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 68 – Missouri Tigers 58: Gators Victorious in Chris Walker’s Debut

A strong second half powered Florida to it’s 14th-straight win. The Gators defeated Missouri 68-58 in freshman forward Chris Walker’s orange and blue debut.

Chris Walker, Florida Gators

As expected, Walker was brought along slowly. The freshman was on the court for just seven minutes, but played well enough that he will be sure to be seeing more time soon. Walker finished with four points on two dunks that brought the crowd in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to its feet. Walker also added two defensive rebounds, two blocks, and two personal fouls.

“Just happy he can finally get on the floor and contribute a little bit,” head coach Billy Donovan said.

While all eyes were on Walker, Florida’s best performances of the night came from guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbekin played 36 of 40 minutes and finished with 19 points after going 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. Frazier II added four three-pointers and finished with 14 points.

While freshman guard Kasey Hill has yet to find his scoring touch since returning from injury in December, he showed marked improvement in distributing the ball. Hill finished with six assists to only one turnover in 21 minutes on the court.

In addition to its 14th-consecutive win, the Gators won their 28th in a row at home. That’s a school record Florida hopes to keep building on.

At 20-2 (9-0 SEC), the No. 3 Gators are two games ahead of 17-5 (7-2 SEC) Kentucky. With Walker added to the mix, Florida has a strong chance of holding on to that lead over the No. 18 Wildcats. The two teams face each other for the first time on February 15, but first up for the Gators is 9-12 (3-5 SEC) Alabama on Saturday, February 8.

Chris Walker to Make Florida Debut Against Missouri

On Tuesday night, freshman forward Chris Walker will finally make his debut. The highly-touted Walker will play in his first game as Florida hosts Missouri.

Chris Walker, Florida Gators

A variety of factors have delayed Walker’s debut for the Gators. He didn’t initially qualify academically and wasn’t able to join the team until December 14. In addition, the NCAA forced Walker to sit out 12 games due to preferential treatment he received during his recruiting. All together, the freshman missed 21 games.

A McDonald’s All-American, Walker was one of the nation’s best players coming out of high school. A five-star prospect, he committed to Florida to join AAU teammate Kasey Hill with the Gators. The duo was expected to make an immediate impact on a team that had been to three consecutive Elite Eights. Their joint debut was delayed, but many think that will be a good thing for Florida in the long run. Many expect Walker to return for his sophomore season.

There is plenty of time between now and then and anything could happen so we won’t count on anything just yet when it comes to the 2014-15 season. For now, we’ll just choose to be happy that Chris Walker has been freed. The talent and potential he brings to a team that already finds itself at No. 3 could mean big things for the Gators.

But, for the moment, baby steps. Head coach Billy Donovan has mentioned that we shouldn’t expect much from Walker early and he speaks the truth. Walker will be brought in as a player that hasn’t appeared in a game that counts for quite some time. His ability isn’t at question, but he will be worked into the lineup in the way that best suits Florida. Walker will surely make an impact, but a measured one in these first few games.

Florida Gators Lose to Missouri; Have the Wheels Fallen Off?

In many sports, 4-3 isn’t an awful record; a win percentage like that may even get you into the playoffs. In college football, 4-3 is a disaster. With their latest loss—this time to the surging Missouri Tigers—the Florida Gators are 4-3 and in a position where all hope may seem lost. There’s still a chance for 10 wins (always a good thing), but the Gators would have to win out. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that currently believes Florida has a chance of doing that. In order to come even close, the Gators must first find an offense.

Kelvin Taylor, Florida Gators

NCAA expert betting lines (click here for view more) will tell you Mizzou isn’t a bad team. In fact, they’ll tell you the Tigers are a very good team. Sometimes losing to a team of that respect can lessen the blow, but not when you lose the way the Gators did. While the offense I already mentioned looked for any possible way to move the ball, the defense finally gave in. Try as they might, Florida was no match for Missouri on either side of the ball. When hope was briefly restored after Solomon Patton’s kickoff return, it was quickly taken away by the Tigers’ offense.

Before the game started, I would have told you I was 50-50 on the outcome. The Gators’ defense had the talent and ability to keep Florida in any game regardless of the opponent and, if the offense could do just enough to put a few points on the board, then the orange and blue would be right in it. Add that to the fact that the Tigers would be without quarterback James Franklin and the Gators had a real shot to take down a ranked opponent. Unfortunately, it was the other side of that 50-50 that would prevail.

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Florida Gators Search for Offense with Another Ranked Opponent on the Horizon

Raise your hand if you are pleased with what Will Muschamp has done with the Florida Gators’ defense. If your hand isn’t raised, it should be. The Gators have a head coach that has lost defensive talent to the NFL and injury, but has still produced once of the best units in the nation. It’s Muschamp’s specialty; he made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator before he became the successor to the man we so wish we could never name again. Unfortunately, for Muschamp’s legacy, he is also making a name for himself as a head coach that can’t fit all the pieces together on the other side of the ball.

