Florida Gators: Florida Gators
- Tre Mason was on the outside looking in on this Heisman race before running 46 times for 304 yards in Saturday's SEC championship game against Missouri. With ballots due today at 5 p.m., he's in the thick of it.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn on his new contract: “This is where I want to be.”
- The SEC issues a statement on oversigning loopholes.
- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- whose team will play Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- bristled Sunday when reminded of his comments questioning the overall strength of the SEC.
- An AT&T Cotton Bowl berth and a matchup against Oklahoma State is a worthy prize for SEC runner-up Missouri, which won its division in just its second season in the conference.
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the Capital One Bowl is “by far is the best bowl for our university” to play in on Jan. 1.
- The Advocate's Matthew Harris writes that there's not much sizzle in this Outback steak for LSU.
- Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Duke's David Cutcliffe discuss their upcoming Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup.
- With Texas rumors circulating, Sumlin must still sign his new contract with the Aggies.
- Alabama named CJ Mosley, AJ McCarron and Kevin Norwood as its permanent team captains for this season.
- Georgia will face Nebraska for the second straight year in its bowl game.
- Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen break down their upcoming bowl matchups.
- Vanderbilt will play out of state in its bowl game for the first time under James Franklin when it faces Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The No. 59-ranked prospect in the ESPN Junior 300 was once committed to South Carolina along with high school teammate Wesley Green, but Key backed off that verbal pledge on Sept. 22.
Fast forward three months and the athletic edge-rush prospect is looking at all his options with two programs in line to make an eventual trimmed list.
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With signing day less than two months away, the SEC regular season is now complete and recruiting will now become a primary focus for each of the conference’s 14 teams. As Feb. 5 quickly approaches there will be official visits, All-American games and different recruiting scenarios unfold. Here’s a closer look at the latest happenings in the SEC:
Biggest weekend performance: The high school season is just about over, but there are still a few SEC recruits in the playoffs. Here’s a look at who had some of the best performances.
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Louisville wide receiver commit Isaiah Ford, had a big day with two touchdowns, but for the most part, Trinity was led by several talented junior prospects including two, Kevin Toliver II and Jeffery Holland, that are ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN Junior 300.
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- Auburn AD responds to Sports Illustrated story about Texas being Gus Malzahn's dream job.
- Should Malzahn or Missouri's Gary Pinkel be SEC coach of the year? Discuss!
- Mizzou and Auburn have to regroup from huge wins last week.
- Texas president Bill Powers on Thursday tried to quash the rumors about the Horns going after Nick Saban, saying, "We don't have an opening."
- Alabama DB tweets that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played the Iron Bowl with a torn meniscus that he said needed surgery this week.
- LSU dismisses freshman RB Jeryl Brazil.
- Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who was just named Missouri's Chancellor-elect, takes a look back on the Aggies' move to the SEC and the Kevin Sumlin hire.
- Two years ago, Missouri RB Henry Josey tore up his knee. His comeback typifies the Tigers' season.
- What did we learn in the SEC this season? The West is no longer just Bama and LSU.
- Gamecocks fans are campaigning for an AT&T Cotton Bowl berth.
- The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl has emerged as an option for LSU.
- Scanning bowl projections for Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
- A report in the Columbus (Miss.) Dispatch claims the Bulldogs, who finished the year with a 6-6 record, have a deal to go to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. ... That would drop 8-4 Vanderbilt to the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4.
- Narrowing the field in the search for Florida's next offensive coordinator.
- Former UGA standout Tim Worley believes Todd Gurley is "right there with Herschel Walker."
- Bret Bielema and his staff are meticulous about recruiting. His message to prospects: "We came here to win the SEC."
- Top UK quarterback recruit clarifies that he didn't drive Mark Stoops' Mercedes. Well, OK then.
