Saturday Blitz Podcast: Florida Gators, Recruiting, Tim Tebow, And More

Kyle Kensing of Saturday Blitz was kind enough to have me on his podcast last night and we talked Florida Gators in detail.

Check out the entire 30 minutes. We discussed National Signing Day and the impact made by D.J. Durkin the Gators’ linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. We looked at recruiting on the national level and discussed the importance of schools looking beyond their state’s boarder.

Kyle asked me if there was ever Florida athlete as polarizing as Tim Tebow. My answer may surprise some, but hopefully not too many. We also talked about Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer and debated who was the better Gators’ head coach.

We covered Florida basketball and looked ahead to the 2012 football season. I took a guess at which quarterback will take control of the starting job, but didn’t really because no one knows.

All-in-all, it was fun to be a part of and I hope you all enjoy the listen.

For more college football coverage, check out Saturday Blitz and follow Kyle on Twitter.

Illinois Fires Ron Zook: Big Ten Keeps Former Florida Head Coaches In The News

Lost in the recent news that Urban Meyer has been named the next head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, is the tale of another former Florida Gators’ head coach.

Ron Zook was fired by the Illinois Fighting Illini on Sunday for conduct deemed detrimental to the program (i.e. he loses more games than he wins). In seven seasons at Illinois – or about two too many – Zook compiled a 34-50 record while going an unacceptable 18-37 in the Big Ten. It initially looked like Zook wouldn’t make it past season three, but after going 4-19 in his first two seasons, he used his wish-granting genie to produce a 9-4 record and a Rose Bowl appearance in 2007. Keep in mind, Zook only gets three wishes. Being named the head coach of Florida was wish number one. 2007 was number two. He only has one left. We assume he’ll be named the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars with a fully guaranteed multi-year contract any day now.

Zook will always hold a place in the minds (notice how I didn’t say hearts) of Gators’ fans as the man that followed Steve Spurrier and gave way to Meyer. He was a great recruiter, but so are so many others these days. In the end, he wasn’t a head coach. Or at least not a highly effective one.

What keeps Zook’s Florida story alive is the fate of current head coach Will Muschamp. Zook finished his first year with Florida at 8-5. Muschamp is staring down the barrel of a possible losing season. While circumstances are different, parts are somewhat the same. It took Florida approximately two and a half seasons to realize Ron Zook was, well, Ron Zook. It took Illinois seven seasons to figure out the same. How long will it take the Gators to learn who Muschamp will be?

Heroes Of The Series: Mike Nattiel – Florida Gators vs. Auburn Tigers

Heroes of the Series explores stars of past. These players or coaches either excelled for Florida or the Gators’ opponent of the week – in this case Auburn. They may have been the star of the game or provided a spark that shifted momentum. In the past, there has been a hero for both the Gators and their opponent. This week you only get the Florida hero and rightfully so. Auburn’s Wes Byrum has already been mentioned and he will NOT be associated with the word “hero.”

In 1996, when Florida won the national championship, the Gators scored 611 points. Over the following three seasons, Florida would score 430, 370 and 403 while only making it to the SEC Championship Game once – a 34-7 loss to Alabama in 1999. When the 2000 season came along, Steve Spurrier had found a quarterback again and brought back some of the scoring. The Gators’ output of 468 points wasn’t a complete turnaround, but Florida did score 34 or more in all but one of their first 10 games, including 35 in a loss to Mississippi State. The defense was a different story though; the Gators allowed 276 total points – the most they had given up in a season since 1992.

There were a few shining moments for the Gators though. In back-to-back weeks against LSU and Auburn, Florida allowed a total of only 16 points to the dual Tigers. The defense would take a step back in the four games after that, allowing at least 20 points in every contest. Heading into the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, the Gators were confident because of what they had done to the Tigers earlier that season, but Florida would need the ball to bounce their way to gain an advantage. And bounce it did.

Rex Grossman passed for four touchdowns during the game, Reche Caldwell caught two of those scores, and Earnest Graham had a career-high 169 rushing yards. Any of those three could have been picked as this week’s hero and they would all be deserving, but, in a twist of sorts, the honor goes to a defender.

Florida would jump out to an early 21-0 lead thanks to three turnovers and two of those three would come courtesy of linebacker Mike Nattiel. On Auburn’s first play of the game, the Tigers fumbled and Nattiel was there to pick up the ball. Not long after, Grossman would hit Caldwell to give the Gators a 7-0 lead.

