. 8 on defense – even got into the action with a 52-yard interception return for a score. The Wildcats had a solid No. 8 of their own – Chris Matthews – but could only get him into the end zone twice as the Gators prevailed 48-14.

2011 would be the game to rival all rushing games. The Gators would put up 405 yards on the ground in the 48-10 victory. Jeff Demps would lead the way with 157 rushing yards. He was followed by Chris Rainey who also went over 100 with 105. The current starter – Mike Gillislee – came close to joining the club with 84. Overall, seven non-quarterbacks would get carries. Brantley would only need to attempt 14 passes, but he would again get his one touchdown, a first quarter toss to Gerald Christian.

This time around should be no different. I hate saying “should be” because that generally means it will be different. The Gators need a victory and seem poised to delivery one. The Wildcats aren’t expected to make much noise this season and shouldn’t pose much of a threat; however, we’ve all seen games before where Florida has won, but in far from spectacular fashion. This is that game where spectacular fashion would go oh so far. Bye week ahead followed by LSU. A big win will carry momentum into the coming weeks.

We’ve seen a team improving right before our eyes and are excited for the future. Today isn’t about the future, it’s about the Kentucky Wildcats. Another Saturday, another win on the horizon. Go Gators!

Predicting The 2012 SEC Football Season Game By Game (If Each Team Played 1,200 Games)

I guess it’s not that weird, but it is different. We here at The Bull Gator started this last season and figured we might as well continue. (We’re still not sure where our inspiration came from, but we’ve seen similar things done elsewhere, so thanks to anyone that may be doing something like this.) This is our way of predicting the 2012 SEC football season. It’s more than just win vs. loss. Instead, it’s how many times a particular team might beat another. Averages, if you will.

Instead of picking Team A over Team B, we tried to determine how many times we thought Team A would beat Team B if they played each other 100 times. While Team A may be heavily favored over Team B, there’s always that chance of an upset and we try to take that into account. Need an example? Here you go:

If the Florida Gators and Bowling Green Falcons played 100 times, you think the Gators would win 75 of those games. You feel the same way for each of the remaining 11 games on Florida’s schedule. That’s 12 matchups and 75 wins per game. 12 multiplied by 75 is 900; 900 divided by 100 (because in reality, the Gators don’t play each team 100 times; they play each team once) is 9. Therefore, based on your win number for each game, you believe Florida will end up with 9 victories in 2012 for a record of 9-3. Yes, you have technically predicted the Gators to win every game, but a 75% chance of winning each time out is far from perfect.

We set two rules for this exercise. One rule is obvious: A single game must have consistent results. If you believe Florida would beat Texas A&M 75 times, then you also believe Texas A&M would beat Florida 25 times. The other was set to force each of us to pick an overall winner: No matchup can be 50-50. You have to go one way or another even if your chosen mark is 51-49. Ultimately, we’re attempting to predict outcomes and there are no longer ties in college football.

Now that the lengthy (although much shorter than last year’s) explanation is over, here are the results. Discuss, agree with, argue against below.

A few notes:

• The highlighted numbers under the SEC East standings are there to show the only place in the entire standings where we disagreed with each other. Although Vanderbilt ends up fourth overall, individually Willy had them fifth behind Missouri.

• The highlighted schools under the SEC West standings are for the two national title contenders. We both ended up with Alabama ahead of LSU in the SEC West standings; however, if you look at just our picks, that’s not necessarily true. I give the edge to Bama in every game they play, while Willy has LSU beating Bama 55-45. The reason the Tide still come out on top for him is because of greater average confidence in their 11 wins than the Tigers’ 12.

• Finally, the highlighted numbers in the individual team schedules show the games we disagreed on from a win-loss standpoint. Last year, we didn’t disagree on a single game! That’s right, not one. This year there were six, four of which involved Tennessee. I’m not proud to say that in all four of those, I have the Vols coming out on top, but that doesn’t change the fact that we both think their probably a 6-6 team.

There you have it, our long-winded way of predicting the SEC in 2012.