Impact: In hindsight, maybe we should have known something was a bit off when players started falling before preseason camp. The injury parade started with Driskel and Jones missing reps at a time when they were supposed to be two of the primary focal points in the UF offense. Days into camp, another offensive weapon was lost when Debose tore his ACL in a noncontact situation. "He just planted his foot and there was a tear," coach Will Muschamp said. Florida' O-line got its first big jolt later in camp when Green, the starting right tackle, was lost for the season. With 19 career starts, Green was expected to anchor the right side of the line. The OL already was without senior guard Jon Halapio, who missed all of camp with a partially torn pectoral muscle suffered in late July and missed the first two games of the season.
Injuries: Freshman S Nick Washington (shoulder), Driskel (broken fibula), senior DT Dominique Easley (torn ACL)
Impact: Coming off a shaky three-turnover performance in Week 2's loss at Miami, Driskel was hurt in the first quarter against Tennessee the following week. Because junior backup QB Tyler Murphy rallied the Gators and engineered wins in the next two games, it appeared Florida wouldn't be impaired by the transition from one mobile quarterback to another. Eventually, however, Murphy's limitations in the passing offense showed against tougher competition. The two biggest things Florida lost with Driskel were the read-option element of the offense and the ability to diagnose defenses and check out of bad plays. Losing your best quarterback can cripple any team's offensive season. Losing your best player overall? That hurts in many more ways. Easley's injury changed the course of Florida's season. On the field, the senior was Florida's most disruptive defender, an agitator an identity-maker. He provided the crucial push up the middle that many teams desire but few have. Off the field Easley was a vocal leader, a motivator and someone who could keep the team loose. "You don't replace Dominique Easley," Muschamp said later. "It's not just from a play-making standpoint, it's from a leadership standpoint. It's the heart of your team."
Impact: Florida's loss to LSU on Oct. 12 split the season in two. The Gators came into the game with a 4-1 record and ranked No. 17 in the nation. They left with the first of seven straight losses and two more injuries that would plague them the rest of the way. Jones, the starting tailback, saw just six plays against LSU. Florida lost its top blocker and biggest home-run threat at tailback and would have to break in a true freshman replacement. Murphy sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder against the Tigers and struggled with accuracy until his season ultimately ended a few weeks later. The following week in a crushing loss at Missouri, the Gators lost their eighth player for the season in special teams standout Jeremi Powell. But the month wasn't quite over, and UF lost Humphries, its starting left tackle, when he hurt his knee in practice. The offensive line was in disarray heading into the Georgia game.
Injuries: Sophomore OT Tyler Moore (broken elbow), sophomore LB Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus), junior LB Michael Taylor (sprained MCL), freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder), freshman DL Joey Ivie (heel), senior WR Trey Burton (shoulder)
Impact: At this point in a season marred by injuries, it started to get ridiculous. Just when the offensive line had found itself against Georgia, Moore fell off his scooter when it slipped on a wet sidewalk and was lost for the rest of the year. Just before it faced Georgia Southern's dangerous triple-option offense, Muschamp announced that Morrison, the team's middle linebacker and top tackler, was out for the season. Casualties No. 9 and 10. To further drive home the point, Florida lost Morrison's replacement (Taylor) and then lost his replacement (Anzalone), as well as another linebacker (Kitchens) in the GSU game. At one point, the Gators turned to David Campbell, a senior walk-on who wasn't even on the game-day roster. Before the final game of the season, Florida suffered another scooter injury when Ivie sliced his heel and needed 25 stitches. The season ended, as you might imagine, with an injury ruining the Gators' game plan against Florida State. Burton was to run the wildcat for about 50 percent of the offensive plays and had early success with a 50-yard run. He hurt his shoulder and was knocked out of the game two plays later.
It would be hard for any offense to be effective without its top two QBs, starting tailback and three best offensive tackles. The running game that keyed an 11-win season in 2012 could not be relied upon in 2013. Similarly, the Gators' run defense fell apart by the end of the season. Florida's defense showed signs of being dominant with Easley, giving up just 55.3 yards a game on the ground, but then sprang leaks without their big man in the middle.
