Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Georgia Bulldogs; It Is The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

It’s funny the things people choose to worry about. I could go down a variety of paths with this–especially during an election year with all of the crap being slung by all sides–but I’ll stick to the important one: college football.

Florida Gators Vs. Georgia Bulldogs 1985

What was once known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Florida Gators annual contest against the Georgia Bulldogs is no longer named that. In 2006, the schools and the SEC asked that it no longer be referred to as a cocktail party. I can understand their reasoning, but it will always be met with a “lighten up” thought springing into my head. Again, there are a number of paths this discussion could go down as well, but let’s stay with college football. This weekend is the rivalry; the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has returned.

Florida-Georgia has a mystique to it with few equals. If you spent your formative football years in the Steve Spurrier era, as I did, the rivalry with the Bulldogs wasn’t much of one at all. In fact, for 14 years from 1990 to 2003, the Gators were 13-1 against the Dawgs. Incidentally, that one loss came during my freshman year at the University of Florida. I’ve mentioned being a jinx of sorts before and there’s just one more example for you.

Since that time, Florida is 5-3 against Georgia and the rivalry’s fire has been reignited. But that’s still new to many of us who were too young to truly remember Georgia’s dominance through the 1970s or 1980s, and were definitely not around when Florida ruled the 1950s and early 1960s. Through it all, we learned though. We learned to hate our neighbors to the north as much as they looked down upon those to the south. It was a mutual hatred fueled by years of growing up knowing who your true rivals were regardless of how many times you had beaten them or lost to them recently.

Here we are in another season with another Cocktail Party on the schedule. In recent seasons, it hasn’t seemed as important to the landscape of college football. Florida fans never let go of the power of the game–neither did Georgia fans–but when one team is having an off season, it doesn’t jump out to you as much as it can. This, though, is one of those seasons where the entire nation will be watching.

Continue reading (more…)

Former Florida Gators Safety Will Hill Signs With New York Giants

Former Florida Gators’ safety Will Hill has signed with the New York Giants. Hill left Florida with one season of eligibility remaining after the 2010 season, but wasn’t selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. He spent time with the Arizona Rattlers of the AFL before recently signing with New York.

Hill holds a place in Gators’ history, although it’s not always a favorable one for Florida fans. Coming out of high school, he was one of the nation’s top recruits, but his talents never seemed to show up with him. From not becoming the superstar fans wanted him to be to questions regarding his desire, Hill struggled with consistently performing on the field. His signature moment as a Gator was in 2010 against the Georgia Bulldogs when he intercepted Aaron Murray (his second of the game) in overtime. Other than that key play though, this is the moment many fans remember Hill for the most:

Hill now has a chance to resurrect his career and finally bring his talents and abilities to good use. If he can keep his head on straight and dedicate himself to the game of football and not all of the outside influences that may come along with it, he’ll have a chance to make a career out of the game. It will be a tough road for Hill, but finally finding a team is a start.

Defense: Auburn Tigers 17 – Florida Gators 6

First thoughts here. The offense here.

If you were looking for improvement, you got it with Florida’s defense. The Gators’ defense kept the team in the game when the offense couldn’t. Yes, there were plays here and there where awareness was dropped. Yes, that aspect of the game wasn’t perfect. But consider this: Auburn scored three times and those three scoring drives totaled 120 yards. The Tigers only managed one drive of more than 44 yards – the 66-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The two other scores were attributed to a short field after Florida turnovers. There are still areas to work on – consistent pressure from the line and steady coverage – but this game was a step forward. Unfortunately for the defense, it still ended in a loss.

Matt Elam remains the star and the player we wish the rest of the secondary could be. Auburn’s passing night was far from great, but the touchdown pass from Barrett Trotter to DeAngelo Benton could have been prevented. Elam is still a young player, but he must become a leader for the rest of the unit and the entire defense. He is this season’s Ahmad Black. Elam needs to keep performing, but also take the other defensive backs to the next level with him.