Will Muschamp and Brent Pease, Florida Gators

First the good (or, at the very least, the acceptable). Against LSU, the Gators managed 17 first downs (not an awful number), converted three of their four fourth-down attempts, didn’t turn over the ball, and saw extended action from freshman phenom running back Kelvin Taylor, who finished with 52 yards on 10 carries.

Now to the bad, or ugly. The Gators converted only six of 17 third-down attempts, managed just 240 yards of total offense, didn’t have a play go for more than 20 yards, gained 4.6 yards per pass and 2.8 per rush, lost starting running back Matt Jones for the season, and scored only six points despite winning the time of possession battle by more than eight minutes.

What has become somewhat of a pattern with the Gators of late, brings up two questions: 1) Will Muschamp ever be able to truly lead a team on both sides of the ball?, and 2) Should Brent Pease be the offensive coordinator?

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Florida Gators 14 – Missouri Tigers 7; We Have Experienced The Defining ‘Just Win’ Game

Just win. It has become a motto of sorts around these part over the last few seasons. On Saturday, when the Florida Gators defeated the Missouri Tigers 14-7, we experienced a game that truly defined it. If ever there was a Just Win Game, this was it. The Gators won to improve to 8-1 (7-1 SEC) on the season, but the game felt like a struggle–one during which early you thought to yourself “just win.”

Omarius Hines - Florida Gators

The Gators were once again a second-half team. Not scoring until the 9:03 mark of the third quarter raises concerns. Not doing so against a team you’re heavily favored against and should defeat rather easily raises more. But Florida finds itself in the same situation over and over again this season: thankful for the defense, and this time it wasn’t as dominating as it can be. Therefore, as we thank the defense, we also have to thank Missouri quarterback James Franklin. If Franklin had been even slightly more “on his game,” there’s a decent chance this would have been loss number two instead of win number eight.

There were offensive stats, but they were offensive. (Saw that one coming from a mile away didn’t you? Two miles? You’re more in tune to awful jokes than I thought. Kudos.) It’s not what we’ve come to expect, so I won’t go that route, but more what we’ve come to accept. This is a team that is still light years away from offensive consistency. It’s disheartening, sure, but the Gators are 8-1. If you can honestly say you predicted that (and we’re hopped up on orange and blue Kool-Aid at the time) at the beginning of the season, you’re a fabulous liar. We still love you, but you’re a liar all the same.

Brent Pease has his work cut out for him. This isn’t the WAC (or whatever conference Boise State was in, used to be in, or was going to be in while he was there). He’s learning that the hard way. The Gators are lucky they can lean back on the defense and that they can win games without being elite. However, it is a problem. Proof Point #1: the loss to Georgia. With just a smidge more out of the offense, 8-1 is 9-0 and that’s why it’s frustrating. Knowing that the Gators have the record they have and seeing that it could have been even better is painful.

We’ve been spoiled by the past and spoiled by the present. Because of the high-flying offensive teams of the past, we expect it in all versions of the Florida Gators football team. Because of the current season’s record, we expect more out of this specific version. But maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should expect and hope for the one thing that really matters—winning.

The Gators have not accomplished that goal only once this season. Eight other times, Florida left the field as victors. Saturday’s outing wasn’t pretty, but not many of them have been recently. We have been brainwashed to want style points and yards upon yards upon yards. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but we should always want the win first regardless of how it comes. 14-7 when it should have been 27-10 or even 38-7 isn’t ideal, but the result is the same—W.

For three seasons now the Gators have struggled to find an offensive identity. Pease may be the answer and he may not be. He needs more time, but we also need to focus on that phrase—“just win.” We worry about the other things because we look ahead to opponents like Florida State. We wonder if the Gators were to get to the SEC Championship Game how they could possibly keep up with Alabama. For now though, just win. 8-1 with 9-1 on the horizon. That ninth win may be a thing of beauty or it may be the most destructive of dumpster fires, but if it’s a win, it accomplished goal number one whether we liked watching it or not.

The Gators can check Missouri off of the schedule with a heavy sigh of relief. On to the next opponent. Just win.

Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Missouri Tigers; Welcome To The SEC Part 2

The Florida Gators have the rare opportunity to welcome both of the SEC’s new members to the conference during the 2012 college football season. The Alabama Crimson Tide are the only other team that will be able to say they did so. Oddly enough, if we go back in time just one week, those were the top two teams in the nation. The Gators have fallen since after an ugly defeat at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs, but still possess one of the country’s better teams. And that Georgia loss may have made what many predict will be a cakewalk even more so of a…um…well…walk over cake. Translated, them Gators will be angry.

Matt Elam - Florida Gators

As I write this, the Gators are favored by 17.5 points over the Missouri Tigers. Those of us that witnessed the debacle that was the loss to Georgia may find it hard to believe this Florida team can even score that many points, let alone win by as much, but that’s just the hangover talking. We’re quick to realize that the Gators scored 44 a week before that and overall are performing better than we could have expected in 2012. That doesn’t necessarily lessen the impact of last week’s loss, but 7-1 is 7-1. 7-1 with a real chance to be 10-1 before heading into the regular season finale against Florida State is even better.