The upside? None of the injuries is believed to be career-threatening, and Florida developed some depth when it was forced to turn to younger players.
"There were a bunch of [important players] that didn't play for us," Muschamp said after the season's final game. "They were all on the sidelines in street clothes. We have good football players, and we have a good staff. We just got to get back healthy and continue to move forward. I'm not using excuses, it's real."
Year of dominance: The top 15 prospects in the ESPN 300 are all scheduled to take part. That means that all 13 five-star prospects in the class will be competing, including No. 1 Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine). All told, 28 of the top 30 prospects in the ESPN 300 are on an UA All-America roster.
SEC leads the way: It comes without surprise that the SEC has the most committed prospects taking part, with 34. The Big Ten and ACC have 13 each, the Big 12 has three and the Pac-12 has two. Notre Dame has five commits in the game.
The SEC West alone has 25.
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- The Seattle Times reports that Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is one of two frontrunners for the Washington head coaching vacancy.
- Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson warns his Tigers about allowing big plays. ... After a slight concussion, linebacker JaViere Mitchell returned to practice and is expected to play on Saturday.
- Missouri's defense knows it will take discipline to slow down Auburn's running game.
- Steve Spurrier says the AT&T Cotton Bowl is at the top of South Carolina's list. But BCS rules will limit the Gamecocks' bowl possibilities this year.
- What are Zach Mettenberger's NFL prospects with a torn ACL?
- Texas' new athletics director addressed the challenges of reviving the Longhorns' rivalry with Texas A&M.
- Nothing less than a bowl appearance in Year 2 will be acceptable for Tennessee. ... The Vols picked up an ESPN 300 wide receiver commit on Wednesday. And he might have tipped UT's hand when it comes to next year's QB battle.
- Where will the Commodores be bowling after an 8-4 season?
- In a season that saw Florida lose its top three offensive tackles for significant time to injury, a former Gator OT is ironically enjoying good health as he plays his sixth and final season for Boston College.
- Two of the top running backs in the Magnolia State, one an Ole Miss commit and the other a Mississippi State pledge, will square off on Saturday with a state title on the line.
- Mark Stoops knows it won't be an easy task to build his Wildcat program.
- An 0-8 season did nothing to shake Bret Bielema's faith in his plan to revive the Razorbacks.
He sighs deeply, painfully.
"What's the gist of the story about?" he asks warily and listens as the reporter says he wants some perspective on what Muschamp is going through now that Florida's season has gone south and fans are calling for his head.
He coughs a staccato burst of a laugh. "Heh, I don't know if you can call it an experience," he says and counts the number of times in the last week he's been asked this very same question.
He pauses to collect himself, then he answers.
"Let Will do his job," he says.
That's Zook's message nine years after he was fired by Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, and he says it with a measure of exasperation, as though he has been given one more chance to speak directly to the fans who compose the proud Gator Nation.
Zook never got much of a chance to do his job. There was too much "noise in the system" as he called it. Many of those outspoken fans turned on him, just as they turned on Muschamp this season. Only for Zook, the honeymoon lasted a matter of hours.
Muschamp was given a mulligan in his first season after being handed a program that Urban Meyer admitted was "broke a little bit." What's followed has been more like a roller-coaster ride with the sugar-rush high of Muschamp's superlative second season followed by the sudden crash of 2013.
There are enough similarities between these two coaches that it's understandable how often they are compared. Both were defensive coordinators and recruiting whizzes with no head coaching experience who followed national championship-winning coaches at UF.
Zook went 23-14 with a 16-8 record in the SEC from 2002 to 2004. Muschamp has steered the Gators to a 22-16 record, 13-11 in the SEC over the last three seasons.
But the lows of 2013 are unlike anything Zook ever experienced: Florida's first losing season since 1979, the first loss to Vanderbilt since 1988 (first at home since 1945), the program's first loss to an FCS team, and the end of a 22-year bowl streak that dated back to 1991 when Steve Spurrier led the program out of the darkness of probation into an era of unprecedented heights.
