The Back Nine: Florida will be in better shape

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Florida's Nick Savage, right, director of football strength and conditioning, talks with running back Iverson Clement (24) during the Orange and Blue game in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Back Nine comes at you after a wonderful weekend in my old home town of St. Augustine that included time with family and a visit to Barley’s Pub in downtown. Try the lamb burger. And tip your waitresses.

10. There are still a few spring games to be played around the country, assuming weather doesn’t cancel any more, but for the most part the football attention now turns to the summer magazines which will be coming out to see where your favorite teams will be ranked. A day doesn’t go by when someone starts out a conversation with, “So what kind of team do you think Florida will be?” Most preseason mags will have Florida in the bottom of the Top 25. Some will exclude the Gators. Those that don’t pick them to finish second in the East will have them third. And none of those predictions will truly matter. The bottom line is that we have no idea what is in store for these Gators. We’re not even sure about the roster yet because of the pending eligibility of the two wide receivers who could play a key role. We don’t know who the quarterback will be. A lot of it, as Dan Mullen said, will come down to the offseason and whether or not his staff will have to re-teach the players who went through a crash course in the spring. We only know that this team will be in shape and that is an improvement. All we know for sure is this — at SEC Media Days in July, all 14 coaches will tell us that their team had the best summer they have ever had. And not all of them will be telling the truth.

11. Except maybe Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt. After the Vols spring game, he called out players who quit and fans who didn’t show. That’s a bold move, Cotton, let’s see how it works out (“Dodgeball” reference). I’ve said that Gator fans need to show a little patience with this new staff, but Tennessee fans may need a lot. The Vols open with West Virginia in Charlotte and there is a lot of hype for former Gator Will Grier being a Heisman Trophy candidate. Later, there is a five-game stretch where they face Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina with a bye week in the middle of that gauntlet. I don’t think it will be 0-8 bad, but this first year under Pruitt will be a struggle. I’m seriously considering picking Tennessee seventh in the East. Oh, wait, I forgot about Vanderbilt.

12. It was disappointing for the No. 1 Gators not to finish out the series with Kentucky with a sweep, but baseball is an unforgiving sport. The way Twitter was reacting after Florida’s first two blowouts of a Top-10 team, you would have thought the College World Series was a given. But Florida won the series and hasn’t lost one all season, which is why the Gators have a commanding four-game lead in the SEC race with 12 games to go. Florida is 14-4 and there are four teams at 10-8. One reason the Gators are where they are is a 10-5 record on the road. That’s the sign of a veteran team. It will be an interesting week after Tuesday’s game with Mercer when Auburn comes to town.

13. And Florida’s softball team doesn’t have the breathing room that the baseball team has, but we are down to the last two SEC series with Florida leading Georgia by two games. First, UF faces nemesis FSU on Wednesday night, then a series at home against LSU before finishing up with Missouri. It’s funny how there seems to be this feeling that pitcher Kelly Barnhill isn’t having the dominant season we expected from her this year. She’s 21-1 with an 0.82 ERA. I think coach Tim Walton will take that.

14. Those of us who thought Florida’s gymnastics team was not going to be a contender when Kennedy Baker went down with a season-ending injury did not count on the spirit and grit of the gymnasts who make up Jenny Rowland’s roster. They were so close to pulling it out in St. Louis and should be applauded for their efforts. A third-place finish with all things considered was tremendous. The sad thing is we have seen the last of senior Alex McMurtry, who has to be in any arguments for Florida’s best gymnast ever. She was also one of my favorites to interview during her four years at UF. Just a delight. Her emotions as her career came to an end said it all.

15. And a sport that often gets overlooked with all of the baseball, softball, gymnastics and spring football going on is lacrosse, but Mandee O’Leary’s team won another conference title over the weekend. And that one doesn’t even count in the All-Sports standings because women’s lacrosse isn’t an SEC sport. That doesn’t change the season they had with the Big East Tournament and NCAAs still to come. But first, it’s senior day Saturday. Meanwhile, women’s tennis made the SEC final. I’ll say it again, if you are a fan of all kinds of sports, I can’t think of a better place to be than Gainesville.

16. So this is another big weekend around here with baseball, softball and lacrosse. Oh, and if you are not fatigued by all of the nonsense, the NFL draft is this week. Prepare for a deluge of stories and tweets about the SEC because it’s still the conference’s unpaid advertisement for the dominance of the league. You’ll likely see 7 to 9 SEC players taken Thursday in the first round, including Florida’s Taven Bryan.

17. The Tweets of the Week came almost consecutively on Twitter. The first from Tuscaloosa News columnist Cecil Hurt — “Alabama announces 74,732 as A-Day attendance. Some of those are here in spirit only.” And the second from Knoxville News Sentinel beat writer Blake Toppmeyer — “Tennessee announces a spring game attendance of 65,098. A lot of them are disguised as empty seats.” Never get too caught up in the announced attendance for spring games.

18. It was a wild weekend for the Dooley family, because I bought a new phone because of a dying battery (some of your numbers were erased in the transition and I apologize) and another car. Three dogs, three cars. They each get one. And I came up with this playlist:

• “Old Mythologies” by The Barr Brothers.