For the most part, the Gators also did well enough against the run. Auburn is another hard running team and Florida prevented the long play on the ground even if they did give up 155 yards (43 carries will do that to you). If it weren’t for two costly fumbles on punt returns, the defense may not have been accountable for even the 17 points put on the board. It wasn’t an A+ performance, but it wasn’t a C- either. However – and we already covered the offense – even if the defense plays like they did against the Tigers in every single remaining game of the season, Florida needs points.

Where the defense can help and something the Gators have been missing is turnovers.  For the third week in a row, Florida didn’t cause a turnover. When the opponent is causing them, you need to as well. The Gators have needed shifts in momentum these past three games and nothing can do like quite like a timely turnover. Turnovers aren’t things you can magically generate. It’s not like the perfect defensive play call can cause a fumble or some sort of coverage will guarantee an interception, but without them you lose something. This is where the defensive line becomes so important. Florida doesn’t have a string of all-world quarterbacks coming up on the schedule – although Georgia’s Aaron Murray has his moments – and needs to pressure them into making mistakes. Even Murray has thrown seven interceptions this season.

There’s plenty to complain about at this stage in the season, but the defense wasn’t it for the most part against Auburn. Now we just have to hope they keep their newly found play up and the offense works in a miracle or two.

Coming next: special teams.

The Plant Pipeline

Those of you that live in Tampa know about Plant.  Chances are those of you that follow college football recruiting do too.  One of the better public high schools in the area, Plant has had its fair share of big names in the football world and continues to produce multiple FBS-caliber athletes every year.
You probably remember Mike Williams as the USC star that attempted to leave the Trojans after two years only to be denied entrance into the draft by the NFL.  Before dominating defensive backs in college and then unfortunately not doing the same in the professional ranks, Williams was a stud wide receiver at Plant.  One that Florida wanted as a tight end (insert head smack).
Robert Marve will be suiting up for Purdue this fall.  You’ll recall Marve being touted as the next star signal caller at Miami.  Ultimately, things didn’t go his way with the Hurricanes and he transferred, but before all of that, Marve was a record-setting QB at Plant.
After Marve came quarterback Aaron Murray and one of his favorite targets tight end Orson Charles.  Florida wanted both, but the duo ended up together at Georgia.  Murray’s choice was a surprise to some and Charles earned notoriety for breaking one of the Gators’ national championship trophies.  Both stared at Plant before becoming Bulldogs.
Plant has produced plenty of talent over the years, but among the bigger names you’ll notice a common theme.  None of them were or are Gators.  Williams may have been a recruiting gaff on Florida’s part, but his size makes it at least somewhat understandable as to why a school might want him to play TE.  Marve would have had to sit behind Tim Tebow just as long as John Brantley did and then compete with Brantley for the starting job.  A competition he would have lost.  In the end, Murray made the right decision.  He wanted to play as soon as possible.  Entering his redshirt freshman year, he’s the Georgia starter.  And Charles may be the one that really got away.  A player with his abilities and talents would have fit into the Florida offense nicely and he would have seen playing time quickly.  The Gators were in it with all of them, but ended up striking out each time.
Now comes along the biggest name of them all.  James Wilder Jr. is a running back/defensive end/linebacker hybrid who ranks as the third-best prospect in the entire nation.  Most players listed as athletes have either played multiple positions well but none great or have excelled at one but may project to another in college.  Wilder isn’t like that.  He would be in the top 10 (and possibly top five) of any of the three positions he could play at the next level.
Wilder has made it known that he wants to play running back or at the very least get a shot at the position.  He could end up at linebacker – the position most think he is best suited for in the long run – eventually, but he wants a shot at carrying the ball wherever he goes.  Initially, Miami was mentioned as his top school if he played offense and Florida came in at number one if he ended up on defense.  That may now be blurred.
This past week, Wilder took in both Florida and FSU.  He visited the Gators and Seminoles along with his head coach and several teammates.  Wilder hoped to learn even more about two of the programs high on his list.  With only a few weeks until he makes his decision (Wilder is rumored to be announcing his selection in July), the star athlete wanted to get another look at two schools he’s extremely familiar with.
Wilder liked both, but that’s no surprise.  What is, though, is that the Gators recently picked up a commitment from a Tampa fullback.  Tampa Catholic’s Hunter Joyer may be an indication that Florida is looking to beef up its running game.  If so, they could be doing it in part for a player with Wilder’s talents.  A capable blocking back coming in with one of the top rushers in the nation.
And what about those teammates that accompanied Wilder?  Well, both are on Florida’s radar screen.  Quarterback Phillip Ely (like the past few Plant QBs) already has offers from more than 20 schools.  There’s no guarantee he’ll receive one from the Gators since they aren’t sure if they’ll go after another passer, but if they do, Ely could be near or at the top of their list.  The other was offensive lineman Tony Posada who also has numerous offers at this point.  Florida isn’t among them, but could be in time.  A prospect of Wilder’s talent will end up wherever he wants, but having teammates onboard as well never hurts.
If this is the year Florida finally pulls in a big name from Plant, Wilder’s is big enough to make the Gators forget all those of the past.  Fortunately, we don’t have to wait until signing day to find out his decision and if the Plant pipeline will add a stop at Florida.