"Obviously there's a lot of negativism going around right now," Zook said. "That's college football. That's part of it. That's one of the things that makes Florida a great place. It's is also one of the things that makes it tough. They want to win, and they want to win now."
Off the field, both coaches had some low moments in wrestling with the realities of their fans' expectations.
After losing this season to Georgia -- his alma mater -- for the third straight year, Muschamp got into a shouting match with a Florida fan as he walked off the field. A week later he acknowledged his emotions got the best of him.
"I made a real mistake over a very passionate, passionate Florida fan telling me his opinion of me," he said. "You know what, that’s fine, that’s fine. They pay their ticket, they can boo all they want."
A couple of weeks later, Muschamp boiled over again, saying, "there's a lot of negativity out there. Some of our fans need to get a grip."
In contrast, Zook took more heat from fans from the moment he was hired. He famously inspired a Florida fan to launch the website FireRonZook.com one day after he got the job. But nothing was worse than apologizing for his role in a late-night verbal altercation with an antagonistic fraternity on campus. Less than two weeks later, Zook was fired.
By the time Muschamp finished his third season, something Zook was unable to do, the pressure had risen to a feverish level. But let the record show that FireWillMuschamp.com is merely another placeholder website for sale.
With the benefit of hindsight, comparing Muschamp and Zook is on the minds of many irate fans. But is it fair?
Foley says it is not, and his opinion is the only one that matters.
"Zooker and I are friends, but it’s just not apples-to-apples," he said last Saturday before Florida finished its season with an expected blowout loss to unbeaten archrival Florida State. "It’s my job to evaluate and see where the program is headed. At that point in time, I didn’t think it was headed where we wanted it to be. This time, I think it’s headed where we want it to be. The proof is going to be in the pudding, but I don’t think it’s apples-to-apples.
"I'm like anybody else, I want to be successful for the University of Florida. The only thing that we want to do is to take care of the Gators. I've been doing that for 38 years. I've been doing it for 22 as athletic director. [It's not a matter of being] patient or impatient or wiser or older. I want to be successful. I'm very confident we're going to be successful moving in the direction we're moving in. That's where it's at."
"I strongly disagree with that," he said. "I'll go to battle with that coach any day, his whole coaching staff. I see the grind in his eyes every day. I see what he does every day, the passion he has for this team, and I'll go to war with him any day. He has our backs and I have his back, win or lose."
Senior center Jonotthan Harrison elaborated on why Muschamp won his enduring loyalty, why the players still believe in their coach.
"Because he is down to earth, as down to earth as it comes. He's as real as it comes," he said. "There's no sugar-coating anything. There's no BS. He's as black and white as it comes. He's going to tell you exactly how it is. He's going to treat you like you deserve to be treated. So if you're a hard worker -- no matter if you're a scholarship athlete, a third-string, no matter what your position is on the team, as long as you're a hard worker -- you have all of his respect. But if you go out there and you're a scumbag and you really don't want to work hard or whatever, then you're not going to have his support. That's just how it is. He's black and white. He's down to earth. He's a real guy."
The passion with which Muschamp's player support him is obvious. It's something Zook has seen and appreciated from afar.
"I think the fact that the players have circled the wagons for him, now they've got to come out and play for him," said Zook, who is two years removed from being fired as head coach at Illinois and is now a business development officer at Gateway Bank, back in Gator country, just 45 minutes south of Gainesville in Ocala. "I can tell ya he's on the right track. People say they've quit on him, but I do know that all of the negativism just zaps the energy out of your football team.
"Hopefully Will will get it turned around. I think he will."
In other words, let the man do his job.
The latest update to the RecruitingNation class rankings features a number of moves due in large part to the release of the ESPN Junior College 50 rankings. Within the conference, Alabama still has a strong grasp on the top spot with all 14 schools in the top 35 classes nationally. Here's a look at the conference's rankings .
