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Florida notebook: Gators out to finish strong

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask passes Saturday against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Florida coach Dan Mullen expanded on the program’s preparation schedule for the 85th Cotton Bowl Classic presented by Goodyear, saying the Gators will spend much of the next week focused on resting and recuperating before facing No. 6-ranked Oklahoma at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Yet he doesn’t anticipate a lack of motivation after consecutive losses to end the regular season. 

“We have competitors. We have guys who want to compete. We have guys who want to play for the love of the game. We have guys that are going to play in this game, guys that love playing football, they love to compete, they love to be out there playing. It’s an opportunity to go do that. It’s an opportunity to go do that in a huge game, on a national stage, against a great opponent,” Mullen said Tuesday. “That’s why they come to Florida. That’s what it’s all about, the opportunity to go play in these games. I don’t think motivation is a big factor. Hopefully, the little bit of rest and recovery gets us a little bit physically and mentally fresher for the game.” 

By the sound of things, there will be additional opportunities available against the Sooners. Mullen anticipates several players will join tight end Kyle Pitts in opting out of the bowl game. 

“I think we may have one or two more, but I’ll let those guys handle that, that's on them. I’m not going into all the details, guys may want to handle that individually. I’ll let them do it. I have spoken to a bunch of guys,” Mullen said. “I know of one or two more, but I also have a lot of conversations with guys that are playing. I am not going into specifics. If you say, who is playing? Then through the process of elimination ... and the guys that are playing I want them to handle it. Everyone has communicated with me but publicly I want to leave it up to them. I could have told you that Kyle Pitts wasn't going to play a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted him to do it.”

Trask not done yet, at least in 2020

Don’t count Florida’s record-setting signal-caller, Kyle Trask, out of the Cotton Bowl. The Manvel, Texas, native said he’ll have family in attendance making the trip. 

“Any time I have a game that is close to Texas or in Texas, I usually have a lot of family come, which is cool,” Trask said. “So I don't know an exact number, but I'm sure it'll be probably over 20 people."

And it won’t be the first time a Trask had competed in the Cotton Bowl Classic either. Trask’s grandfather, Orville Trask, competed in the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic as a defensive tackle at Rice University. The Owls managed to pull off the 28-6 victory over No. 13 Alabama in that game, just months after upsetting No. 15 Florida in the season-opener. Trask said his father, Michael Trask, gave the Gators quarterback a heads-up earlier in the week about the fun tidbit of family history. With the historical connection and family en route, Trask doesn’t plan on sitting out against the Sooners, from the sound of things. 

“I’ll make that decision (on returning to Florida or not) after the season’s over,” he said, “but yeah I’m most likely 100% playing in the bowl game.”

Cotton Bowl-ble

The preparation aspect isn’t the only atypical part of the 2020 bowl season. 

On top of the abbreviated length, the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association made the decision to place teams and their respective support staffs in a bubble-style atmosphere at Dallas’ Hilton Anatole hotel. 

Mullen praised the decision, saying it’s conducive for keeping players safe in the current climate and that the reduced window in Dallas makes it even more doable. 

“I think it’s a pretty smart idea. It will work. It’s not like we’re going to be there for a whole week like in a traditional time. We’re there in a very smaller, shorter window. I think kind of because of that it makes it much easier to manage in one area, much easier to manage probably more of a question for the Cotton Bowl staff, like, we’ve got this one location, we’ve got it all under control, we got it taken care of,” Mullen said. “I think it just kind of makes it a much easier transition with everything being in one location, get it all done in that one area, keep everybody safe in the bubble and that’s what we’ve been trying to operate with a lot of people all year in that way. You’re going from testing multiple times a week, trying to be safe and smart in everything you do and the precautions. it’s a great idea. I’m pretty comfortable with it.” 

Mullen makes Trask’s Heisman case – finally

Mullen has been pressed in recent weeks on Kyle Trask’s odds of winning the Heisman Trophy, and he’s often said individual awards follow team success. Although he’s been active on social media recently, sharing posts hyping up his quarterback, Mullen has yet to seriously vouch for Trask. 

Until now, that is. 

“He leads the nation by far in touchdown passes, he leads the nation by far in passing yards. Hard to say anybody’s meant more to their team than Kyle Trask has to our team this year. I don’t know what criteria people are looking for. If the Heisman Trophy is looking for somebody that is the best player that means the most to their team, most outstanding player in college football, I guess the guy that I think has a double-digit lead in touchdown passes — double digit,” Mullen said. “And to do it all against SEC opponents. But I don’t know, I don’t have a vote for any of those awards.”

Well-wishes for Keyontae

The bigger picture, especially in 2020, is often difficult to keep in focus. 

In collegiate athletics, a player can spend one minute on the rise and the next facing countless uncertainty, and Florida men’s basketball forward Keyontae Johnson has epitomized that as of late. Johnson is leaving the hospital 10 days after collapsing on the court at Florida State, and his current situation and ongoing recovery has touched countless individuals, in Gainesville and afar. 

Mullen said Johnson’s collapse is a reminder there are issues in life far greater than a game. 

“I think you always put things in perspective. We get to go out there and play a game and have fun. There are a lot more serious issues out there in the world. I talk to our guys all the time: guys make mistakes or bad things happen or something goes wrong on the field, if that's the worst thing that happened to you just today, you are pretty blessed,” Mullen said. “If that's the worst thing that happens to you today, life is not all that bad, when you put things in perspective. Our prayers have been with him. It’s awesome. It’s great that he gets to go home to be with his family. I know that everybody here and his University of Florida family is here and praying for him. I know over at Shands Hospital he is getting some of the best care he can possibly get. Hopefully, I don’ know all the medical details of it all, but hopefully he has a full healthy recovery here in the near future."

All-SEC

Florida’s Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, Kaiir Elam and Kyle Trask were named to the All-Southeastern Conference Coaches’ Team, the conference announced Tuesday.

Toney was named First Team All-Purpose and a First Team Return Specialist while also being named a Second Team wide receiver.

Pitts was named a First Team Tight End while Elam was named a First Team Defensive Back.

Trask was named a Second Team Quarterback behind Mac Jones of Alabama.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DeVonta Smith, Alabama

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jake Camarda, Georgia

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Connor Bazelak, Missouri, and Tank Bigsby, Auburn

SCHOLAR-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Mac Jones, Alabama

JACOBS BLOCKING TROPHYZ: Landon Dickerson, Alabama, and Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

COACH OF THE YEAR: Nick Saban, Alabama

Up next

What: Cotton Bowl

Who: Florida (8-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-2)

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 30

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850