The Long Snapper (5/13/10)

Mike HillFlorida’s associate athletic director of external affairs – has some good news for those Gator fans with taste: the futuristic Nike uniforms are out.  During the 2010 season, Florida is expected to stick to the norm and go with the uniforms they’ve worn for several years now.  No odd designs and no helmet changes.  I’ve been a big fan of white helmets for some time and was especially fond of the throwbacks the Gators wore during their 2006 matchup with Alabama.  But the helmets worn in 2009 against FSU and the Crimson Tide?  No, no, no.  Most Gator fans (at least most of the fans I know) HATE the Florida font.  Not the script on the side of the standard helmets.  That “edgy” font mostly utilized by the basketball team.  Use the white helmets that were used in 2006 from time to time and I might get on board.  But replace the traditional, simple F with one that belongs in a made-for-TV sci-fi movie and a change has been made for the worse.  Stick with the standard Florida.
Write this one down.  Remember it for the future.  Impress your friends with your vast knowledge of the USF football program.  Who was the first Bull to transfer under Skip Holtz’s tenure?  Charlton Sinclair.  The safety will have three years of eligibility left wherever he ends up.  It sounds like he’s leaning toward a FCS school at the moment.  Sinclair didn’t play last season and probably wants to get on a football field as quick as he can.  He wasn’t expected to do more than provide depth on special teams for the Bulls in 2010.
Read this article and you’ll be smacked about the face with a point both Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron make about the difference between their plan at USC and their plan at Tennessee.  The reason they were so…so…so…what’s the word I’m looking for?…asinine when they ran the Vols was because they had to be.  They had to get the attention of the nation.  They had to put Tennessee back on the map in any way they could.  Their words people.  Not mine.  At USC, they have seemed quieter and they state it’s because they don’t have to do that with the Trojans.  Everyone is aware of USC’s recent success so they can spend more time coaching and less time on a national stage in ape costumes.  But the question that begs to be asked is how did it all work out at Tennessee?  Kiffin didn’t get a large enough sample to work with.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say you can’t judge only one season, but it sure seems like their plan failed.  Miserably.  Sure the recruiting class ranked as one of the best in the nation, but one year later, the Vols ended up 7-6 with a program that off the field was the laughingstock of the nation.  Now Tennessee is left to undo what Kiffin and company did.  A program coming off a winning record (although just barely) is essentially rebuilding.
Logan Gray will remain a Bulldog.  After realizing his future probably isn’t at quarterback (okay, so he’s not realizing it as much as I’m saying it), Gray will stay at Georgia and take a stab at wide receiver.  He’ll still be a QB, but also a WR.  For you USF fans, it sounds a lot like the Evan Landi role.  Gray stays has to be good for the Dawgs though because it gives them a backup with at least a little experience.  They were Aaron Murray or bust for a minute there.  Now they have Murray and a guy who’d be best suited at another position.  BRILLIANT!  And here I was concerned about Florida’s quarterback depth.
The List: Thursday is Canadian for random.
1. Mike Cammalleri
2. Florida baseball and softball
3. Zak Boggs
4. Getting pulled in a game seven
5. Brian Cushing
The Sixth Man: Don’t get me wrong, I’m not supporting the use of drugs in any way, but I wasn’t aware that there were laws against being in a room where drugs may be.  Florida basketball signee Cody Larson faces a misdemeanor charge for exactly that.  Apparently Florida was aware of the situation before they allowed the forward to sign with the Gators.  It’s hard to have an opinion on this one because no one really knows what Larson did.  He may have simply been somewhere where someone wasn’t doing something they shouldn’t have.  We’ve all been there before.  For now, I’ll stand behind the new Gator.  (H/T: One Eyed Willy)

