Whitley's Believe It Or Not: The Gators are playing in a must-win bowl

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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Before we ponder if Brian Kelly knows how to pronounce “etouffee,” let’s all thank the football gods for delivering the best early Christmas present a football fan in this state could have hoped for.

Florida vs. UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl!

The news was overshadowed Sunday by the arrival of Billy Napier, but it did the impossible. Namely, it gave us a bowl game worthy of a little excitement.

If UF had gone to the Birmingham Bowl to play somebody like Kansas State, every fan traveling to the game could have fit inside of Dan Mullen’s U-Haul. Florida wants to forget 2021 and get on with Napier’s rebuilding.

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As for UCF, heck if I know. I’ve been focused on covering meaningful games played by teams in real conferences. Do the Knights still dress out in the Citrus Bowl parking lot before games?

Note — the previous paragraph was written solely to sell Gasparilla Bowl tickets and enlarge the chip on UCF’s shoulder. Not that it needs any more acreage.

Instead of playing East Idaho Tech in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, the Knights now get a shot at their athletic, academic and moral superiors from Gainesville. And because UCF will care so much, Florida fans have to care.

More:Billy Napier takes Gainesville by quiet storm. Can he answer the Gators' prayers? | Whitley

Florida football: New coach Billy Napier announces four staff hires, retains Vernell Brown

“It will be good to show them who runs the state of Florida,” defensive end Zachary Carter said.

He actually said that in July after a three-game series between the schools was announced. The first game is in 2024, but it’s safe to say the attitude will apply Dec. 23rd in Tampa.

Nobody outside the state will care, but the game will have playoff-like implications around here. And the pressure will be on the Gators. Imagine the Knights show them who runs the state.

As much as Florida fans would like to forget 2021, UCF would never let them live that ending down. ...

Stud of the Week: Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise, who won her 1,000th career match when the Gators beat FAMU in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Honorable Mention: Ajaz Patel of New Zealand’s cricket team, who had all 10 wickets in an inning in a test match against India. I have no idea what that means, but it was only the third time in 150 years anyone had done it. So here’s to you, Ajaz.

Dud of the Week: The Oklahoma City Thunder, who set an NBA record for margin of defeat in their 152-79 loss to Memphis. To put it into context, the Thunder could have gone on a 72-0 run in the fourth quarter and still lost by a point.

Honorable Mention: Arizona State, for losing 51-29 to Washington State. Twenty-nine points? I think Patel alone scored that many in one wicket against India. ...

Cajun Kelly: LSU’s new football coach became a laughingstock (is that redundant?) when the Irish-Catholic tried to sound like a Southern Baptist when he spoke to the crowd at an LSU basketball game. I suspect he was secretly auditioning to become an honorary Robertson brother if Netflix comes out with a “Duck Dynasty” movie. ...

Heisman ballots were due Monday (though in Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots will continue being counted through April 2022). Voters are not allowed to divulge their pick before Saturday’s announcement. But if anyone’s interested, here are the initials of my top three picks.

1. B.Y. 2. W.A. 3. A.H.

Hint: None will be playing in the Gasparilla Bowl. ...

Mark Cuban has bought a town. The Dallas Morning News reported that Cuban bought the hamlet of Mustang, Texas, because a friend needed to offload it. The sale price wasn’t disclosed, but Mustang (population 23) went on the market for $4 million in 2017.

“I don’t know what, if anything, I will do with it,” Cuban said.

In related news, the Georgia General Assembly has asked Cuban to buy the state’s flagship university a national championship. ...

Recruiting Update: 5-star QB Arch Manning from New Orleans lopped LSU off his list of potential schools after Brian Kelly ordered “shrimp e-too-fee” at a French Quarter restaurant. ...

Quote of the Week: Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson on playing receiver, running back and kick returner — “If my mom could go out there and work three jobs, I can go out there and play three positions.”

In related news, Tampa Bay’s Antonio Brown stole Cordarrelle Patterson’s mother’s vaccination card to qualify for his one job. ...

You think Bobby Knight was tough? Arkansas Pine-Bluff coach Solomon Bozeman was so mad after his team fell behind by 16 points to Iowa State last week, he called a timeout and made the players do wind sprints.

If Dan Mullen had done that at South Carolina, he might still have a job. ...

LSU Update: Netflix has reportedly green-lighted a combination “Duck Dynasty” and “Rudy” sequel in which Brian Kelly-Robertson takes Rudy hunting and stabs him in the back. ...

Yes, sports fans. There really is a Jimmy Kimmel L.A. Bowl, which should not be confused with the Stephen Colbert Manhattan Bowl or the Mick Hubert Gainesville Bowl. Frankly, I haven’t watched any of them since the Johnny Carson Bowl went off the air in 1992. ...

SEC Championship Game Update: After consulting with Alec Baldwin’s representatives, Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett has denied throwing two interceptions against Alabama. ...

That’s about all the space we have for this week’s Whitley’s Believe It or Not. Until next week, remember Pearl Harbor. And if Mark Cuban offers to buy you something, tell him you want Paris.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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