After a Lito Sheppard interception led to another Grossman-to-Caldwell score, Florida was up 14-0. Auburn would begin to move the ball after that and got all the way down to the Gators’ three yard line before yet another turnover. Nattiel recovered his second fumble at the three and the Florida offense followed it up with a 97-yard touchdown drive.

Nattiel would end the game with eight tackles and those two fumble recoveries that led to Florida scores. It just goes to show you how important turnovers are. If Auburn had been able to score from the three, they could have made it 14-7. Instead, Nattiel recovered the fumble and a few minutes later it was 21-0 Gators. You can play a great game without causing a single turnover, but they sure help. This season’s Florida squad needs that help.

Steve Spurrier, Stephen Garcia, And The End Of A Career

Steve Spurrier has yet to find what he’s looking for at South Carolina. The former Florida star and head coach is searching for a quarterback to replicate what he had when he was with the Gators. From Shane Matthews to Danny Wuerffel to Rex Grossman, quarterbacks made Spurrier’s offenses some of the most explosive in the nation. While the Ol’ Ball Coach has made strides with the Gamecocks, he’s still in search of that golden arm.

Before South Carolina’s Saturday game against Kentucky, Spurrier decided that arm would not be Stephen Garcia’s. Garcia was benched in favor of Connor Shaw and Shaw took every advantage, playing well in the victory over the Wildcats. But we all know Spurrier. His leash is particularly short for his QBs and we figured it was only a matter of time before we’d see Garcia on the field again. We were wrong.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Garcia has been dismissed from the football team, effectively ending his college career. As opposing fans, Garcia gave us laughs. For Gamecock fans, he gave frustration. Garcia definitely had his moments, but the bad ones greatly outweighed the good. It all came to an end abruptly, but not surprisingly.

Heroes Of The Series: Rex Grossman – Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers

Heroes of the Series explores some of the stars of past. These players or coaches either excelled for Florida or the Gators’ opponent of the week – in this case LSU. They may have been the star of the game or provided a spark that shifted momentum. They might be remembered for their entire careers or just for that single game. To get you riled up and more ready than you already are for the week’s matchup, it’s a two-part series with part one covering an opposing player and part two highlighting a Gator. For part one, looking at the Tigers’ night of fourth-down conversions, click here.

Rex Grossman’s final season in orange and blue was one to be forgotten. Really, the entire Ron Zook era was. Grossman was coming off a great 2001 in which he was a Heisman candidate and put up gaudy numbers during Steve Spurrier’s last hurrah in Gainesville. In 2002, the quarterback would return to earth looking uncomfortable at times trying to run the offense under a new coaching staff. 2001 was a great season for the gunslinger though and we’ll focus on one specific game.

Exactly 10 years ago today – October 6, 2001 – Grossman put on a passing clinic as the Gators dismantled the Tigers in Baton Rouge. As if going 22-for-32 for 464 yards wasn’t good enough, Grossman also threw five touchdowns and led Florida to a 44-15 victory. The Gators put up 632 yards of total offense in a game the Tigers were never in. In the first quarter alone, Grossman threw touchdowns of 13, 34, and 63 yards. His near perfect arm that day led to Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell both going over 100 yards receiving (164 and 120). Even tight end Aaron Walker averaged 17.6 yards on five receptions as the LSU defense could do nothing to stop Grossman and the Florida pass game.

For those of you that remember the game, it was everything we loved about the Spurrier offenses. For those of that don’t, all the highlights are in the video below.

Stephen Garcia Reinstated To Play For South Carolina

In baseball you are declared out after three strikes. In college football, or more accurately at South Carolina, it may be six strikes. That is if you’re the senior quarterback coming off your best season in which you and the Gamecocks won the SEC East.

