Florida Gators: ACC
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Florida State already has one of the best 2015 classes in the nation, but after a key prospect says he's ready to commit, it's about to get even better. South Carolina quarterback prospect Kelly Bryant continues to be a hot target with recruiters this spring, but Bryant says only five schools are on the top of his list.
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South Florida is arguably the most fertile area in the country for recruiting, and college football coaches annually flock to the talent-rich area to try to land a small piece of a very large pie. The large area located south of Lake Okeechobee that includes the football hotbeds of Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties has produced 45 ESPN 300 members in the last two recruiting cycles and almost half (22) signed with out-of-state schools.
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- For most highly-rated defensive line prospects coming out of high school, the word "technique" is rarely used. Not because the prospects don’t want to learn, but because proper technique is something that is seldom taught or even required at the high school level. Top defensive line prospects generally rely on brute strength or superior speed to beat the offensive linemen they face. But for ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Byron Cowart, who is the No. 68-ranked prospect in the country, technique has been his sole focus during the offseason.
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In one of the worst-kept secrets of signing day 2014, No. 2 wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) signed with Florida State on Wednesday. An official visit to Tallahassee this past weekend, the only visit he took since decommitting from Florida, sealed the deal for Lane, who is ranked No. 22 overall in the ESPN 300.
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With the door closed on the 16-year reign of the BCS, we dove into the 72 BCS bowl games to find the 10 most memorable moments of the BCS era.
10. Utah’s hook-and-ladder: The first team ever dubbed a “BCS Buster” was the Urban Meyer-coached and Alex Smith-led Utah Utes in 2004. In the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Utah led Pittsburgh 28-7 late in the third quarter and lined up at the Panthers’ 18-yard line. Smith swung it left to Steven Savoy, who lateraled to Paris Warren, who ran it in for the score as the Utes completed a 12-0 season.
9. Peerless Price down the sideline: Tennessee led Florida State 14-9 with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl with the first BCS Championship on the line. UT quarterback Tee Martin found Price down the right sideline, and Price took it the distance for a 79-yard score. Price had 199 receiving yards for the winning Vols, the most ever in the BCS title game.
8. Ginn’s costly return: Ohio State received the opening kickoff from Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship game, and Ted Ginn Jr. wasted no time in getting the game’s first score on a 93-yard return. What will always be remembered, however, is that Ginn suffered a foot injury on the ensuing celebration and was out for the rest of the Buckeyes’ 41-14 loss.
7. Warrick's juggling score: Though the championship of the 1999 season was marked by Virginia Tech freshman QB Michael Vick, it was Florida State’s Peter Warrick who was named the most outstanding player. He had a punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and his juggling catch on a 43-yard score midway through the fourth served as the dagger.
6. Vince Young, Part I: Facing Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Young was responsible for all five Texas touchdowns in a 38-37 win. Though he had runs of 60, 23 and 20 yards, the most impressive was a 10-yard run in which Young escaped the tackle of Michigan lineman Pat Massey before scampering to the right pylon.
5. Dyer isn’t down: Tied at 19 with Oregon with just more than two minutes remaining in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared to be tackled for a short gain at the Auburn 45-yard line. Having rolled over the defender, Dyer was never ruled down, and ended up gaining 37 yards on the play before he was taken down at the Oregon 23-yard line. Auburn would win on a field goal as time expired.
3. Was it pass interference? Some will remember Maurice Clarett’s game-saving strip of Sean Taylor, but the lasting legacy of the game is the dubious pass interference call in overtime. Miami led 24-17 and Ohio State faced fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference, giving the Buckeyes new life in a game they would win 31-24.
2. Boise State’s trick plays: In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State trailed heavily favored Oklahoma 35-28 with 18 seconds left and facing fourth-and-18 from the 50-yard line. Jared Zabransky completed a pass to Drisan James just short of the first down, but he lateraled it to Jerard Rabb, who took it the rest of the way for the tying touchdown. In overtime, down 42-35 on fourth down, wide receiver Vinny Perretta completed a 3-yard pass to Derek Schouman for a touchdown. Chris Petersen elected to go for two, and Zabransky faked a throw to his right before handing it behind his back to Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty play for the winning two-point conversion. Johnson would propose to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, on the sideline after the game.