Trending up: Both Texas A&M and Auburn are trending up thanks to the release of the ESPN JC 50. The Aggies jumped from No. 5 to No. 4 and into the top 3 in the conference rankings with junior college offensive linemen Avery Gennesy (Southhaven, Miss./East Mississippi Community College) and Jermaine Eluemunor (Rockaway, N.J./Lackawanna College) coming in at No. 13 and 15 in the ESPN JC 50. Auburn junior college commitment D'haquille Williams (Reserve, La./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) and Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River Community College) came in at No. 1 and 9 in the JC 50. Auburn jumped from No. 14 nationally to No. 12, and the Tigers are in striking position on several other highly-ranked prospects.
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- When he was at Florida, Urban Meyer touted the SEC's strength of schedule as a reason for his Gators to jump over a Big Ten school to play in the national championship. Can the case he made be used against his Buckeyes this season?
- Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says he has Ohio State ranked No. 2 ... for now. After attending the Iron Bowl last week, he'll be watching Saturday's championship games intently.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel isn't lobbying for his Tigers' chances to reach the BCS national championship game if they win on Saturday. He's focused on Auburn.
- Two years ago there was some discord over the Alabama-LSU rematch for the national title. Would an Auburn-Alabama rematch draw even more ire this season?
- Florida's search for a new offensive coordinator will continue through bowl season.
- After South Carolina beat Clemson last Saturday, Steve Spurrier declared Connor Shaw the Gamecocks' best QB ever. Now others are agreeing.
- LSU is familiar with the scenario of losing its starting QB just before its bowl game. The same situation occurred in 2005 and 2008.
- Some scouts say Johnny Manziel will be a top-12 NFL draft pick.
- Mississippi State senior safety Nickoe Whitley will miss the Bulldogs' bowl game after surgery on Monday to repair a torn ACL.
- And finally, Georgia WR Chris Conley is a Star Wars nerd. Awesome.
Looking over the newly released ESPN JC 50, there are several recruits on that list already committed to SEC schools. There are also many that still remain undecided. With signing day quickly approaching, here’s a closer look at five prospects, who’s destination is still unknown.
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Auburn was winless in league play last year, and Missouri won all of two games in its first spin through the South. A year later, they're playing for a ring.
With 2013 mercifully over, the Gators must pick up the pieces of a 4-8 season and try to find some positives after a bleak seven-game losing streak ended the season with a thud.
"Honestly, I feel like we hit rock bottom this year," offensive lineman Max Garcia said. "I feel like the only way we can go is up."
"It's a clean slate, but you still have to remember what happened," Garcia said. "And you want to not let that happen ever again. We don't want to feel that pain. We don't want to feel this pain ever again. I'm sick and tired of losing.
"Next year, we have that pain to sit in our hearts. We have to work through that, and we have to take that pain and make it into intensity, make it into effort, make it into want-to. We have to want to go out there and take the opposing will out of the [opponent]. That's what we have to work through."
Payback certainly can be a motivating force. After the season ended last Saturday, safety Cody Riggs spoke of exacting revenge upon the teams Florida will meet again in 2014.
The Gators should have a chip on their shoulder. In fact, head coach Will Muschamp is counting on it.
"It's a great lesson to be humbled in life a little bit sometimes -- as a coach, number one, as a staff and as players," he said. "Nothing wrong with that. That's good for us. ...
"You want to keep battling and keep playing if you're a competitor. Absolutely no relief at all [that the 2013 season is over]. You just want to be able to get out and continue to practice and improve. We've had a lot of young players continue to take a bunch of reps that have improved. A bunch of guys that we weren't really counting on this year that have come out and played. That will help our depth as we move forward."
There's another silver lining.
Florida's dizzying parade of injuries in 2013 sapped the team's strength physically and mentally. But the youth movement that resulted is a big positive for Florida. Several young players got invaluable experience as a result of injuries. True freshmen Kelvin Taylor, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jarrad Davis and Chris Thompson made starts at running back, cornerback, linebacker and wide receiver, respectively.