But before we get to talking about the Seminoles, we have the Tigers waiting. Some may call this a trap game, but my thought would be that it could only truly be defined as that if the Gators had beaten the Bulldogs and were sitting at 8-0. They aren’t and there could be some much needed aggression waiting to get out. That’s not good news for a Missouri team that just got its first SEC win last week. And, oh yeah, they made shirts for it. You’re new at this Mizzou, so we’ll forgive you for that, but don’t let it happen again.

This will be one of those rare instances where I won’t be watching the game live–at least not the second half. I’ll be racing home right around the end to watch the recording. You’ll already know what has happened, but I’ll be doing my best to avoid it. We’ll see if that actually works or if I can hold out not checking my phone every few minutes. I’ll be with you in spirit through it though, even if I’ll be about two hours behind you in watching it. As always, just win and Go Gators!

Florida Gators 2013 Football Schedule Released; Gators Keep LSU, Add Arkansas

The Florida Gators 2013 football schedule has been released and the debates have begun. Although, there weren’t really that many and all remains well in Gator Nation. Without delay, here’s what the Gators will face in 2013:

Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

August 31 – Toledo – Gainesville, FL
September 7 – Miami – Miami, FL
September 21 – Tennessee – Gainesville, FL
September 28 – Kentucky – Lexington, KY
October 5 – Arkansas – Gainesville, FL
October 12 – LSU – Baton Rouge, LA
October 19 – Missouri – Columbia, MO
November 2 – Georgia – Jacksonville, FL
November 9 – Vanderbilt – Gainesville, FL
November 16 – South Carolina – Columbia, SC
November 23 – Georgia Southern – Gainesville, FL
November 30 – Florida State – Gainesville, FL

Not many surprises and there really shouldn’t have been. This is the bridge season. 2012 was the first season of the 14-team SEC. 2013 is the bridge to the future. And 2014 should show us what to actually expect in the future. For now, things remain fairly typical. For example, Tennessee remains in the third-game-of-the-season spot, LSU is still on the schedule and in October, and Florida plays Georgia in Jacksonville right around the same time of year they always do.

There are some points of note though; the first being the bye week. In 2012, the Gators were off the week before facing LSU. At that point, Florida had played four games. That won’t be the case in 2013. The Gators first bye comes after just two games. BUT…there is a second bye in late October between the games against Missouri and Georgia. Thank the calendar for that. 2012 was one of those weird years during which September had five Saturdays. In 2013, that would be November.

For the second season–and for obvious reasons–the Gators get only two SEC West opponents on the schedule. There was wonder whether the annual contest with LSU would stop, but it hasn’t…yet. For 2013, the Tigers are still on the schedule. The Gators also get Arkansas, who will visit Gainesville just one week before the Gators travel to Baton Rouge. So Texas A&M was one and done. They’ll be back, but we won’t know when for a while now.

We knew about the out-of-conference schedule, so there are no surprises there. No surprises overall really. 2013 will come and go and the schedule will look similar to those of the past (or at least the one 14-team SEC schedule we have to compare it to). Now we wait for the 2014 one to be released…a year from now.

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.

First Kevin Sumlin, Now Les Miles; Disagreeing With Will Muschamp Becoming The Norm

Although mild by comparison, LSU Tigers’ head coach Les Miles has joined the ranks of those disagreeing with Florida Gators’ head coach Will Muschamp. It’s not an argument of Texas A&M levels (even though that wasn’t much of an argument either), but a difference of opinion between the two regarding the annual game between their teams.

Last week, Muschamp voiced his support of keeping the game between the Gators and Tigers on the schedule every season. The stature of the teams coupled with the rivalry that has been created is reason enough for many to want to see the game on an annual basis. With the changing landscape of the SEC and the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, Miles doesn’t feel the same way. At least, that’s what we’re devising from this:

“This is all based on some vague tradition that is not considering that you’re adding teams to the conference.” – Les Miles, LSU Tigers’ Head Coach

Miles went on to say that Florida isn’t in the same state as LSU (a true fact) and that the rivalry is only there because of the enjoyment of playing each other (uh, okay). The LSU head coach has never been easy to understand when it comes to attempting to read into his words, but this much seems obvious: he doesn’t value the rivalry that has been created over the past 41 years as much as Muschamp does.

Florida and LSU have faced each other 57 times (and each of those last 41 years) and have each won six of the last 12 meetings. Whether Miles wants to admit it’s a true rivalry or not, it has become one and should continue long after these two coaches have moved on. It should be preserved over attempts to create new rivalries with the new SEC members. Those will come over time, but this rivalry has already flourished.

Muschamp reiterated his point again. He believes the game is good for both programs, for college football, and for the conference. He’s right. Sure, the SEC doesn’t need much help when it comes to big games and national prominence, but there’s no need to start to eliminate valuable rivalries now.