The Back Nine comes at you after a long, hot weekend where we had our air conditioning go down for four days, my car die for the weekend and the refrigerator forming glaciers in the freezer. It always happens all at once, does it not?
10. Among the many things in sports that happened on a humid weekend (did I mention the AC going out?) was Tim Tebow blasting a pair of home runs for his Double A team. He has his average up to .241, which doesn’t seem that great, but it is for him. And now he is in a series between the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and Hartford Yard Goats. I want to cover that series just to get a couple of T-shirts. Tebow continues to get better, but you don’t see too many .241 hitters in AA who cannot be interviewed after games and have two security guards at his locker. He’s still that big a deal and throughout his short minor league career fans have been flocking to these minor league parks in case he does something. He’s Elvis. Except Elvis couldn’t hit a slider. Anyway, reading about Tebow made me go and look up Florida’s offensive numbers from the national championship in 2008 just to make sure it really happened. That team was ranked in the top 20 nationally in:
• Scoring offense (4th).
• Total offense (15th)
• Turnover margin (2nd).
• Third-down conversions (8th).
• Red zone offense (9th).
I swear I’m not making this up. But after the last decade of offensive futility, a lot of you may be wondering if you dreamed of the days when the Gators were an offensive juggernaut. And the 2008 team did not even finish in the top 10 for Florida all-time in total offense. Those spots are occupied by eight Steve Spurrier teams and two other Urban Meyer teams. Sigh.
11. OK, so what’s your point, Cheetos breath? The point is that we are entering the talking season and a day will not go by without someone talking about, writing about, blogging about or tweeting about Florida and whether or not Dan Mullen can get the Gators back where they used to be. And one reason it is a bigger deal than it would be at some places is because a vast majority of Gator fans saw it, smelled it, heard it and digested it when it was happening for a really long stretch of time. And so did the media boys and girls. So it is going to be the dominant theme until SEC Media Days at the Omni in Atlanta. Then we’ll spend four days writing about all 14 coaches and then go back to wondering if Florida can be any good on offense. I have these targets. Let’s see if they can reach them:
• Total offense — top 50 (is that really asking a lot?).
• Total points — top 40 (defense, you have to help out here).
• Explosive plays (20 or more yards) — top 30.
12. Florida’s baseball team won another series this weekend, beating Texas A&M two of three which makes it 18 series in a row, a remarkable number. But let’s brush away the non-conference series wins earlier this year against bad teams such as Siena (14-28), Rhode Island (19-25) and Miami (21-25, hee-hee). Think about how difficult it is to win one series in the SEC and then come to grips with this team winning 14 of them in a row over two seasons. That’s the streak. And seven straight series wins on the road in the best conference in baseball. During that stretch of SEC games, Florida has outscored its opponents 299-173. According to my calculator, that means the average score of Florida’s last 42 regular season SEC games is 7.1 to 4.1. The Gators have their final midweek game tonight against USF before taking on Georgia this weekend. If UF makes it 15 straight SEC series win, they will clinch at least a tie for the SEC title. (By the way, the last team to beat UF in an SEC series was Tennessee last year and the Vols needed two 10-inning wins to do it).
13. Meanwhile, in the other sports of bats and balls, UF won a fourth straight SEC title in Columbia, Missouri, and then tacked on two more wins for the heck of it. Now, maybe I am the only person fascinated by this and my wife has already told me I am. Kelly Barnhill is now 25-1 and has given up more homers than the entire pitching staff did last year. The key for Barnhill — they are almost always solo homers and they rarely affect the outcome of a game. The only time she lost was when Georgia hit three in a row. So far this year, Barnhill has allowed 16 homers (Florida gave up 11 last year, five of them by Barnhill) and 13 of those homers have been solo shots. The other three were two-run homers. I don’t know. I find it amazing.
“It has been kind of weird,” Florida coach Tim Walton told The Back Nine. “I think she’s given up as many as we did in 2008 and 2009 combined (true, those two staffs allowed a total of 14). People are seeing her for the third, fourth, fifth time and there have been a lot of late-inning homers. They know they’re going to see her twice in a weekend so they are gearing up for her. She’s 25-1. Amanda Lorenz has been on base in every game we’ve played. Maybe that has something to do with it.” Or there is this UF softball stat — Florida has a pitcher who has 146 strikeouts and 14 walks this season. That would be Aleshia Ocasio. One thing for sure — Florida didn’t waste any time getting that “2018” (for another conference title) up on the wall back at the stadium. It’s already been installed.
14. The Gators, as you probably know, are stuck in Columbia awaiting their Thursday night game in the SEC Tournament, a tournament that may set records for lack of attendance. UF’s comeback win Sunday eliminated Mizzou from the 12-team field. I’m not sure why the SEC has been so Missouri-centric (SEC hoops, gymnastics and softball all staged in the state), but maybe it’s trying to get it’s obligations out of the way. I would think the conference will at least consider not going to campus sites if this turns out to be a box office disaster, but let’s at least wait until Florida gets to host in its new digs (likely 2020 for the tourney).
15. Let’s see, Thursday at The Players, who do you follow? Well, there’s this group of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. How’s that sound? Or you could literally follow anybody else and have plenty of room to move around. Or you could do what so many fans do at this tournament and hang out on a chalet and never see a live shot (yes, I am talking about you). I’m heading over today and it feels almost like a major. But just almost. It is moving back to March because the whole concept of having a major a month never really caught on. But it is still a great event and a chance to see a ton of friends.
16. We know that the South has a major advantage in baseball, softball, golf and, well, football and beaches and weather. But women’s lacrosse is definitely a northern thing. Of the top eight seeds, seven are from North Carolina up. Then there is Florida, which is a bit of an outlier (although all eight national seeds are in the East). Mandee O’Leary has done an amazing job with a program built from scratch winning eighth straight conference titles. The Gators will try to advance in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday here in Gainesville.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to the great columnist Dan Wolken of USA Today. To set this up, high schooler Romeo Langford’s commitment ceremony lasted longer than most sitcoms and one speaker compared the basketball player to the man who freed the slaves. So Wolken Tweeted — “One difference between Romeo Langford and Abraham Lincoln: Honest Abe was a none-and-done. No college at all. Went straight to the pros.” Langford went to Indiana.
18. So if a golfer has to have complete silence while standing over a shot, why is the trend nowadays in casual golf to have you iPhone belting out tunes while you’re lining up a wedge over a bunker? Just curious because I am guilty, too. Just the other day, I slammed this playlist:
• “Mansion Door” by Shakey Graves.
• “Mistake” by Middle Kids.
• “Good Kisser” by Lake Street Drive.
• “Thank God For Ireland” by Tyrone Wells.
• And for an old one, I went all the way back to Red Rose Speedway to find “Get On The Right Thing” by Paul McCartney and Wings.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.