1. Vince Young, Part II: After a Longhorns touchdown and key fourth-down stop, undefeated Texas trailed undefeated USC 38-33 with 26 seconds remaining and faced fourth-and-5 from the 9-yard line, with the 2005 BCS championship on the line. Vince Young dropped back to pass but saw nobody open, and immediately sprinted for the right pylon for the title-winning score in the marquee game of the BCS era.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound interior defensive lineman, who had been committed to Mississippi State since November, later sent out a Tweet regarding his decision.
I have decommited from MSU .. I have to evaluate my options ..— TD Moton (@tdmoton_) January 10, 2014
Moton, the No. 50-ranked player in 2015, said he is now considering Alabama, LSU, Florida State, Ole Miss and Florida and has no time frame to narrow down his choices.
As for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are still off to a good start for their 2015 class. They have five commitments including a commitment from ESPN Junior 300 outside linebacker Timothy Washington (Yazoo City, Miss./Yazoo City).
CL: Andrea, you know I love you, but the ACC sweeping the SEC? In football? There's a better chance of soccer supplanting football as the sport of choice in the SEC. Let me start, though, by saying Florida State is legit, perhaps the most talented roster I've seen from top to bottom this season in college football. So you'll get no argument from me about the Seminoles. But since you asked about Clemson and South Carolina, that's a tough one to call. The Gamecocks have been tough to figure this season. Here they are with nine wins and a chance to win 10 in the regular season for a third straight year, and it's true they have some quality wins. But they've also sort of played just well enough to win at times. That's not going to cut it against Clemson. The Gamecocks should be healthy, including Clowney and Mike Davis. Backup running back Brandon Wilds also looks like he's ready to go, which will give even more punch to South Carolina's running game. At the end of the day, I'm not sure Clemson will be able to block South Carolina's front or stop the Gamecocks' running game. And there's just something about the Head Ball Coach in these kind of rivalry games. Gotta see it to believe it before I pick Clemson again in this game. I've learned my lesson after picking the Tigers the last few years.
CL: More than anything, there's a profound sadness around that Georgia program that Murray won't be able to finish his senior season. He has meant so much to the Bulldogs both on and off the field and has been a rock this season through all the adversity. It just doesn't seem fair. You're right, though. Murray is one of those players you can't just all of a sudden replace. But the good news for Georgia is that Todd Gurley appears to be healthier, and I think the whole team will be eager to go out and get this done for Murray. A bigger question for me is how Georgia will fare defensively against Georgia Tech's option offense, although the Bulldogs have been better against the run than the pass this season. They're third in the SEC in rushing defense.
AA: Another great point. As for the actual picks in the game, our colleague, Heather Dinich, predicted an ACC sweep. I did not go that far, but I did pick two close games in the Clemson-South Carolina and Georgia-Georgia Tech games. So did you. If the games are indeed as close as anticipated, well, anything can happen.
Georgia is down. Florida is out. And South Carolina is beatable.
Every season, pressure is on the ACC -- and every other BCS conference -- to close the gap with the SEC. The difference between the ACC and the rest of the college football world, though, is that the SEC’s shadow overlaps with ACC country like no other, and nobody lines up against the nation’s best conference more than the ACC. The comparisons are inevitable not only because of the close proximity and the shared recruiting turf, but also because of the built-in rivalries that highlight every November.
The difference this year is that not only can the ACC win these games, but it should be expected to.