The Long Snapper (4/28/10)

To many (me included), Aaron Hernandez seemed to drop and drop and drop during the NFL Draft.  Being selected in the fourth round is hardly a bad thing – especially when you go to the New England Patriots – but many expected Hernandez to be gone by the time the second round was over.  And then reports came out of him failing multiple drug tests during his time at Florida.  His fall in the draft was being attributed to Hernandez’s problem with marijuana.  Now Hernandez is refuting the reports.  Sort of.  The tight end has admitted he did fail a test during his time with the Gators, but he says it was only one.  Hernandez also says he was very clear with every team he spoke with prior to the draft and was open and honest with them.  He still fell, but again, where he fell to may be better for him in the long run.  Make sure to head to page two of the article where former defensive back Wondy Pierre-Louis has some interesting things to say about Urban Meyer cleaning up the program.
I’ve said it before and now the SEC is: if expansion runs rampant, the conference will be ready.  Commissioner Mike Slive has said the SEC has not actively pursued the idea of expanded, but they will put together a plan just in case they have to.  Slive mentioned that if other conferences add teams, it doesn’t necessarily mean the SEC has to, but he also has said the conference will do whatever it takes to maintain its prominent status.  I pointed out earlier this week that some believe the SEC would be best suited picking up the big boys of the Big 12, but let’s be more realistic.  I would still lean toward Clemson and Georgia Tech joining the SEC East with the possibility of an East team moving to the West.  If the conference goes to 14 teams, there’s also a chance each team could pick up an additional SEC game during the regular season.  I doubt many would argue with a schedule featuring three out-of-conference opponents and nine SEC opponents.  The format would be similar to what it is today, play every team in your division, have one opponent from the other division that you play every year, and have two additional opponents from the other division that rotate every two years.  Seems logical to me.
Depending on how you look at it, the quarterback situation at Georgia could either be getting muddier or clearer.  Muddier in that one got kicked off the team and another is considering heading elsewhere.  Clearer in that the 2010 starter has pretty much been determined at this point.  Just recently, Zach Mettenberger was dismissed from the program and now Logan Gray is “weighing his options.”  Tampa, FL native Aaron Murray has been placed on top of the depth chart and even though head coach Mark Richt hasn’t officially named Murray the starter, Gray may have had enough.  The junior hasn’t transferred yet, but could soon.  Either that or he could look to change positions.  Gray has been a frequent special teamer during his time as a Bulldog and it’s possible he could return to that role on more of a full-time basis.  Wherever Gray ends up, the path to 2010 starter may be open for Murray.  He’s the only one that hasn’t been shown the door or debated leaving.  Sounds like starter material to me.  And sounds like a good rallying cry for the upcoming season.  “Don’t break rules.  Don’t transfer.  Do play.  Georgia Football 2010!”
So we all know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made news when they asked former FSU safety Myron Rolle about deserting his team to go study at Oxford (way to go Bucs), but I didn’t hear about this other incident until recently.  Former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant was asked by the Miami Dolphins if his mother was ever a prostitute.  Bryant has a checkered past that includes him being declared ineligible for his final season with the Cowboys.  His mother did have a history with drugs, but Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland may have crossed the line here.  I understand teams are trying their best to find out everything about players these days.  They invest a lot of money in these athletes and want to ensure they are getting someone who is focused on their job.  But I’m surprised Bryant didn’t come across the table when asked that question.
The List: A few things to occupy your time now that we’ve hit the dead time of year.
1. Baseball.  You all know my thoughts, but hey, sports are sports.  Nothing like keeping your competitive nature going.
2. Both the NBA and NHL are only in the first round of their playoffs.  They’ll be more action for weeks to come.
3. Recruiting.  I never fully understood people who consider themselves huge college football fans yet don’t follow recruiting.  There’s nothing quite like the rush of getting your hopes dashed by the decisions made by teenagers.
4. There are things other than sports on TV.  Now’s the time to catch up on them.
5. Apparently there are activities one can partake in outdoors.
The Sixth Man: Florida isn’t listed among the top 10, but Alex Tyus is mentioned.  Many think Tyus won’t return.  After all, he nearly transferred before last season.  After declaring for the NBA Draft, the writing may be on the wall.  The forward may have played his last game as a Gator.  But Florida would be best served if he returned.  The Gators have a young, talented team that appears to be improving.  Tyus is definitely a part of that.  Florida will move on without him, but is better off moving forward with him.  The Gators can build on last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance with all they have returning, but inside presence has been an issue for the past few years.  Tyus coming back is as close to a “need” as you can get.

