The Back Nine comes at you with the knowledge that we are inside three weeks before the first actual college football games are played, which should make you smile.
10. Like many of you, I keep digesting the news coming out of Columbus, Ohio, and try to keep an open mind. But the garage door is only an inch or two away from slamming shut. I still would bet Urban Meyer does not get fired even after his public statement was clearly positioning to keep Ohio State from being able to fire him with cause. The final verdict on him and athletic director Gene Smith is going to be huge news no matter what happens. (I am curious what percentage of Gator fans hope Urbs, the guy who won two national titles here, gets canned — 95 percent?) There is one thing, through all of the lies and possible cover-ups that I can’t shake. Meyer and Ohio State didn’t fire Smith because he violated a restraining order when he dropped his kids off at his ex-wife’s house. They fired him because it all became public. In other words, Meyer didn’t get rid of Smith because he knew he was a bad guy. He got rid of him because we found out Zach Smith is a bad guy. The latest incident happened May 12. It wasn’t until July 23, exactly 50 minutes after Brett McMurphy published his report detailing the 2015 incident, that Ohio State put out a news release that Smith was fired. Why would Meyer hang on to him for so long when he knew of the multiple accusations? I think Meyer’s judgment was clouded by his feelings for Smith’s grandfather, Earle Bruce, who was like a second father to him. Why would he so vehemently deny at Big Ten Media Days he knew about the 2015 incident? It’s part of his DNA.
11. OK, let’s talk some football. Last year on the day that Jim McElwain was fired, I had a conversation with a coach who knows a little about offensive football. Steve Spurrier told me that when he watched the Gators practice, the wide receivers were tipping their routes by looking where they were supposed to go. So I asked receiver Freddie Swain about it. “The drills we’re doing now is to work on our hips and how to get in and out of breaks,” Swain said. “We were peeking when we were running routes. We had a tendency, peeking a lot. Now it’s just getting in and out of your breaks. It’s going to help us get away from the DBs a little more.” That, my friends, is simple coaching. It goes back to what I wrote last week. I don’t think Florida’s lack of offense has been a talent issue. I think it has been a coaching issue.
12. Which brings me to your expectations for this season. Look, Florida is not a national championship contender. The Gators are barely an SEC East contender. We all know that. But what would you need this season to be satisfied? I ask this knowing that some of you were not happy with a team that went 11-2 in 2012 or back-to-back SEC East champs because those were offensively challenged teams. So here is what I see as the minimum that Florida needs to do to have a happy fan base when this season is over:
• Score some points.
• Score more points.
• Make something happen on special teams.
• Beat FSU.
• Score some more points.
The overall record isn’t what this season is about for a lot of fans except that they’d really appreciate a nice bowl game and at the very least not have back-to-back seasons under .500 for the first time since 1978-79. Gator fans want to enjoy watching their team play (and would really enjoy if nobody got in any trouble for a few months). And I believe that beating Florida State is crucial for this season for a lot of reasons. It’s been awhile.
13. I mentioned that college football is back in less than three weeks, but don’t get too excited because the best game on Aug. 25 is Hawaii vs. Colorado State. Hey, you can scout Florida’s Game 3 opponent. The first real weekend isn’t quite up to the level of last season’s epic build-up all summer, but it’s still good enough to make sure you are near a TV in the hours before Florida plays its 7:30 p.m. lid-lifter (does anyone still use that expression?) I am going to be an Associated Press voter again this year and I’ve been toying with the idea of putting Clemson No. 1 instead of Alabama simply because I think the Tigers are better. Man, where do we put Ohio State if the vote is required before a decision is made on Meyer?
14. Count me among the people who thought it was pretty cool to hear what Jalen Hurts had to say at Alabama’s media day Saturday. He sees the handwriting on the wall, which is why he went public with his hurt feelings. We can’t demand honesty from the people we write about and then bristle when they tell the truth. Alabama fans are upset Hurts said, “So now it’s like when we try to handle the situation now, for me, it’s kind of late, it’s too late. The narrative has already been created.” I totally agree. We all walked out of the Nick Saban appearance at SEC Media Days and said as much. The drama of college football could make this such a great story if Tua Tagovailoa flops or is injured and Hurts has to come in and save the day. I will say this — Tagovailoa makes Alabama a more dangerous team than any quarterback Nick Saban has had. But let’s not forget it was one half of football.
15. I saw where ESPN had a list of the top 50 players in college football and Ed Oliver of Houston was No. 1. He might be the best player, but I can’t see him being a true Heisman Trophy contender just because not many voters will see many games he plays and defensive linemen have to be ridiculous to get that kind of attention. On that top 50 there were no Florida Gators, but that’s a reflection of 4-7 more than anything. When you are coming off a season like that, it’s difficult for people to see if you are any good and it’s easier to say you must not be special or you wouldn’t have allowed 4-7 to happen. Anyway, preseason honors don’t come with a plaque or a scroll. They’re just for the Interweb.
16. I get the feeling Tiger Woods is turning into the Big Teasy. He gets in contention and we all get into it and then he fades away into the background. If anyone thinks he’s going to win the 100th PGA with the tight fairways of Bellerive, they probably believe in the Easter Bunny. My pick is the same guy who won last year and won last week — Justin Thomas. I just love the way he’s hitting the ball off the tee. Mostly, I’m hoping for a great finish to the major season as I make my way through northwest Florida speaking to Gator clubs this week. Looking forward to seeing old friends and telling some new stories. But my McElwain impression is probably not going to work anymore.
17. With the Urban Meyer scandal and the Hall of Fame and so much else going on, there were plenty to choose from, but this is the one that made me laugh the hardest (which always is a tiebreaker) from someone called Intern Pete — “What’s your favorite sports rivalry? Mine is Ed Orgeron vs. the closed captioning on YouTube.” He included some examples and this was one of them: “we had we were security cold Tracy West phenomenal.” Hee hee.
18. Well, it was a rough week at the gym, because someone stole my fairly new sneakers from the locker room. If you see someone with forest green size 11s, well, tell him those shoes climbed a trail at the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, I can relax to this playlist:
• “Happy Man” by Jungle.
• “No More Darkness, No More Light” by Amos Lee.
• “You Can Count On Me” by Trophy Eyes.
• “When the Curtain Calls” by Greta Van Fleet.
• And for an old one because my oldest daughter was getting on me on the road for not being a bigger fan, “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.