Georgia, which dropped out of the rankings in Week 9, has lost starting quarterback Aaron Murray for the rest of the season with a torn ACL -- a devastating blow to a team already riddled with injuries. The senior injured his left knee in Saturday’s 59-17 win against Kentucky. For the first time since 2009, the Bulldogs will line up with a different quarterback under center. Hutson Mason, who redshirted last year, will face a much-improved Georgia Tech defense. The Jackets have won four of their past five games, the lone loss coming to Clemson. The bigger issue in Atlanta, though, has been the lopsided results in the series. Last season's 42-10 drubbing in Athens was the 11th time in 12 years that Georgia had won. The exception was in 2008, Paul Johnson’s first season, when Georgia Tech pulled off a stunning 45-42 upset of No. 11-ranked Georgia.
This season, it wouldn’t be so stunning. And it wouldn’t exactly be an upset. In fact, of the ranked teams playing this week, the ACC has the upper hand.
For both No. 6 Clemson and No. 2 Florida State, BCS bowls are at stake, though many would agree that Clemson could actually afford to lose to South Carolina and still be a top pick for the Discover Orange Bowl. Those within the program, though, would obviously prefer not to lose to the Gamecocks for a fifth straight time. That losing streak, coupled with the fact that it is senior quarterback Tajh Boyd’s final shot at beating his rival, are distinct motivating factors. For the Seminoles, a win against the Gators would get them one step closer to playing for the national title.
Florida, though, is a mere formality.
The Gators were just embarrassed royally at home in a 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, Florida’s first loss to an FCS program. It was the worst loss in school history, and a new low for coach Will Muschamp, whose job security is hanging by a thread. Florida, which is in the midst of its first losing season since 1979, will face a Florida State team that has outscored its past three opponents 198-20.
The tables have turned for those rivals.
They could turn for the entire ACC this weekend, too.
ON PAPER, Week 2 didn't exactly appear overrun with BCS-altering showdowns. But by the time the final whistle had blown in the Pacific time zone, there were indeed dashed postseason hopes scattered among the wreckage.
If Week 1 was the Saturday that the FCS-FBS line officially blurred, then Week 2 was the Saturday that the BCS storylines officially started to take shape. Let’s just call it Power Shift Saturday. And let’s start in South Florida.
The previous five times the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes played, the winner finished the season ranked in the top 5 in the AP poll. The programs have been on-again, off-again rivals, part of a longstanding, round-robin tourney (along with Florida State) to be the kings of the Sunshine State.
Sensing that this will be the final regular-season matchup between the two teams for the foreseeable future, the oft-maligned Sun Life Stadium crowd actually showed up. Officials even uncovered extra seats, a practice normally reserved for the Orange Bowl, not Hurricanes fans who don’t typically bother with the drive from Coral Gables.
With the heightened stakes, the blood was up early on both sidelines -- early as in before the game started. During warm-ups, the two teams started edging closer and the jawing became so intense that game officials had to give a polite warning. “There was so much smack talk, I can’t even describe it,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said after the game.
To open the game, the Gators' offense, led by Jeff Driskel, marched down the field on an eight-play drive, only to fumble in Miami territory. They marched again on a seven-play drive that bled into the second quarter, only to have Driskel throw a pick inside the Miami 5. And again they marched, only to have an 11-play drive stall after a failed fourth-and-1 at the Miami 16. Finally, a 12-play drive ended on a Trey Burton fumble in the red zone, with less than a minute to play in the half.
Still, the Gators' defense gave the offense a chance to win, eventually locking down what started as a runaway Hurricanes offense and limiting them to less than 2 yards per rush.
With seven minutes remaining in the game, Miami led 14-9, but Florida was driving (again), with a third-and-3 at the Canes’ 16-yard line. Driskel took the snap from the shotgun and immediately fell into the habit that plagued him all day: His eyes betrayed him.
As soon as he had the ball, he was looking right, where two wide receivers were running quick outs. With an onrushing Miami defender in his face, Driskel rocketed a pass toward the sideline and wideout Quinton Dunbar, who was at the Miami 7, just beginning his turn to the quarterback.
“This is where you see Driskel get himself into trouble as a one-level thinker,” an NFL scout told me on Sunday, watching film of the play on my laptop. “It’s a boom-boom play; he’s not supposed to take a lot of time, but damn, he never even considered another option. He already had his mind made up who the ball was going to, come hell or high water.”