The Long Snapper: John Brown, Carl Johnson, Bobby Bowden, Alabama, and Orson Charles

The saga of John Brown has apparently come to an end. The defensive tackle – a member of the Lakeland class of 2007 – will transfer from Florida without ever seeing the field (well, I’m sure he saw it, he just didn’t step foot on it with the intent to play). Brown had plenty of promise, but a poor academic history. When all seemed in order, he broke his wrist and couldn’t contribute during the 2008 season. No word on where Brown may end up. (H/T: KP)

Charges have been dropped against Florida offensive lineman Carl Johnson. Johnson was originally charged with violating a restraining order against an ex-girlfriend, but it has been ruled he didn’t do so willfully – meaning he got on the bus and she just happened to be on it already. The ex-girlfriend has also decided not to pursue charges against Johnson based on her allegations of date rape. Hmmm. (And another H/T to KP.)

FSU’s troubles could lead to football victories being taken away. That always seemed weird to me considering the games were already played. In reality, who cares if something that already happened is deemed to not have actually happened? Why not do something like ban the Seminoles for a bowl game or two in the future? That would actually be a punishment. But anyway, Bobby Bowden – who currently sits second on the all-time win list – could find himself further than the one victory he is behind Penn State legend Joe Paterno. And thus, I have more questions. What about the games Bowden won as the head coach at Howard? Why do those count? And if they do and we’re talking all-time wins and not just Division 1-A wins, then aren’t they both still chasing John Gagliardi? Whatever the case, with the careers of both men winding down, it appears Paterno will go out on top.

Alabama is in some trouble over textbooks. What’s wrong with that sentence? That’s right. Two words that should never go together: Alabama and textbooks. ZING!

Orson Charles has finally chosen his collegiate destination and it’s Georgia. I never like seeing quality athletes leave the state, but it hits close to home when those players are…well…close to my home. Charles follows one-time TBG man-crush Aaron Murray to Athens. Although not happy where Charles ended up, any place is better than Tennessee.