• “To Chicago” by Ciaran Lavery.

• “Blinds” by Nectra.

• “last words” by isaac gracie.

• And for an old one, I went back and watched the old send-up of the Beatles by Eric Idle and friends and forgot how great it is so “Piggy In The Middle” by The Rutles.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Looks like the Gators are on the wrong side of the performance enhancing drug issue again with Grier..he may win the Heisman while we struggle to find the guy to play his position…it’s like the issuesof the 1979 gators just won’t die. We suspended half the team for smoking weed and everything tanked…only to find out that 95 percent of the NFL and nba smokes weed daily because it’s a performance enhancing drug due to injury relief or so they say.

    If you have a law that few people follow..
    Are you a fool to follow it? Or should society start standing up to the determined few that are imposing this on everyone else? I don’t like steroids but the rules look out of date to me. Same with paying the players.

    • Tough call, Mveal. Knowing what chronic use of steroids does to the human body, I’d have to opine that the rules should stay in place as-is. The issue with pay-for-play is more clear cut in my mind….if you’re going to call intercollegiate football a professional sport…..then fine, fire for effect. Otherwise, no.

    • You know Mveal, that is a tough one to call. My personal take on it is…#1, I follow the rules, whether or not I like them (except maybe driving too fast..) . But that’s just me, not a judgment call on anyone else. I personally believe that a person should be able to do what they want as long as it only affects themselves. So if a player wants to roid up and suffer the consequences few years later….knock yourself out. I’ll enjoy watching you play but will have little sympathy when you’re 50 with all kinds of health issues. It’s a personal choice.
      Now, the other side of that coin is, it DOES affect others in that the players that choose not to roid up are now at a disadvantage. That to me, is a problem.
      On the weed issue….again, do it in your own home, knock yourself out. But do it and get behind a wheel, then I have a big problem. I think there should be no second chances when it comes to driving under the influence as it can be a mortal danger to us all. You DUI…. you pay a stiff price…whatever that may be. My two cents.

      • I’d say your two cents is worth a million bucks, Rog.

        I went to school with John Matuzak in ’73……great guy, but you could see it coming from a mile away.

  2. #11. There was so much obvious dysfunction in the UT athletic department……starting about the time Phil Fulmer was fired in the first place…..that Butch Jones wouldn’t have had a chance were he the second coming of Bear Bryant. So he took the fall, not helping himself along the way with some silly comments that the fan base took issue with. Pruitt comes in with an honest appraisal of the problems, and now they want to hang him too?

    Well, if he can survive those fans, the man will get the job done. The big story though is that UT finally did something even smarter than hiring Pruitt…..they put Phil Fulmer back in charge, where he should have been all along. So now the Gators and the Vols are on their way back, and look out Georgia. And everybody else in the SEC. I for one am tickled to death about the future of the East.

    • Tennessee has to have the worst fan base of any sport in America. The Curse of Lane Kiffen lives on. Now we know why so many coaches said “NO” to UT when UT came calling. And they sacrificed their AD to deflect the blame from their own selves. I guess everyone needs a good rationalization to get through the day….or season.

    • I live in Knoxville and I can tell you that you and mkfgator are spot on. But I’ll add this, yes, Butch was in a almost un-winnable situation but he did cause many of his own problems. He was in over his head in the SEC and he did not play well in the locker room.

      Yes the fan base here is pretty ridiculous. But the problems started LONG before Lane Kiffin showed up. This fan base was fractured backed when Johnny Majors coached and Fulmer succeeded him (google that if you’re interested). Throw in a couple of big money donors who lord over the program…….well all I can say is….. it’s great to be a Florida Gator.

  3. Roger copy, mkf…every time I think of some of our own “nuts”, I think of the Vols and they pale in comparison. Kind of makes you glad to be a Gator, doesn’t it?

    What I am looking forward to, though, is returning to very relevant games each season with UT. We were always better when that series meant something, and so were they.

  4. Until UF(and especially UT) recruit anything close to the recruiting stratosphere UGA is in right now, the Poodles have nothing to worry about. No great scheme, coaching, strength training, etc.(especially when UGA has that, too) can overcome a roster full of 5 and 4 stars vs. 4 and 3 stars. Sorry to speak the truth.

    • Steve….. your are correct… for the moment. But don’t worry. If UT has the worst fan-base in the SEC, then UGA isn’t far behind. Those guys are delusional about their place in history and it won’t take many hiccups from Kirby’s teams before they’re howling again, ready to run him out of town.

    • You speak the truth, even though it may earn you the label of “troll”, Steve. What has happened at UGA is nothing short of spectacular, and I don’t begrudge them any of it. Well, maybe a little……it violates the state constitution of Florida not to hate ’em just a little bit, just because (a little known legal fact even to Florida natives)…..but I’m confident that we will catch up again. Yes, it may seem at present like a remote probability, we’ve been sucking hind tit for at least 7 years of this decade…..but it’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

    • Spot on, Steve…although I agree with Gator-6 that that type of thinking will get you labeled a troll in these parts. The echo chamber delusional bunnies (like TampaGator) will have none of it. Truth is, we’re behind in recruiting not just with UGA, but with FSU, Miami and most of our other rivals. Unfortunately, we’re no longer a flashy and appealing program in the eyes of the top recruits, so we’re settling for seconds and thirds. I’m hoping Mullen is somehow able to turn this around, but this year may already be a lost cause.