The play had a designed safety valve, which was Burton, running toward the sideline at the 12. Instead, Driskel fired it past Burton to Dunbar, who was cut inside by cornerback Tracy Howard, who essentially iced the game with an interception. The Gators did get the ball back, but turned it over (again), this time on a Driskel fumble deep in their own territory. Florida’s final TD made the 21-16 result look closer than the game was.
“[Driskel] does this the whole game,” the scout said, taking my laptop and scrolling back to the second quarter, when Driskel appeared to be first-option only, gunning blindly into nearly quadruple-coverage for an INT. “That play was designed to the running back on the left. If he’s not there, then he’s got a clear out to run. But again, he’d decided where he was going with it before the play even started. You can’t be a real title contender like that. Did you see Tennessee against Western Kentucky? Ball hawks. That team might intercept this kid five times.”
If the Vols do so on Sept. 21 in Gainesville, Florida -- which dropped from No. 12 to No. 18 in the AP poll -- is nearly guaranteed an opening SEC loss. During the Will Muschamp era, the Gators are 19-9. In those 19 wins, they’ve committed 18 turnovers, good for a plus-20 turnover margin. In the nine loses, that margin falls to minus-21.
As for the power shift, The U scored its first win against a top-15 opponent since 2009 and easily its biggest since knocking off No. 3 Virginia Tech in 2005. The Canes, which went from unranked to No. 15 in the poll after the win, reinforced the ACC media’s preseason decision to vote them as the Coastal Division favorites. But more importantly, they reinforced the ACC itself. For the second straight week, the conference knocked off a highly ranked SEC foe. The coach who earned that first power-shifting win was quick to acknowledge the trend.
“How about that ACC?” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said as he wrapped up his postgame news conference Saturday after trouncing South Carolina State. “Spunky little league.”
Then he threw up Miami’s trademark "U" hand gesture and walked off the stage.
Of course, he doesn’t have to face the Canes during the regular season, unlike Jimbo Fisher and Florida State, who do on Nov. 2.
- Georgia, the team that Swinney and Clemson beat Aug. 31, last week knocked off the team that the Tigers hope to beat on Nov. 30: Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina. The Dawgs’ 41-30 win over the then-No. 6 Gamecocks also indicated a significant power shift. UGA snapped a maddening three-game losing streak to its SEC East rival. Yes, Georgia still managed to make the SEC title game the past two years, but the South Carolina losses always dogged its potential BCS title game status. Should Aaron Murray and company return to Atlanta this season, they still will have the Clemson loss hanging over them. But if the Tigers win out (they will certainly be favored in all of their remaining games), then they could potentially meet the Dawgs again in Pasadena. Then again, South Carolina could ruin the party for both if it beats Clemson in Columbia, something it has done in four straight seasons.
- Michigan’s 41-30 victory over Notre Dame signified a bit of a power shift: The Wolverines managed to beat a ranked opponent, something they did only once in five tries last season. Meanwhile, the Irish, who were ranked No. 14 last week, failed their first test of 2013 after beating an all-star list of schools during their improbable unranked-to-BCS title game run of 2012. Last season, Michigan lost to South Carolina (No. 11), Ohio State (No. 4), Alabama (No. 2) and yes, Notre Dame (No. 11). Now both teams have done something they couldn’t a year ago -- one beat a ranked team, and the other lost a regular-season game.
- Speaking of power shifts ... was it really just eight years ago that Texas and USC played for the national title at the Rose Bowl? In case you need to be reminded, both suffered surprising upsets Saturday. And if you’re a member of either of those fan bases, safe to say you’re also upset. The Longhorns fired one-time wunderkind defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after just two games, a decision accelerated by BYU’s unthinkable 550-yard rushing performance. As for the Trojans’ fall (at the Coliseum, no less), the closing minutes of the loss to Mike Leach’s Washington State squad were played among "Fire Kiffin!" chants. USC has lost seven of its past nine games; Texas has dropped three of its past five.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The statement was made, and well, Miami simply could not contain its raw emotions, perhaps because this was all so new.
