The Back Nine comes at you after an amazing vacation that included swim-up blackjack at the Tropicana, the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, a trail hike in Sedona and it may take a few weeks to get the sound of slot machines out of my head.
10. So what looked like an uneventful summer came crashing down hard while I was away. The news on Justin Watkins was a blow to a Florida football program that has now lost three recruits (when you include Randy Russell and James Robinson, who had medical issues) in the last year who never suited up for the Gators. (Before you @ me, I know that two guys had heart conditions and the other was arrested and they are not related, but my point is that UF has lost three guys in a year who didn’t even play a career down). And then the story broke about the players involved in the altercation in May who certainly have to be smarter. When it comes to Watkins, one of the core values for Dan Mullen is to respect women. Watkins obviously has some issues and UF had no choice but to cut him loose. The most alarming thing about the players involved in the altercation was the association with someone described as a “known gambler.” That’s a large red flag for Mullen and his staff to get a grip on. Interesting that while all of this bad news was breaking, Urban Meyer was being condemned in Big Ten country for his handling of assistant coach Zach Smith, eventually fired when a series of domestic abuse allegations became public.
11. At any rate, any time you lose players or have players get in trouble during talking season, that is what people will be talking about and Gator fans are ready for something good to happen. And they aren’t really happy with what they are seeing on the recruiting trail. I’m a big believer that you can’t get too caught up in where a class ranks in July, but with the new early signing period, Florida being in the 30s is alarming. This is about Mullen recruiting to a damaged program and until he can show what his team is capable of on the field it will remain damaged. Florida is hardly irrelevant, but the Gators are on the verge of becoming Tennessee (I said this on Mike Bianchi’s radio show Monday morning and it caused quite a stir). It isn’t easy to recruit to a program that has two four-win seasons in the last five years, no offense for the last eight years and issues off the field that have embarrassed the school. Mullen has inherited a program that is limping and it will take time and rehabilitation to get it walking in a straight line again. When ESPN’s GameDay show hasn’t been to your campus for a game since 2012, you have a problem. And perception is often reality.
12. Dude, so you come back from vacation and everything is negative right off the bat? Sorry. Let’s be positive. I missed Gainesville. I missed flat-old Florida. I missed reasonable prices for beer and gas. I mean, I saw some amazing things, but it was good to come home. The Grand Canyon reminded me of Augusta National. Stay with me on this. You see it on TV or in pictures and you think you know what it looks like, but then it takes your breath away the first time you lay eyes on it. And I found a new level of hot out there in Vegas. On Wednesday, the high was 117 degrees. Landing in Gainesville and getting off the plane felt like it was spring. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that was marred by the news that my wife’s brother, Bobby, was in a terrible car accident and is fighting for his life in a Chicago hospital. He is one of the greatest guys I’ve known and a huge Gator fan. Please send your prayers his way.
13. So I didn’t get to comment on the British Open because I was gone and it was really cool to watch so early in the morning out there and be done at 11 a.m. This Open made up for the two previous dull majors even if the guy you were rooting for didn’t win. But all we really ask for is a great leaderboard on the final day. And to have Tiger Woods in the lead on a major Sunday certainly sent people scurrying to their TVs. But methinks Tiger isn’t Tiger anymore. The old Tiger didn’t spit out leads with awful shotmaking the way this Tiger did on the final day.
14. One story that got a lot of Twitter play during my break was ESPN’s rankings of the last 21 national championship teams. Most of the gnashing of teeth involved Miami’s 2001 team being third instead of first (behind No. 1 Texas 2005 and No. 2 Florida 2008). When you get analytics involved in rankings, these kinds of things happen because those ’Canes were penalized for their schedule, including an overmatched Nebraska in the title game. Whatever. Interesting that after the top five, the next four teams were Nick Saban’s Alabama teams. And that Florida’s 2006 champions were ranked next to last. That team tends to get overlooked because the ’08 team produced so many pros (19 were drafted), but that was an amazing team when it came to finding a way to win close games. And the trophy is just as valuable as any of the others.
15. One of the popular talking points during the summer on radio has been this — if you could have the four favorites or the rest of the college football Power Five teams to win it all, which would you take? I’d take the favorites (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia) in a heartbeat, but it says a lot about the sport I love so much that I think most people would do the same thing. Is it becoming too predictable? And yet, if you’re like me you might have been watching the top 25 games from last year on ESPNU this summer and remembering what a great season last year was even with its predictable national champions. I don’t think Georgia can win it all this year and I thought about placing a bet when I was in Vegas on Wisconsin to win the title. In fact, take Ohio State and Georgia out and put Wisconsin and Washington in and I’ll bet you a Diet Coke.
16. Watching Chipper Jones go into the Hall of Fame was another one of those moments where you remember the past and wish you could relive the 1990s. But unless Stewie from “Family Guy” really invents a time machine, all I will have is the memories of a great decade to be alive with the Braves’ amazing run and Steve Spurrier taking Florida to a level we had never seen around here. This year’s Atlanta team has at least made me pay attention for the first time in a long time, but that bullpen isn’t good enough to think about a playoff run. Or even get them into the playoffs. Anyway, forget that Chipper is naming his newborn son Cooper after Cooperstown. Naming his kid Shea after the way he owned the Mets in that stadium was the biggest diss of all time. And it always makes me laugh when I see it in print.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Florida wide receiver Trevon Grimes and will make Gator fans feel a little better heading into fall camp — “I like all 3 of our QBs this year…. y’all just don’t know!! I’ve seen it in practice daily.” Of course, what you do throwing against air is only a part of whether or not you can play the position against live action and guys who want to cause you bodily harm.
18. There was a lot of listening to tunes on some long drives around Arizona and Nevada and some long days sunning by pools on the vacation. This playlist was one of my faves:
• “Tesselation” by Mild High Club.
• “Big Toe” by The Growlers.
• “Pictures of Girls” by Wallow.
• “Preacher Man” by The Driver Era.
• And for an oldie, “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young, which elicited some strained high notes during our sing-along on the highway as we sailed past dozens of Joshua trees. Maybe I should have chosen something from that album.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.