Yes, Stephen Garcia has been reinstated. The South Carolina quarterback was suspended in April, but is back just in time to prepare for his final season with the Gamecocks. The suspension was his fifth and although South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier says Garcia has completely changed this time, the passer seems untouchable. Get suspended, get reinstated. It just keeps happening. His behavior was deemed unacceptable in April, but he’s now said to be completely committed to the program.
Garcia hasn’t been guaranteed the starting job for the Gamecocks, but if he’s allowed to practice, as he now is, he should claim the spot. Connor Shaw will push Garcia, but with a serious chance to repeat as SEC East champs, Spurrier will go with who gives him the best chance. Suspensions and all that may be Garcia.
This seems to be how we’ll remember Garcia’s career. The senior from Tampa went to South Carolina with all of the hype in the world and while his career has been far from great, he’s coming off a season in which he contributed to one the greatest years in Gamecocks history. But depending on what comes off 2011, we may not remember much of that. We’ll remember the suspensions and the trouble and wonder what could have been if he had his head on straight during his early days in the program. For Garcia, this is a final chance given to him by Spurrier. He needs to truly show he has turned the corner. We’ll believe it if he’s only in the news for what he does on the football field for the next five months or so.

Florida Gators Wide Receivers – 2010 vs. 2011

Part three in a series where One Eyed Willy and I go over the Florida roster differences position by position from this season to last and what to expect in 2011. Check out the quarterbacks here and the running backs here.
2010: Carl Moore – RSR, Justin Williams – RSR, Chris Rainey – RJR, Deonte Thompson – RJR, Frankie Hammond – RSO, Omarius Hines – RSO, Josh Postell – RSO, Stephen Alli – RFR, Andre Debose – RFR, Robert Clark – FR, Quinton Dunbar – FR, Chris Dunkley – FR, Solomon Patton – FR
Preseason Rating: B
Postseason Rating: D
Going into the 2010 season, you would have been excited to see what this unit could do. You had a senior that was a highly-touted recruit coming out of junior college, a junior moving into the role of receiver in hopes of sparking a Percy Harvin-like transformation, two sophomores who would get a chance to really make a difference, and five freshman – all of which brought something special to the game.
13 games later you would have let out a sigh and looked forward to the 2011. We will go ahead and run through the numbers:
12 – The total number of passing touchdowns.
9 – The number caught by wide receivers.
1 – Wide receivers with more than 27 receptions.
38 – The number of receptions Deonte Thompson had to lead the team.
1 – Wide receivers with more than 349 yards on the season.
570 – The numbers of yards Thompson had to lead the team.
10 – Receptions on the season for all-world prospect Andre Debose.
5 – The number of games “slash” player Chris Rainey missed due to…well…you know.
3 – The number of wide receivers that appeared in every game.
51 – The longest reception on the season.
15.0 – Highest yards per catch average on the team by, you guessed it, Thompson.
1 – 100-yard receiving games by wide receivers. It was Thompson.
And just for fun:
40 – The number of receptions Harvin had in 2008 to lead the team. We will give the wide receivers a pass that season though. After all, they were part of a national championship team.
2003 – The last year a Florida team did not have a single pass catcher with at least 40 catches. This team was coached by Ron Zook. What does that tell you?
1989 – The last Florida team to have a leading receiver with less than the 38 receptions Thompson had in 2010. This was the last team before Steve Spurrier arrived. What does that tell you?
It all tells you 2010 was not kind to the Gators wide receivers. A great deal of it had to do with two things beyond their control: shaky play calling and inconsistent quarterback play. Still, that does not change the fact that from a group of very talented players, no one stepped up. Rainey actually set a pace that, if eligible to play in every game, would have made him the receptions leader. And that is from a player who split his time at running back.
2010 is over and that is a very good thing. This is a program that saw eight-straight seasons with at least one 1,000-yard receiver during Spurrier’s time at the helm. Since that time, there have only been two 900-yard receivers. Despite bringing two national championships to Florida, Urban Meyer never had a single receiver with over 920 yards. That could be attributed to Meyer’s desire to have a large numbers of receivers on the roster, but it also never truly allowed any one to shine. That is not such a bad thing when you are going 13-1. When you are going 8-5, it is a very different story.
2011: Deonte Thompson – RSR, Frankie Hammond – RJR, Omarius Hines – RJR, Stephen Alli – RSO, Andre Debose – RSO, Robert Clark – SO, Quinton Dunbar – SO, Solomon Patton – SO, Ja’Juan Story – FR
Preseason Rating: C
As much as I hate to give another unit a C, I just have to do it. And it is because of the promise of a Charlie Weis offense that I even give them that. There are three reasons:
1. The offense is new to the program.
2. Until we see different with our own eyes, we have to expect the same inconsistent quarterback play.
3. This unit lost three bodies completely, two more to position changes and only gained one – Ja’Juan Story.
Therefore, it is very hard to expect much out of this unit. It all hinges on the first two of those items above. How long will it take for the offense to click? And how will whichever quarterback turns out to be the right one adapt? If a passer can get the ball to the receivers more often and on longer routes, we may no longer be talking about low receptions and yardage numbers. If the Gators can consistently move the ball up and down the field, we may see one wide receiver haul in nine touchdowns, not the entire unit collectively.
There is plenty to hope for when it comes to the wide receivers, but we not seen it yet out of any on the roster. Omarius Hines had flashes, but only totaled six catches over the last five games. Thompson’s best day was against Florida’s weakest opponent – Appalachian State. Debose was rumored to have problems with the playbook and was rarely seen on offense. That cannot happen again in 2011. Thompson is the lone senior and the time is now for Frankie Hammond and Hines to no longer have just “potential.” Debose needs to become a big part of the offense and Quinton Dunbar needs to live up to the hype he generated in the spring.
The talent is there. The performance has yet to be seen. Every single member of this unit needs to step up in 2011.