Al Golden sprinted across the field with 4.4 40 speed to shake Will Muschamp’s hand. His players gathered en mass in one corner of the end zone to celebrate with fans then sprinted across the field to the end zone on the other end of the field to celebrate some more.
In between it all, an inflatable alligator float lay deflating on the field, its snout taped shut.
“We’ve been through so much,” Golden said after his team’s 21-16 win over No. 12 Florida on Saturday afternoon. “It was almost cathartic, to be honest with you. It was just 26 months unleashed there.”
Miami, trying to take baby steps back to the top, had not been able to win a big game like this under Golden. The spotlight shined on the Canes last season in games against nationally ranked Kansas State, then unbeaten Notre Dame, then eventual ACC champ Florida State. Each time, Miami wilted or failed to show up, its defense exposed as a major liability, its toughness questioned.
Everybody inside the program knew it needed this win. But the Hurricanes were not the only ones who needed it badly. So did the ACC.
The league made a statement in Week 1 with Clemson beating Georgia, vaulting the Tigers to No. 4 in the rankings. Another win against a marquee team would send ACC officials dancing from press box tables. Especially a win from Miami -- a program that has underwhelmed despite the expectation it would enhance the league’s reputation when it joined in 2004.
The Gators went in favored and seemingly had the edge up front. Miami players heard all the talk and got more motivated, developing the proverbial and cliché chip on their shoulders. They didn’t need coaches preaching all week that they needed to be the more physical team. They knew.
They also knew this game meant more than suiting up against Florida Atlantic.
As linebacker Tyriq McCord said afterward, he came to Miami to play against a team like the Gators, to have the national stage, the national spotlight, a chance to begin Miami on its road back to a championship.
With a fired-up crowd filling Sun Life Stadium, the two rivals battled gamely in the final scheduled regular-season matchup between them.
Miami matched Florida hit for hit. For once, this team could believe in its defense. Florida racked up yards and first downs and owned time of possession but could not put points on the board. Because Miami was there to make the crucial play, time and again.
Florida turned the ball over four times inside Miami territory -- three times inside the red zone. The Canes had a crucial stand on fourth-and-inches from the Miami 16 in the second quarter. Florida kept driving, and Miami kept caving just a little bit. But the Canes refused to be broken.
Meanwhile, the Miami offense struggled for most of the game against the ferocious Florida front, a group quarterback Stephen Morris called “the best defensive line I’ve ever seen.”
“Without trust, you don’t have anything,” Miami cornerback Tracy Howard said. “If you make plays, you can talk. Trust is a big thing. The offense trusts the defense. The defense trusts the offense.”
Perhaps as improbably, the ACC went 2-2 against the SEC to open the season. North Carolina and Virginia Tech, the two teams that lost to SEC competition last week, rebounded with wins Saturday the way everybody expected against far inferior competition. Virginia did not have the same success against No. 2 Oregon on Saturday.
But the focus for the first two weeks was on the big headliners against the SEC, a conference that has owned the ACC on the field and the recruiting trail. Every single ACC team went in as the underdog, including the Tigers and Canes at home.
Many believed Clemson and Miami had the best shot at pulling the upsets. In the end, what stood out in both victories was the way they won -- with an aggressiveness and physicality that most folks associate with the SEC.
The ACC essentially out-SEC’d its conference rival in both wins. Some 755 miles to the north in Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney noticed. He ended his postgame comments after Clemson’s 52-13 win over South Carolina State by saying, “How about that ACC? Spunky little old league."
He flashed "The U" sign and walked out of the room.
Swinney has reason to brag. The ACC won only two games over ranked nonconference teams in each of the past three seasons. In just two weeks, the ACC has matched that win total. Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman put it bluntly when asked what the league’s 2-2 mark over the SEC meant:
“We ain’t no cupcake league,” Perryman said.