Florida No. 3 In USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Baseball Poll; Gators Rise Two Spots

The Florida Gators’ baseball team rose two spots in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Baseball Poll after a 3-1 week. The Gators three wins were all unnervingly close, but enough to help the rise in the poll. The two programs higher than 38-14 Florida in the top 25 are the 40-10 Florida State Seminoles and 38-13 South Carolina Gamecocks. Interestingly enough – and a little fact to keep us on the positive side of our hopes for the Gators’ progress through the postseason – Florida is 5-1 against those two teams.

The top 10 also includes SEC foes Kentucky at No. 5 and LSU at No. 9. Texas A&M brings added strength to next season’s schedule as the Aggies currently come in at No. 8. Arkansas and Ole Miss add to the conference’s collection among the top 25.

The Nerlens Noel Investigation Has Me Happy I’m “Just A Fan”

By now, you’re aware that the NCAA is investigating Kentucky recruit Nerlens Noel from a variety of angles including his reclassification, relationships and finances. You’re also aware that this isn’t surprising considering Noel’s recruitment and the aforementioned reclassification. I’m not implying any wrongdoing (how would I know what occurred?), but merely stating that it makes sense that the NCAA would look into such a high-profile recruit that was set to be a member of a recruiting class one year later before reclassifying. Everything about Noel could be squeaky clean, but inquiries at the least shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

Out of the reporting of the investigation alone, questions have risen. Prominently, about Pete Thamel of the New York Times, who reported on the NCAA’s investigation. And this is where we went from a story about sports to a story about a story about sports.

Glenn Logan of A Sea of Blue sums it up nicely, but the basics are that Thamel is vague about a person the NCAA briefed on the subject (Logan rightly asks why a reporter was briefed by the NCAA), could in fact be the person that was briefed, and didn’t initially make links between Errol Randolph and ASM Sports. It’s that last part that has brought about conspiracy theories of sorts and has furthered my pleasure over being “just a fan.”

(more…)

Florida Gators Maintain No. 5 Ranking In USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Baseball Poll

A 2-1 record against the nation’s No. 6 team – the Kentucky Wildcats – doesn’t get you a higher ranking, but it doesn’t get you a lower one either. The Florida Gators maintained the No. 5 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Baseball Poll after taking two of three from their SEC rivals. Winning the series over the Wildcats was a plus, but not big enough of one to push the Gators past fellow SEC teams South Carolina and LSU – the No. 3 and No. 4 squads – although we’re quickly approaching the point in the season when we stop paying attention to the rankings.

Florida wasn’t the only team to maintain it’s ranking; the entire top five held onto their spots. Kentucky fell to No. 9 after the series loss, while Arkansas and Ole Miss gave the SEC two more teams in the top 25. Despite the great number of SEC teams currently ranked, the Gators will close out the regular season facing two of the unranked ones in Mississippi State and Auburn.

2012 Basketball Recruiting: Anthony Bennett Eliminates Florida Gators From Finalists

In a surprising move, 2012 basketball recruit and high school star Anthony Bennett eliminated the Florida Gators from his list of finalists earlier this week. The 6’7″, 230-pound forward from Henderson, NV (Findlay Prep)* was thought to be down to Florida and the Kentucky Wildcats at one point, but that is no longer the case after he made it clear the Gators were out of the race.

Bennett filled a definite need for Billy Donovan and Florida. You have to go back to the 2010 class to find a Gators commitment over 6’6″ (2011’s Walter Pitchford came in listed at 6’9″, but he has since left the program) and to 2008 to find a player with as much size – Kenny Kadji was listed at 240 pounds – as Bennett. It’s no secret that Florida needs big men and the highest ranked uncommitted recruit in the 2012 class seemed like a perfect fit.

In another surprise of sorts, with Florida out of the picture, Kentucky may not even be the favorite. Some believe it will come down to Oregon and UNLV for Bennett.

With Bennett headed elsewhere, Donovan and the Gators will set their sights on that final roster spot. Many believe it could come down to Bradley Hayes – a 6’11”, 250-pound forward from Jacksonville, FL (Sandalwood) – or Damontre Harris – who will transfer from South Carolina and has Florida among his favorites ($).

*Yes, I’m quite aware Bennett is from Canada. Let me rephrase that OF COURSE I’m aware Bennett is from Canada.