The Back Nine: Make it or break it for Gators?

[Courtesy of UAA]

The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend that included playing and watching golf, doing a little grilling and wondering what’s next for 2020.

  1. There is a pervasive feeling — and I saw it detailed again on a really well-done Josh Pate YouTube show on 24/7 Sports — that this is a make it or break it season for Florida football. If the Gators don’t win the East this year, if the Gators don’t beat Georgia this season, when the heck is it going to happen? We all know the reasons behind this and they include Kyle Trask, Dan Mullen, the schedule, Georgia’s schedule and Florida’s coaching stability with its assistants. Also, new quarterback at Georgia. And a Bulldog offensive coordinator in his first season. And Florida is a sexier pick. And we could go on. There are a lot of reasons to like the Gators this year even though Kirby Smart has a two-year head start at Georgia, has coached in way more big games and has won the East for three straight years. The bottom line is that this is a huge year for the Gators (especially because they are at Ole Miss and Georgia is at Alabama) and there will be a real feeling of disappointment if Florida is really, really good but not great. And while you are always recruiting ahead, your focus is totally on this season. But eventually, this season will be over and you move on to the next one. And the one after that. I remember in the old days, back before the Internet, how there was a feeling at Florida that the year the Gators would win it all was when they had both Tennessee and FSU at home. And then the opposite happened. This season, if we get to it, is the most important one in Mullen’s history as a coach. Until the next one.
  2. As great as the draft was for Kevin O’Sullivan last week with Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich coming back and none of his draft-eligible sophomores being selected, the Florida baseball coach had a lot of tough calls to make over the last few days. There simply was not room on the roster for several players on scholarship, coming in on scholarship or walk-ons already on the roster. And certainly with all of the surprises returning there was no playing time available. It’s the brutality of sport that asks for a coach to fit a 35-man roster into 11.7 scholarship. “The trouble is that we recruit three years ahead so if you don’t fix it now you’re going to have to fix it later,” O’Sullivan said. “Everybody’s going through the same thing (with the draft shortened to five rounds). The good thing is that every kid who can’t come to Florida can go anywhere he wants with a release without having to sit out. The whole thing is amazing. We were the No. 1 team in the country and didn’t get a kid drafted.” Just one more bizarre twist in a bizarre sports year that has affected college baseball as much as any sport. The good news is that you can expect Florida to be the No. 1 team in the preseason when next year rolls around.
  3. Here’s something to ponder while you’re sipping your next cold beverage — in the first 71 years of the Heisman Trophy there were seven winners from the SEC. In the last 13 years, there have been six from the SEC. And only one of those 13 winners has played his football at a school with a latitude higher than 38.2527 (Oregon’s Marcus Mariota). What is sad is that I spent a good 40 minutes researching that to prove that the best football is played in warm weather. Like you didn’t know that.
  4. A golf tournament with no fans? Sorry. I didn’t notice. And then I figured out why. I watch a lot of golf with the sound off. At a bar, in a restaurant, at home with the sound on the other TV or trying to nap on the recliner. So I had to remind myself what a big deal it was to have a tournament with no fans. I enjoyed the golf even with the rust, but the boys could have been a little better at social distancing. I know that everyone on the grounds had been checked, but when you are slapping palms, it sends out the message that everything is fine now. It’s not. I hope it is soon. All this said, I still hope for fans at the majors and the Ryder Cup. Those are different. 
  5. You know, it has been a rough three-plus months for a lot of people and my wife has reminded me several times that I should not be among those complaining when my biggest beef is a lack of sports (even though I am a sportswriter). It’s a good point and something I thought about this weekend. Not only are there a lot of people with many more things to worry about that are way more important, the truth is that we’d be entering the sports drought around here anyway. Unless baseball was in the CWS, there would be no local sports until late August. This is the time of year for vacations, reconfiguring your garden, working on your short game, spending time on a raft in some form of water. Hey, we made it from March 13th to now without our usual distractions and we have another two-plus months to go (hopefully). Wouldn’t it be great if we all could look back when we get to September and say, “Hey, I’m better at something than I was back then?” Maybe it would be just that you are a better person or a better golfer or in better shape or better with the way you treat people. Maybe better at smoking meat or making salads. Or better at reading more or opening your minds to different music. Maybe better at controlling your temper or showing affection. OK, that’s just the list my wife made for me. I have some work to do.
  6. Clearly, there is a conversation that needs to happen among the players with power in the NBA about whether they need to resume the season in the bubble of Disney World. I think it is certainly debatable whether it is a good idea in terms of safety and certainly I understand the argument that there are more important things going on in this world. But I think the players and coaches could get their messages out better if there were games going on than if they were not. The platform is going to be pretty big in Orlando if used the right way.
  7. It feels like every week I hear about people doing incredible things to help people dealing with this pandemic. I hope that by including some of them it will inspire others to do their part. This thing is not over yet, not even close. This week’s comes from Erin Maynard, an assistant volleyball coach at Santa Fe College — “Last weekend our players took treats (donuts, coffee, fruit, brownies) to different first-responders in their hometowns. We called the project ‘Food for Frontline’ as a thank-you to first-responders in our communities. Here are the places they visited: Keystone Heights Volunteer Fire Department, Ocala Fire Station, Surgical Specialists of Ocala, Bayamon Norte and Comandancia Police Precincts (in Puerto Rico), UF Recovery Center, Gainesville Fire Rescue, Gainesville Police Department, Jacksonville Beach Fire Department, Lake City Police, St. Johns County Fire Rescue, Lafayette County Sheriff’s Dept. and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.” Well done.
  8. OK, by somewhat popular demand, the Tweet of the Week makes its return after spending last week in time-out. We’ll see if it can keep from acting up. This week, it comes from Connor O’Gara of Saturdays Down South — “Eight SEC players finished their careers with at least 100 total TDs. 

Tim Tebow, 145 

Aaron Murray, 137 

Danny Wuerffel, 122

Dak Prescott, 114

Drew Lock, 109

Nick Fitzgerald, 101

Chris Leak, 101

Peyton Manning, 101

 Half of those guys had Dan Mullen on the sidelines.”

Yes, they did. And one of them went 0-3 as a starter against Florida. Just thought I’d throw that in.

  1. So the playlist is important this week because I need some really good songs for next week at the beach. OK, it’s important to me.

* “The Man Who Loves You The Most” by the Zac Brown Band. Sorry, I have something in my eye.

* “Blue Skies” by Noah and the Whale.

* “Turn” by The Wombats, especially the line “I like the way your brain works.”

* “Black Smoke Rising” by Greta Van Fleet.

* Finally, for an old one, “And It Stoned Me” by Van Morrison.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at