Two big wins in two weeks does not completely change perception, but it’s a start. The ACC should have three teams ranked in the Top 25 come Sunday. Miami has a shot to start 4-0 before a tough ACC game against Georgia Tech on Oct. 5. Florida State and Clemson also have a shot at being undefeated when they play each other Oct. 19.
As much as Golden wanted to sound a word of caution, saying this was only one game and only one win, a giddy McCord could not hold back.
“We’re back,” McCord said. "That’s all I can say. We’re back."
It appears the ACC is too.
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It could be a long time before we see No. 56.
Barring a meeting in a bowl game or the impending four-team college football playoff, this season’s matchup is the last between the Gators and Hurricanes for the foreseeable future. Officials at both schools have said there have been no talks about resuming the series and it will be several years before the Gators would be able to consider another meeting with the Hurricanes because of the uncertainty surrounding the SEC’s future scheduling.
"There’s nothing in the books for the future," said Chip Howard, UF’s executive associate athletics director for internal affairs. "I won’t say it won’t ever happen. You never know."
This season’s matchup with Miami is the second game of a home-and-home series that began in 2008 in Gainesville. It’s a departure from Florida’s normal scheduling formula, which is devised to ensure that the school plays seven home games annually for financial reasons. UF prefers to play smaller FBS or FCS schools in the early non-conference games and play a Division I-AA school in the week between the final SEC game and the annual Florida State game. It’s done that way to ensure that the Gators will get the revenue from seven home games every year, which roughly comes out to $18-21 million annually ($2.5-$3 million per game).
That formula might need to be adjusted in the future, though, depending on whether the SEC decides to add a ninth conference game. The league is expected to make that decision in time for the 2016 schedule, but Howard said the Gators have already lined up non-conference opponents through that season.
With rival Florida State on the schedule each year, Howard said it would be tough for UF to justify adding Miami on a semi-regular basis. However, he did add that the school understands that fans want to see better games. Plus, there’s television to consider as well, he said.
"Our model may not necessarily work the way it has specifically in the past, although it has worked pretty good for us," Howard said. "Certainly playing in the SEC is a challenge,” Howard said. “Playing FSU every year, that creates even more of a challenge. But moving forward with the new schedule and the expansion of the league, we know that the league and television is going to want to look for matchups from the first week to the last week.
"Also we want to try to get the best matchup we can going forward because our fans are asking for that. It’s a balance. We want to be able to give them what they would like and still maintain a competitive balance."
It’s a shame the series, which Miami leads 28-26, is ending. The schools played every year from 1938-1987 (except for 1943, when UF didn’t field a team) and there have been some memorable moments from those games, including:
• In 1971, Florida’s defensive players dropped on the field to allow Miami to score a touchdown late in the game so Gators quarterback John Reaves could get back on the field and set the NCAA career passing record. That became known as the Florida Flop.
• Florida fans pelted Miami players with oranges late in the Hurricanes’ 31-7 victory in 1980. Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger got so mad he called a timeout to kick a 25-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
• In 2003, former UF quarterback Brock Berlin rallied Miami from a 33-10 deficit to a 38-33 victory by leading the Hurricanes to four touchdowns in a 17-minute span in the third and fourth quarters.
Miami has won seven of the last night meetings, with the only UF victories in that span coming in 1985 and 2008. That last meeting ended with some hard feelings on the part of Miami coach Randy Shannon, who was upset that UF coach Urban Meyer elected to kick a field goal with 25 seconds to play and the Gators leading 23-3.
The Hurricanes got some payback three years later, however. In 2011, the UF student government approved a resolution asking Miami to return the Seminole War Canoe Trophy, which is a canoe carved from a 200-year-old cypress tree and given to the winner of the game between the schools since 1955, since the Gators had won the most recent game. The resolution was sent to the head of Miami’s student body. It was passed along until it reached Brandon Mitchell, then the president of Miami’s Category 5 spirit club, who said the Gators don’t deserve the trophy -- which quit being passed between the schools in the 1970s -- because the schools no longer play annually.