SEC Coaches And Their SEC Backgrounds

SEC Media Days are currently happening. You already knew that because you are a good fan that follows everything there is to follow about the SEC. You know that during these days, we hear a lot from the head coaches at the 12 SEC programs. We hear their thoughts of the state of the SEC, what the future of the SEC might bring, and how they like SEC. Basically, it is a lot of SEC.
12 coaches in all and plenty with experience in the SEC before their current positions. Whether they were a head coach at another SEC school in the past, an assistant somewhere else within the conference, or actually played in the SEC, they have been around the conference’s block. Did you know that only three of the current 12 SEC head coaches – or 25% – are at their first SEC stop? Of the remaining nine – which would make 75% – seven are with their second SEC program in one capacity or another. The remaining two have been at three or more places with Florida’s own Will Muschamp leading the way with four stops (for those liking the percentages, that means Muschamp has played or coached at 33% of the SEC programs). The current SEC head coaches average ties to exactly two SEC schools.
I will admit that is a lot of numbers. And there are more. For instance, four coaches (33% again) have ties to the Gators. But that is enough of that. Trying to keep up with it all can leave you scratching your head and just wishing the season was here so you no longer had to find others things to fill your brain. We at The Bull Gator are here for you. To eliminate the confusion of the numbers and who coached or played where before they became the head coach at a particular SEC school, we have created the chart below. It should clear everything up and paint you a perfect picture of which SEC head coach has ties to which SEC programs. You are very welcome.

Blogging The Past: Steve Spurrier Named Gators Head Coach

The first entry in our Blogging The Past series where we imagine what it would have been like to cover important moments in Gators history as a fan and blogger before the latter was popular or even existed. These are written as if they just occurred. Imagine we know nothing of what the future would bring. This particular entry would have occurred on December 31, 1989.

