The Back Nine comes at you after a busy weekend for fans, UF administrators, people working concessions, the police and everybody who had anything to do with one crazy Saturday on campus.
10. So my colleague Robbie Andreu and I were chatting after we were done working on Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage/Orange and Blue Game and I said this, “The touchdown passes to the former Gator players during the spring game didn’t get big cheers because Gator fans want to see THIS team catch touchdown passes.” That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. I got a kick out of Lawrence Wright’s diving catch and Travis McGriff throwing the ball in the stands as he did after a TD in his last home game. And they are beloved Gators and that was neat. But Florida fans came to The Swamp to have some hope for the future offensively. They are tired of being ranked in the 100s in offense and knowing that their best chance to score a touchdown the last few years has been to run back an interception. They left the game without a lot of conviction that it truly is going to be better and still no idea who the starting quarterback will be. But we are still a long way from the first game and don’t forget that this head coach and this staff haven’t really had that much time with these players. Also, Florida is going to have a really good defense. If Florida can be OK (like top 50?) on offense and elite on defense, it will have a shot at a good year. But this is a coach who is building a program and it’s only going to get better. I truly believe the Run of Ineptitude is over. Florida finished 104th or worse in total offense six of the last seven years. The other time it finished 96th. That’s done. Kaput. Finished. I think.
11. We often take for granted how well the University Athletic Association runs things even though we only hear from people who didn’t like where they had to park or how hot it was. But to pull off what the UAA did Saturday was the mark of a stellar organization, something they have done before. You had women’s tennis playing for the SEC title and that place was packed (I went for a bit), you had doubleheaders caused by Sunday’s weather in both baseball and softball, you had lacrosse playing at home at the same time as softball ACROSS THE STREET and you had more than 50,000 people at the spring game. So if you didn’t have anything to do Saturday, why are you reading a column about sports? Everything I saw went off without a major problem and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that North Lawn experience grow (with the beer garden included) next season and continue to expand until it pretty much becomes a version of the Grove in Oxford. Just don’t tell Scott Stricklin I made that comparison. He still has some Mississippi State blood in him. Stricklin was all over the place Saturday and the fans seemed to appreciate his presence.
12. So does the scene on Saturday translate into wins in the fall for the Gators? Probably not, but it might help with some recruits down the line. Anyway, let’s play the over/under game for the SEC this year now that BetDSI Sportsbook has come out with its betting lines of demarcation for the regular season.
Alabama 10.5: Over. Alabama will lose once, but no more than that.
Georgia 10.5: Under. But just barely.
Auburn 9: Over. I can’t see the Tigers losing three games.
Miss. State 8: Stay away from it. The soft non-conference schedule is a trap.
LSU 7.5: Over: Yikes, when was the last time this number was so low? And ESPN’s FPI has the Tigers at 6-6. No way.
Texas A&M 7: Run away. There’s no telling what Jimbo will do this year.
South Carolina 7: Over. But with trepidation.
Florida 7: Over. I’ve said this feels like an 8-win team.
Missouri 6.5: Under. 6-6.
Ole Miss 6: Under. NCAA’s still pushing.
Kentucky 6: Over. More baby steps for the Wildcats.
Arkansas 5.5: Under. Not seeing a bowl game.
Tennessee 5.5: This is what Butch Jones has done to this program.
Vanderbilt 5. Who knows?
13. There was this segment on the new “Rally Cap” show on the SEC Network about the two Floridas — the SEC leading baseball and softball teams — and which was more dominant and I wanted to say, “Who cares? We’re just going to enjoy them both.” Instead of saying that to my TV, I put my UF degree to work and did some math. If you combined the two teams, here’s what you’d get:
• A 69-13 record, 24-6 in SEC play.
• A .983 fielding percentage (yes, I learned how to figure it).
• A .297 batting average with 91 home runs.
• A 2.32 ERA.
OK, it rained all day Sunday and I needed a mini-project.
14. Interesting story by AL.com about something a lot of us suspected happened and that was SEC commissioner Greg Sankey refusing to give the conference’s blessing to Alabama hiring Hugh Freeze as an assistant coach. See, Nick Saban doesn’t get everything he wants. The league office has made it pretty clear that any coaches involved with NCAA infractions have to go sit in the corner for a while. Florida, for example, could have hired Chip Kelly and Auburn did hire Bruce Pearl because they had spent time out of the college game and their show-cause penalties had expired. Can you imagine how different this spring would have been with Kelly at UF? I shudder. Dan Mullen has made it fun again, but he’s smart enough to know that there is nothing as much fun as winning.
15. While the weekend went great for the Gators as an athletic program with a successful spring game and sweeps in softball and baseball, over on the tennis courts it was the highest of dramas and did not end well. It came down to the last match of the SEC regular season and the last set. Unfortunately, UF’s Peggy Porter could not close out her match and the Gators finished second in the conference. Give Vandy credit for digging out of several holes and winning on UF’s senior day. Still, there is a lot of tennis to be played with SECs coming up and NCAAs and all. And, yes, I did watch the end of it on my laptop. And a lot of the baseball and softball. What did we do before technology, like, wait for the score the next day?
16. Some of us couldn’t care less about the NBA during the season, but we get into it during the playoffs (because of Al Horford, I’m actually rooting for the Celtics). They hook you into believing any of the 16 teams could make a run. And maybe this year it is possible. I just know that I watched more NBA over the weekend — including Billy Donovan’s Game 1 win — than I had watched all year. And really, doesn’t baseball and hockey and the NBA have the truest champions in that one bad game doesn’t kill you? Not that I want March Madness to change.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports — “Secretariat is one of my favorite sports legends of all time, and I’m not much of a fan of the sport. Without Bill Nack, the horse would have been more or less trivial to me and my imagination. That’s the best praise and thanks I can offer.” Perfectly put, Eric. The passing of Bill Nack, who wrote about everything but especially horse racing for Sports Illustrated, was a blow to anybody who loves great writing.
18. Nothing like a lazy, rainy April Sunday to make you appreciate those Sundays with UF baseball and softball to watch. But I did get caught up on some Bob Dooley Invitational work and pick out this playlist:
• “Sky Full of Song” by Florence + the Machine.
• “Psycho Star” by King Tuff.
• “Sober Up” by AJR.
• “Run Away From It All” by Blackberry Smoke.
• And for an old one in honor of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “You And Me” by The Moody Blues from the soundtrack of my junior college years “Seventh Sojourn.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.