    • Steve I think some Gator fans have very short memories. It wasn’t too long ago that Muschamp was an interception in the end zone against UGA away from playing for a national title in his 2nd season all the while bringing in top 5 recruiting classes and how’d that turn out? I remember feeling exactly like UGA fans feel right now. Meyer’s #1 overall recruiting class from 2010 was going into year 3, Muschamp just brought in the #3 overall class. We had a 5* #1 ranked dual threat QB in Driskel ready to roll. The Gators were back and going to be contending for titles every year and suddenly year 3 rolled around and those hopes were dashed real quickly. Lets see how Smart does coaching his own recruits before labeling them unbeatable. They’ve lost a lot of talent from last year and no one really knows how good Smart will be at developing all the talent he’s accumulating.

  5. Mike Winter. You are a “troll” with many identities on here. Acting like a Gators fan when you are not. On here 24/7 using multiple personalities to carry on conversations with yourself, saying multiple things and even defending one of your personalities with another personality as not being a troll. You are a troll. A “scitzo” FSU troll. Simple as that.

  6. i keep asking … when are we gonna find out which gator players commit academic fraud against the university… the rest of the conference is anxiously waiting!!

  7. There’s some, and you know who you are, who are more concerned with ad hominem attacks than discussing real issues. I guess that’s considered normal now, since the moron in the White House does nothing but attack people who point out that he’s a congenital liar, certified idiot, etc.
    I think Pat is wrong about most magazines having UF in the Top 25. I’d be surprised if more than one actually did so. Pat, (surprise, surprise) always overrates the Gator football team. Guess what? UF came very close to finishing 6-5 last season. But they also came just as close to finishing 2-9. Nothing was seen in the Spring that looked any different. This talk about the two WR transfers is just that, a lot of talk. Did anyone see ANYTHING in the Spring game that said either one, if they become eligible, will make the slightest difference? I think most folks outside of Gainesville view UF as a dumpster fire right now, and Dan Mullen’s “energy” hasn’t changed that. Alos, who says UF will be in better shape this year? The same EXACT thing promise was made last year when McElwain called out UF for being soft. Talk is cheap!

  8. I could care less if some clown calls me a troll for making an unpleasant but correct observation. I am a UF alum, 58 years old, avid Gator fan for over 50 years. I don’t care any longer about any team in any sport except for my beloved Gators. But I have followed recruiting and its relationship to success(see Bama, who is always REALLY good since Saban began out recruiting everyone else, vs. Vandy, who is ALWAYS at the bottom in both recruiting and on-field success. See SOS, whose great coaching won him six SEC titles with better players at UF vs. ZERO SEC titles with the chickens). And right now, the Poodles, who I hate I bet more than any of you(lived among them here in GA for almost 30 years) are recruiting even BETTER than Bammer, and until now I thought nibody could do that. So Mullen has a very tall task.

    • Sure can’t disagree c anything you just said, Steve……that describes me too as far as sports and the Gators go. I was stationed in Georgia twice….Ft Stewart and Ft Gordon……and while it was a pretty state, it was insufferable as far as being a Gator! Both times I had to subscribe to the Tampa Tribune to make sure Florida hadn’t dropped football.

      But hang in there, bud…..Mullen does have a tall task, but he’s up to it.

    • Well said, Steve. I’ve been preaching recruiting on these comment boards for weeks, and very few listen. Many push back and with comments like “Mullen will out-coach team with better player,” “Mullen knows what he’s looking for in recruits,” “recruiting services don’t know what they’re doing,” “Mullen is a QB whisperer,” etc. All pure nonsense. Truth is, we’re getting are tails handed to us on the recruiting circuit. If this continues, Mullen’s wife will yank him out of here before she needs to go grocery shopping.

      Take a look at ESPN’s first attempt at ranking the 2019 recruiting classes. Sent chills down my spine…(even MSU is doing better than us).

      http://insider.espn.com/college-sports/football/recruiting/classrankings?class=2019

  9. Mullen was competing in the toughest division in college football with classes that never ranked higher than the 20s. He already signed a higher ranked class than he ever did at MSU with only a couple months to recruit. As soon as they start showing progress on the field the recruiting tides will shift, which based on his quick success at MSU, I’m guessing shouldn’t take too long. There’s plenty of top recruits to go around and the difference between the #1 class and #5 class isn’t that big. We have yet to see whether Smart is a good enough coach to be able to make adjustments and have great success when he can’t hand the ball off every time and win. When he didn’t have 2 first rd RBs playing every game in 2016, I saw an 8-5 coach. The 2 games this season where that hand the ball off to win strategy didn’t work, he lost. I fully believe Mullen is a better X’s and O’s head coach, so I don’t think its as tall a task as you do. I think the Gators will be back to owning UGA very soon.

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