Florida also developed much-needed depth at the quarterback position after starter Jeff Driskel was lost in Week 3. Backup Tyler Murphy started six games before he was hurt. He ceded the job to redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, who made the final three starts of the season.
"I think the future is very bright," Mornhinweg said. "We've got some guys coming back. We can't make any excuses. We were a little dinged up, but you really can't make any excuses. We've got some guys coming back, and I think we're going to be a very strong team."
Injuries heal, and painful memories can fuel an entire offseason of work.
"We're going to be working hard in the offseason," Mornhinweg said. "I never want to feel like this again. This is a terrible feeling to have, and we're going to be on a mission next year."
Next year. When the season is upon them next fall, Florida will have an unblemished record. Time should heal the wounds of 2013's painful losing streak, and the memories of an incompetent offense will fade. Eventually, Florida will foster some optimism as it begins anew with a rebuilt offense.
Like the Gators hope to do next season, Auburn and Missouri bounced back this year with new offensive coordinators. Gus Malzahn brought Rhett Lashlee with him from Arkansas State to the Tigers, while Josh Henson replaced David Yost at Mizzou.
Fresh faces, a clean slate and a healthy roster count for a lot. But for Muschamp, the rebirth of the Florida Gators starts with one thing.
"Roll your sleeves up and go to work," he said. "That's the bottom line. That's all you can do. Be a great leader, great motivator for your team and organization. That's all we're going to do.
"We're going to be fine. We're going to have a good football team next year, I can assure you of that. Sitting in that locker room with those guys, we're going to be fine. And that's what's encouraging for me. It's damn encouraging."
- Of course, Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis is now the big man on Auburn's campus. He received a standing ovation in class on Monday. Also, head coach Gus Malzahn stumped for his star quarterback, Nick Marshall, to be included in the Heisman Trophy discussion.
- Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel wants to guard against the kind of letdown his team experienced in the Big 12 championship game in 2007. Meanwhile, the school sold out of its allotment of 16,000 tickets by 8 a.m. on Monday.
- Get ready for Saturday with some SEC championship numbers to know.
- Vanderbilt fans are breathing easier about coach James Franklin after Washington's Steve Sarkisian was hired to take over at Southern Cal. Franklin reportedly was a finalist at USC.
- More than two dozen members of the media voted in their weekly Heisman poll, and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel received just two second-place votes.
- The Crimson Tide are taking the week off of practice to regroup and get over the shock of losing the Iron Bowl in historic, last-second fashion.
- The Gamecocks are likely headed to one of three bowl games -- either the Capital One Bowl, the Outback Bowl or the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
- Georgia's AD is confident that Bulldog Nation will travel well to whatever bowl game they end up with. ... The players are feeling good after winning yet another close game.
- Florida lost to archrival FSU on the field but got some payback on the recruiting trail Monday as the Gators flipped four-star WR Ryan Sousa, who had been committed to the Seminoles since June.
- Bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year, Mississippi State is hoping for either the AutoZone Liberty Bowl or the BBVA Compass Bowl.
- The Razorbacks’ 31-27 loss to LSU last week was just more evidence of Arkansas' fourth-quarter troubles.
- Even after a winless season in the SEC, there are reasons for optimism at Kentucky.
Sousa camped at both schools over the summer but was only offered a scholarship by FSU, which he quickly jumped on and committed to the Noles in June.
After having a strong senior season, Florida decided to offer the 6-foot, 177-pound wideout a scholarship. Sousa took an official visit this weekend and decided to go ahead and flip his commitment.
After struggling mightily in the passing game this year, the Gators have been looking to add playmakers on offense. Sousa, who totaled 4,107 receiving yards and 53 receiving touchdowns on 246 receptions in his high school career, joins four-star wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) as Florida commitments.
For Florida, the Gators now have 16 commitments, including nine ranked in the ESPN 300. Twelve of Florida’s commitments are ranked four-stars or higher.
Florida State, meanwhile, has 23 commitments including nine ranked in the ESPN 300.