The Back Nine: Will Gators be tough enough against Virginia?

[Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend that included a chachture, er, a chakuter, um, a chtuteroie, oh, heck, after a wine, cheese and meat party. And a glorious Sunday on the golf course. (Eat your hearts out, Midwest).
10. There was an obvious theme at Florida’s first news conference before its bowl game and it was this — mental toughness. Coach Dan Mullen talked about it and he was referring to himself as much as his players. “It’s like juggling chainsaws,” Mullen said. He has to worry about recruiting and practices and game planning and, of course, Christmas. But his point is well taken. When we see teams that we perceive as not showing up for bowl games, a lot of times it is because they didn’t mentally show up for bowl prep work. “Bowl season requires a lot of mental toughness,” said quarterback Kyle Trask. “There is so much time off that you have to make sure not to lose focus.” Bowl games are always tricky, because you get off schedule (even with three open dates, there was some kind of schedule for Florida) and it’s almost like you have to snap back into the intensity of practices. If you wait until the lights come on the night of the game, it’s too late. Mullen talked about how it’s not about who you play as much as it is about yourselves. “Do we have that mental and physical toughness to prepare?” he asked. We shall see.
11. While all of the players who are in bowl games receive some kind of swag, it’s a pretty nice deal to be in a New Year’s Six bowl if just for the hotels (both teams are in really expensive digs in Miami with Virginia’s rooms costing $400 a night). The players will go to a gift suite when they arrive (the team reports Christmas night) and pick out the items they want up to $400 to go along with a watch and split helmet (Virginia on one side/Florida on the other) they receive. Plus they get all kinds of special bowl gear from UF. And they get mileage because most of them will drive to Miami. So it’s a pretty nice deal for the players. Most bowls have gone to the gift suites to allow the players choices rather than hand them something they either don’t want or don’t need. The max the bowls can give is $550 worth of stuff.
12. And for this group of players, especially the ones who have been around long enough to remember 4-7 just two years ago, the treatment they receive will be appreciated. It’s a lonely feeling to be done with your season in November. “We should be doing this every year,” Trask said. But it’s not so easy. If it was, everyone would be in a New Year’s Six bowl that wasn’t in the playoff. And for Virginia, playing in the Orange Bowl for the first time is a bigger thing than you might think, even for those Florida fans who question why Florida has to play against this team. “They’re a hungry team,” Trask said. “But we’re a hungry team.” Virginia is hungrier based on the times it has been fed. This is only the second “major” bowl the school has ever been in. The Cavs lost in the 1991 Sugar Bowl 22-21 to Tennessee. By contrast, this will be the 17th major for the mighty Gators.
13. While I didn’t watch the Heisman Trophy infomercial, because I like surprise endings, I did have a sudden realization. Sometimes I’d get angry at the fact that there are too many voters and how in the world could someone have a different opinion than mine? Maybe I’m mellowing, but when I see that Oregon lineman Pinei Sewell received votes or that Jonathan Taylor received six first-place votes, good for them. There is nothing wrong with regional bias and voting for someone to help him get into the top 10 or even to New York, which some voters do. We all knew who was going to win and there is only one guy that gets to take home the stiff-armed one. The rest of it is a positive experience for the players.
14. It’s not difficult to be open-minded even after it has been closed for a long period. For example, this whole mental movement to an eight-game playoff down the road. It’s difficult to see a way it can happen without all of the Power 5 and at least one Group of Five member getting guarantees. But is that the playoff we want? Or do we want to see the eight best teams with the first rounds on the campuses to make the regular season continue to be important? All I know is that a 16-day wait from the semifinals to the final game is ridiculous and the players everyone is concerned about would probably rather play another game in that stretch instead of practicing. The final is six days later than last year and after about a week of waiting, the general public is going to forget who is even playing.
15. It’s almost like Florida basketball is the forgotten team, because it has been so long since the Gators have played a game. This is a big week for UF with games tonight against Providence and Utah State on Saturday, both at neutral sites. Florida closes out the pre-conference schedule a week later against Long Beach, which means the Gators will have played one home game in 44 days prior to that one. It has been an unusual schedule this year, but the toughness of it will pay off in March with the selection committee. What Gator fans are wondering is whether or not it will pay off on the court. This team needs some confidence (again) and a nice finish to this month would be a boost heading into the conference schedule. The league has not had the best of it so far and is ranked as the sixth best conference in RPI.
16. I really wanted to watch the Presidents Cup and for the really enthusiastic golf fan I guess it was pretty exciting. But it just didn’t work if you like to go to bed before midnight and hate it when commercials take over a broadcast. Saturday with the earlier times did help. Part of it was just that there were so many players on the International side that are not well-known. The United States had the best player in the event, some guy named Tiger Woods. He should captain every match-play team.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from our good friends at the Outback Bowl — “Wow! Never had this happen before.@GopherFootball players sent us thank you notes for inviting them to @outbackbowl& #footballinparadise Thanks guys! We look forward to providing you a great bowl experience.” The Tweet including all of the thank you notes. That was pretty cool.
18. I could have done a lot of needed Christmas shopping last week, but instead I worked on this playlist for you. Merry Christmas.
• “Every Hour” by the Jellybricks.
• “Good Man” by Justin Rutledge.
• “Might Be Right” by White Reaper.
• “Running Up That Hill” by Meg Myers.
• And for an old one, “Let It Grow” by Eric Clapton.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


      • I don’t think Pat senses that the Gators have any toughness at all, regardless of spread. I don’t reckon that if he does pick us, it’ll be that we win but don’t cover the spread anyway.

        Which is OK with me as long as we win — but delivering a relative beat down will definitely be in our best interests this time!

        • I feel bad for Virginia, but if you look at the 247Sports team recruiting rankings today, style point REALLY matter. The Gators are 10-2, have the 7th best recruiting class in the nation and it’s STILL only the 5th best recruiting class in the SEC! THAT was NOT a typo!!!

          I expect CDM to emphatically make the point to his players that, for the sake of rebuilding the Gator dynasty, they must go out there on the 30th and obliterate Virginia!!!

  1. ”….the Gators (Men’s b-ball team) will have played one home game in 44 days prior to that one. It has been an unusual schedule this year, but the toughness of it will pay off in March.” -Pat Dooley.
    Pray tell, Pat! Because I can remember how ”close” the Men’s Basketball team became when the O’ Dome got a renovation in ’16, and they were also always on the road pre-conf. schedule. So let’s hope that ”closeness” pays dividends again this season for Mike White’s team with regards to the ”away pre-conf. scheduling.” Go Gators!