His response, according to the Miami Herald: "The War Canoe was intended for the yearly rivalry and ... Miami won the final game of that yearly rivalry."
Sept. 7 may be the last chance for either school to stake a claim to the trophy.
As the Gators begin preparations today for the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo, the depth chart looks like this:
Projected starter Matt Jones has yet to practice because of a viral infection.
The next player in line is sophomore Mark Herndon, a former walk-on special teams player who was awarded a scholarship on Tuesday.
Behind Herndon is redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers, who was a safety until last week.
Then you finally find Kelvin Taylor, the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit and the son of former UF standout Fred Taylor, and fellow freshman Adam Lane.
It’s that last part that’s the most surprising considering there was some thought that Taylor, who enrolled in January, was going to beat out Jones for the starting job during the spring. Instead, he and Lane will get just scraps of playing time because they have yet to prove their reliability.
"No. 1 is ball security," Muschamp said. "You’ve got to take care of the football. That’s the number one thing. They’re very talented runners [but] so much more goes into it other than just running the football. … We like to make sure the quarterback is protected.
"They’ve got to take a step. Very pleased with both guys. They’re going to help us this year. How much, their role, will depend on how they continue to develop. It’s a long season."
Obviously the Gators want the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones back as soon as possible. He underwent blood work on Monday and was out on the practice field for 10-15 minutes on Tuesday but still has not been cleared to practice. Muschamp said UF is preparing to play the Rockets without Jones, who had a fantastic spring and was named a preseason All-SEC third-team selection.
"All I know is he is progressing very well," said Muschamp, who is scheduled to meet with the media on Friday and provide another update. "I get a daily update. He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint, and that’s all I know. We’re playing it by ear and every day we have a staff meeting, we have an injury report and he [the trainer] gives me an update."
Brown has been a disappointment since he signed, mainly because he was hobbled by a hamstring injury and a broken ankle. His biggest contribution came in last season’s game against Texas A&M when he carried the ball four times for 11 yards to help the Gators run out the final 3:13 and preserve a 20-17 victory.
Herndon is the surprise considering he has played in just six games (all last season) on special teams. He ran for 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns as a high school senior and Muschamp mentioned him as a standout in the spring, but to be the No. 2 back heading into the season opener is not something for which Muschamp would have hoped.
"Coach Muschamp always talks about ‘man down, man up’ and I just felt like it was an opportunity," Herndon said. "It (Jones’ viral infection) was really unfortunate. Me and Matt are teammates, so we talk and hang out. I was sad, but if he’s down, I’ve got to step up because the team needs me.
"That’s what I did. I tried to push Mack Brown. He’s the No. 1, so I tried to push him and keep him on his toes. I didn’t want anybody slacking."
Showers fell behind junior Jabari Gorman and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye in the battle for playing time at safety and was moved to running back last week. It’s not unfamiliar territory because he was a running back and cornerback at Detroit Madison, where he rushed for 3,596 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Showers was heavily involved with the first-team offense, especially in the passing game, during UF’s open practices and Muschamp said the move is permanent.
"He's got great top-end speed. He's got really good ball skills," Muschamp said. "He can do a lot of different things for us as far as lining up at receiver, lining up in the backfield. A tough guy to account for a defensive coordinator. Been very pleased with what he's added for us offensively."
Muschamp will be more pleased when Jones returns. If that doesn’t happen within the next day or so, it might be too late for Jones to be prepared to play against Toledo. His season debut might then have to come against Miami on Sept. 7.
"Any time you have something like this and you’re in uncharted waters and you’re uncertain of it, you always plan without the player," Muschamp said. "If the player’s there, it’s great. That’s gravy for everybody."
Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
TBD Temple Vanderbilt TBD Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss
TBD Arkansas Auburn TBD Idaho Florida TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Tennessee-Martin Kentucky TBD South Dakota State Missouri TBD Southern Miss Mississippi State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin