The Back Nine: Good start for spring league

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Orlando Apollos coach Steve Spurrier acknowledges fans in the stands after the team's Alliance of American Football game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday in Orlando. [Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press]

The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend with way too much Executive Time, as we kind of rested up for what should be a wild week of Gator athletics.

10. Yep, I watched all that was offered in the new Alliance of American Football, especially Steve Spurrier’s debut. The crowds weren’t great (rain didn’t help in Orlando) and the broadcasts were a little over the top, but the football was fine and — most importantly — it was football. The attendance at these games isn’t what really matters, because, if you watched, this is definitely a made-for-TV league. Any game that has Spurrier miked up is for me. But what really was cool was hearing the replay official going through the replays before deciding on a ruling. That kind of transparency is spectacular. All this time I thought replay officials were eating popcorn and watching “Game of Thrones”. No kickoffs, two-point conversions only. What’s not to like? It will be interesting to see what AAF rules are adopted eventually by the NFL, which took a lot of ideas from the USFL and XFL. By the way, I was watching the Florida-Oklahoma national title game from 2009 (2008 season) and I was thinking who could have thought that night that one of these coaches would be in the XFL and the other an assistant athletic director. Life comes at you fast.

11. Sometimes you wonder if the recruiting rankings are too SEC-centric in that the players from the South tend to get higher rankings, because this is where football is the most popular. Or maybe that’s just me. But then you see a stat like this and those rankings hold up — the state of Florida high schools produced 51 players who were invited to the NFL Combine, by far the most of any state. And Georgia was third with 25. That means there were 76 players in the two states who were good enough to get invites. That’s a lot. I also saw where Vanderbilt was the only SEC school not to get at least a B- in recruiting. It feels like the SEC East is on the verge of becoming incredibly competitive.

12. There’s been a lot of Twitter jawing already and it’s still a long way away, but doesn’t it feel like Florida-Miami in Orlando is going to be a big deal? Florida needs to keep the positive momentum going and Miami could use some. Of course, what do we do on the Monday after the opening weekend of college football? We overreact. And we will on the first Monday in September. But it still feels like a big game.

13. Unfortunately for the Gator basketball team, things went about as expected last week playing at Auburn and at Tennessee and both by double digits. Tennessee is No. 1 and Auburn is really tough to beat at home. It’s one reason I don’t have a lot of faith in the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament — their 1-5 record on the road. And one reason I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Kentucky and Tennessee in the Elite Eight at least because they are a combined 12-1 on the road. And there is no such thing as a road NCAA game for the Wildcats because of the fan support. I know that there are no true road games in the tournament and there are nothing but neutral sites. But neutral sites are not created equal and it is still a telling sign to see how you do on the road away from your comfort zone. It will be interesting to see where Kentucky ends up because there are some sites (Columbus, Ohio; Columbia, S.C.; Jacksonville) that would result in a Big Blue Wave. Amazingly, Florida is still at No. 41 in the NET Rankings despite a 12-11 record. I’ve heard some people say Florida would be better off in the NIT to possibly get more games in. Never. And remember that you can’t be under .500 to get into the NIT. It was a little weak of the Auburn students to be chanting “N-I-T” and “C-B-I” at the Gators late in the game considering Auburn has been to one NCAA Tournament since 2003.

14. Tonight is a big one for the Florida softball team, as the Gators play host to Japan and open their brand new facility. It looks absolutely amazing with one of the best features being that when you walk into the stadium you are immediately greeted by a view of the field instead of a brick wall with a humming air conditioner. Softball got off to a great start by winning its first five games, two over ranked teams. Especially good to see was that senior Kelly Barnhill got off to a 4-0 start with a save.

15. And, of course, baseball cranks up its season with three games against Long Beach State this weekend. UF also broke ground for the new stadium last week, which got me to thinking that it might be a nice idea in two years when the stadium is completed to start a Wall of Fame. Who would be on it? I’d start with Brad Wilkerson, but it would probably be heavy with pitchers. Maybe they could do that with softball as well, starting with Lauren Haeger. Just a thought.

16. Congrats to all of the students who got the word Friday they are accepted at Florida. You have a chance to do some great things in this world. Starting with showing up for the football games and showing up on time. I kid, of course, but I know one new student Scott Stricklin won’t have to worry about showing up. (Hint: She’s related to me).

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from the Great One, Henry Aaron, on the passing of Frank Robinson. “Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends. Frank was a hard-nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done. I’m so glad I had the chance to know him all of those years. Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.” I remember as a kid watching a game that went to the bottom of the ninth and the only way I could stay up was if the Orioles sent it to extra innings. I didn’t even like the Orioles, but I didn’t want to go to bed so I said a little prayer. Frank Robinson was up with two outs. He doubled off the wall to knock in a run. I stayed up. Ever since then he seemed like a magical figure to me.

18. So for those of you reading this in print, we’re trying to do something different, which is to include the YouTube versions of the songs I am recommending. You can find them online (I hope) at Gatorsports.com:

* “Company” by The Proud Sons.

* “Longshot” by Catfish and the Bottlemen.

* “Shaky Bridges” by Sean McConnell.

* “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile.

* And for an old one, “Two Divided by Love” by the Grass Roots.

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

28 COMMENTS

  1. The number of SEC football players invited to NFL Combines year after year is no surprise, at least to me. As the old saying goes, “If you want to hunt ducks, you have to go where the ducks are.” In the case of major CFB, the “ducks” are in the SEC!

    The rest of the Power 5 conferences and ESPN commentariat viscerally HATE the SEC the way the rest of the NFL and ESPN commentariat viscerally HATE the New England Patriots. Don’t lose sight of the fact that, in both cases, that visceral HATRED is EARNED through persistent, consistently high level performance.

    In the case of the SEC, that persistent, excellent performance is based on superior recruiting talent originating in southern high schools, where football on Friday nights is as well attended as religious tent revivals. What talented, pubescent athlete, living in the south, looking to be noticed by a LOT of girls, wouldn’t want to become a part of THAT experience???

  2. As far as Auburn fans chanting… ”crap”, chew on the this Tigers/War Eagle:
    Florida Basketball: 2006, 2007 NCAA National Champions!
    National Championship Runner-up in the 2000 Finals.
    NCAA Tournament Final Fours: 1994, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2014.
    NCAA Tournament Elite Eights: 1994, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017.
    So call me Tigers/War Eagle fans (and y’all cannot even get your ”mascot” right) when you reach the FINAL FOUR, or when you all win a National Championship in college basketball. Holla!
    And while this 2018-’19 Gator basketball team is particularly confusing (as they play hard at times, other times they stand there and watch opposing teams grab a rebound, and dunk on ’em) the NIT is still better for this team. The NCAA Tourney would ONLY be good for 1 game, and a banner that says, ”NCAA Tourney participant”, ya’ know, like most of AUBURNS’ BANNERS in ”The Jungle.” CHOMP-CHOMP!
    Lastly, I’ve been embarrassed enough this year, by this team… is it ”next season,” yet?

    • gatorgi, in regards to Auburn, I love your mascot comment. I believe that they also have referred to themselves as the “Plainesmen” in the past. At least it was original. Just within the SEC, we have 3 schools with “Tigers” (LSU, Miz) as their moniker, long with 2 “Bulldogs” (UGA, MSU). Also have a pig, a chicken, a sailer, and an Aggie, whatever the heck that is. Gators is a unique name with a brand that is ours alone!
      Go Gators!

      • Can’t wait to see Auburn on probation again. Inevitable with Perspiration Head as their head coach. Also inevitable some kid will jump from the bench to run into the game , only to slip on a pool of sweat right near or under where Coach Pearl was standing, knocking the poor kid out of the game and costing Auburn a chance to win.

      • Dan, living as close as I do to College Station and even being a graduate of one of their programs, I can honestly tell you that if you ask 100 Texas A&M graduates what an “Aggie” is, you’ll get 100 different answers! Therefore, I have concluded that the term can mean anything you want it to mean, so to put it another way, “How cool is that?”.

        Anyway, I’m glad that they saw the light and joined the SEC — now if I could just figure out what the hell the Missouri Tigers are doing in the SEC, I could die a happy man!

        • Hey 6, I’ve often wondered about Mizou myself, especially since they were really wanting to get into the Big10/13/14/? or whatever that conference is these days. They should be delighted with Rutgers to give more walkovers to the osu, Big Blue and JoPa u! If the SEC wanted another Texas school with a big market, they should have gone after “Cougar High”, which I know from my 5 years of exile in Texas is officially know as the U. of Houston, but not by A&M or UT folks.

          • I hear ya’ Dan, but if the world aligned the way it was supposed to, or at least subscribed to the Trentonian Doctrine of College Football Logical Geography, Houston would be in the Big-12 and so would Mizzou, and West Virginia would join the ACC! Oh, and Rutgers would join the Mountain West for all I care, if not Conference-USA. Alas……..

          • Yes, that’s true…..and I had an Aggie tell me one time that the term stood for a precious mineral that is no longer found on this continent. Don’t know how much credibility their School of Mines really has tho — after somebody stole their moon rock, replacing it with a hard, crusted over piece of Munster, A&M published an article several years back claiming they finally had proof that the moon really was made of cheese……..

          • Right you are West……I was thinking of the Colorado Schools of Trades and Mines, of which there is no duplicate at all in Texas. But man alive, they sure graduate some fine gunsmiths out of that joint, to include the famous Reid Coffield.

  3. I appreciate the reno of the softball field. Women’s softball has more than earned some perks. UF-UM will be a big game because of the rivalry, but I would be surprised if we don’t put them away handily, make the casual college football fans change channels and Cane fans leave early in the third.

    • Phil – I live in South Florida. I have to listen to front-running-phony UM fans all the time. Open with a “big win” against FAU or FIU and you can hear the echoes in the canyons (if we had any) of “The U is baaaaaaaaaaaaaack”. Then they go 7-6 and don’t win their basketball conference – AGAIN. womp-waaaah Hopefully the Gators tamp them down early choke them out late. ‘Cause I DON’T want to hear it. Go Gators.

  4. I completely disagree about the NIT being better for any team. Even one game on the big stage is better for the freshman next year. And you never know if that first round opponent might be looking ahead to the next round.
    And it’s funny to hear SEC fans complain about “anti-sec” bias. Go to the fan boards of any other conference and they constantly complain and how ESPN is so biased towards the SEC. It’s all about your personal perspective 😎

  5. As far as Auburn chanting N-I-T and C-B-I, welcome to college athletics. That’s what student sections do. If that hurt any or our players feelings, then it pretty much shows why they haven’t been mentally tough in games and continue to fold in the 2nd half. Ultimately, the way you avoid those chants is to not constantly play on the bubble. We have been on the NCAA bubble for 4 of the past 5 seasons, so Auburn fans aren’t entirely wrong. The truth hurts sometimes. Hopefully we can salvage an NCAA tournament bid this year and turn this thing around next year, but right now, Auburn is better and they are going to let us know about it. Welcome to the SEC.