The superstar has come home. On Sunday, Florida named former Gators star Steve Spurrier the next head coach. Spurrier comes to Florida from Duke where he went 20-13-1 in three seasons and was twice named the ACC Coach of the Year. Prior to leading the Blue Devils to a level of respectability, Spurrier was the only coach the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits ever knew. In three years with the Bandits, Spurrier went 35-19 while making the playoffs twice. All told, Spurrier brings a head coaching record of 55-32-1 (he also went 0-2 in the USFL playoffs) and only one losing season (5-6 during 1987 – his first year at Duke) to Gainesville.
We all know about Spurrier the football player. Spurrier was a three-time All-SEC selection making two first teams and two-time All-American including being a unanimous selection in 1966. He finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting in 1965 and became the first, and to this day only, Gators player to take home the honor in 1966. He was a record-setter while at Florida and led the Gators to an Orange Bowl victory to close out his college career.
After Florida, Spurrier was selected third overall in the 1967 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was a backup for most of his nine seasons with the Niners before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he would spend one season before ending his NFL playing career.
With his playing days at an end, Spurrier went on to be an assistant coach at the collegiate level for five seasons before becoming the youngest head coach in professional football with the Bandits in 1983. Prior to the USFL, Spurrier spent one year each at Florida and Georgia Tech coaching quarterbacks and three years as Duke’s offensive coordinator. He then began his head coaching journey which ultimately led to his hiring at Florida.
So what should we as fans expect from Spurrier and the new-look Gators? Well, the one-word answer is offense. An offensive minded coach, Spurrier should bring fireworks to Florida.
In 1985, Bandits quarterback John Reaves (yes, that John Reaves – another former Gators passer) was second in the USFL in passing yards, attempts, and completions and fourth in touchdown passes. Unfortunately, Reaves league-leading 29 interceptions pushed him far down the list of league leaders in efficiency rating. The prior season, Reaves also finished second in yards, attempts, completions, and touchdowns, and had much less of an interception problem (16).
Things at Duke were just as impressive. Anthony Dilweg was the ACC Player of the Year in 1988 while passing for 3,824 yards. In 1989, Dave Brown set a Blue Devils record with 479 passing yards against UNC and he would also pass for 444 against Wake Forest. All told, Spurrier’s Duke teams passed for an average of 3,621 yards per season. By comparison, the Blue Devils highest passing yardage total before Spurrier’s arrival was 3,349 yards in 1982 and they had only gone over 3,000 twice in the program’s history.
In the SEC, things will be different for Spurrier. Last season, Clemson – the ACC’s best team according to the final polls – finished 12th and 11th. By contrast, the SEC produced three teams that finished in the top nine of the AP poll and top seven of the coaches poll. With Alabama, Auburn, and Tennessee all coming off of seasons in which they went 6-1 in the conference and won at least 10 games each overall, things could be tough for Spurrier and the Gators. Having to face all three of those teams AND travel to Tallahassee to face FSU at the end of the regular season will not be easy. Spurrier inherits a program that is being investigated by the NCAA, which will not make the path any smoother for the new head coach, but athletic director Bill Arnsparger seems to think Florida is headed in the right direction.
Add Emmitt Smith to an amped-up passing game and we could be watching one of the more exciting offenses in college football in 1990. That is assuming of course that Smith returns, which will be on everyone’s mind. With rumors the NFL could soon officially allow any junior to enter the draft (they have allowed numerous exceptions in the past, so this may not be breaking news), Smith may bolt and we may see the offense take a serious step back as it adjusts to Spurrier’s system.
Whatever happens with the offense, a change should be welcome. The Gators lost at least five games in each of the past four seasons and was 1-3 against each Auburn, FSU, and Georgia during that time. It is time for Florida to stop being an average football program and Spurrier might be the right head coach to take them to the next level.

Gators Season Comes To An End; Gamecocks Win National Championship

Nearly two years ago a poll was conducted on this site. The basic idea was to find out who you would cheer for if you couldn’t cheer for Florida (USF was eliminated from the choices as well). After weeks of voting, we got down to a final that saw South Carolina take the title over Penn State. The Gamecocks won for a few reasons, but it probably came down to SEC affiliation and Steve Spurrier. For every Gators fan that can’t stand the man for leaving, there are two that still love him (me included).
On Tuesday night, any love for South Carolina – if there was any left after Monday night – was thrown in the trash. Hope was still alive after dropping Game 1 to the Gamecocks, but all of that was killed in Game 2 when South Carolina got the 5-2 win over Florida to claim back-to-back national championships.
The hardest part to stomach of the whole situation may be the fact that the Gators only managed to produce three runs over the two games. Those games only produced 10 runs total, but if you’re the team with three, you probably didn’t fare so well. In Game 1, one run wasn’t enough. In Game 2, doubling that total didn’t help. You can blame slumps. You can blame a loss of power. You can blame bunting.  And don’t think Florida was the only team that had trouble scoring against South Carolina. In the first inning of the first game, the Gamecocks allowed four run to Texas A&M. Since that point, South Carolina only allowed six runs in their other 50 innings. Whatever you decide to blame, there were points – the bottom of the ninth to be exact, or possibly their win over Virginia – when it seemed as if the Gamecocks were destined to repeat.
Although they weren’t able to return to Gainesville with the ultimate prize, you can’t diminish what Florida did this season. It was a successful year for a team that fell just short. Had one of those runs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 scored, we may be having a very different discussion right now. But they didn’t. Instead, Florida is the runner-up to a national champion who also happens to be a conference rival. It always hurts losing, but it hurts even more when it’s a rival – regardless of whether or not you might find yourself cheering for them against any other team.