Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Dan Mullen predicts a national title for Gators but doesn’t say when

Dan Mullen made a very public promise the other day. The Florida Gators are going to win a national championship in football with him as head coach, just like the two they won when he was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2008.

At halftime of Florida’s Saturday afternoon basketball win over Baylor, Mullen took the microphone to brag about the school’s standards for excellence, highlighted by the reigning

FILE – In this Nov. 27, 2017, file photo, Dan Mullen, the new head football coach at the University of Florida, is introduced during a news conference in Gainesville, Fla.(Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner via AP, File)

national championship baseball team, and then, with voice rising and arms flailing, he added “On the football field, that standard is not just SEC but national championships. That’s what we promise we’re going to bring back to you here in the Swamp in Gainesville and put the Gators back on top as the most dominating team in the United States of America.”

Now it’s recruiting season and all, a time when the sales pitch never stops and the salesmen sometimes get carried away, but there’s really no reason for Mullen to hold back.

The Florida fan base was spoiled long ago by the bold promises Steve Spurrier made, and the success he had in keeping so many of them.

At his introductory press conference on Dec. 31, 1989, Spurrier said there was no reason that Florida shouldn’t take control of the Georgia series, which had been pretty much of a disaster in the previous two decades. That came true, and so did the previously unimaginable reality of Florida winning its first SEC title, and then stringing a bunch of them together.

Just prior to his first game as Gators coach, Spurrier wrote a letter to be published in the student newspaper, saying “We trail FSU and Miami heading in the 1990’s. We have the resources to catch and pass them and that is our target.” That also happened when the Gators won the 1996 national title.

At SEC media days, Florida was predicted by sportswriters to finish seventh in the league in 1990. In addition, there were no offensive players from Florida selected to the preseason All-SEC team. Spurrier guaranteed that would change by season’s end, and it did, with Shane Matthews as the highlight. Fifth on Florida’s quarterback depth chart in the summer, Matthews earned SEC Player of the Year honors that year and the next as the operator of Spurrier’s outlandish Fun ‘N Gun offense.

Of course, Spurrier said a lot of other things during his 12 seasons at Florida and infuriated a lot of people in the process. These are just a few memories of what he did and how he acted before coaching his first Gator game.

That’s where we find Mullen now. He doesn’t have his quarterback problem solved right off the bat any more than Spurrier did when he took this job. He doesn’t have a lot of momentum from the previous season, either, with the Gators coming off a 4-7 faceplant. Might as well say what people want to hear, though.

In short, like always, Florida has the resources to catch and pass everybody, and if Mullen doesn’t do it or at least come close, he won’t make it to end of that six-year contract.

It’s the same rock that Willie Taggart is pushing up the hill at FSU, and Jimbo Fisher is pushing at Texas A&M, and the one that Mark Richt continues to push at Miami. Oh, and let’s not forget Josh Heupel at UCF. That sounds like a sin of omission to many these days.

More power to any coach with the courage and the credibility to try.

And one day, when Nick Saban retires at Alabama, it will be a lot easier for all of them to reach that ultimate standard.

[Who knew Hoffman was bound for Cooperstown when Marlins traded him?]

[Only accomplishment remaining for LeBron James is player-coach]

[Eagles coach Pederson once saved Shula’s bacon as Dolphins’ QB]

 

 

 

Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

For Gators, Dan Mullen is a good solution who wants to be great

Florida hiring Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State on Sunday is less about big splashes and more about steady ripples.

Because he was at Florida, working directly with Tim Tebow, when the Gators won a couple of national championships, all the good feelings and all the great players from those golden days will come rippling back to Gainesville now.

STARKVILLE, MS – NOVEMBER 4: Dan Mullen, former head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, talks with Nick Fitzgerald during a game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Starkville, Mississippi. On Sunday Mullen was announced as Florida’s new head coach. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

“Thrilled that #GatorNation gets a coach who accepts our Championship expectations!” is how Tebow put it in a tweet. Oh, and also “Congrats and welcome home.”

The Swamp hasn’t felt very much like home lately to the players from Urban Meyer’s title teams. It has become a place where Florida State comes to relax, where Missouri scores 42 points, where even Georgia Southern can get a win. Florida fans feel it, too, a disconnect with the last two Gator coaches and a dismantling of the program’s mystique.

Mullen, the offensive coordinator at Florida during the sweet spot of 2005 to 2008, is more familiar, more established, more certain to stir up some high-scoring fun than Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain were. There is danger it won’t work, just as there is danger in any major move like this, but Florida athletic director wasn’t getting any action anywhere else.

He couldn’t get Chip Kelly, but hey, Mullen is from New Hampshire, too.

He couldn’t get Scott Frost, but Frost could hardly say no to Nebraska, where his own homecoming eventually lies, and yes to somebody else.

So Gator fans will try to get used to this marriage in a couple of ways.

The older ones will try to believe in Mullen as a coach who was tough enough to last nine years in the SEC West, and one who should be able to bring the same high class of quarterbacks to Gainesville that he brought and developed in Starkville.

The younger ones will sputter a bit, noting that Mullen has never won anything bigger than a Gator Bowl as Mississippi State’s coach and demanding that he present his extreme makeover credentials no later than Sept. 29, 2018. That’s the day Florida visits Mississippi State, a day when Mullen either shows the new Gator program to be ahead of his old one or comes off as no great improvement.

Frost would have been a better compromise between the two groups and a stronger guarantee of drastic and unconventional change in the Gator playbook. Would have been nice to get a taste of that. A chip off the old Kelly block but without the jagged, arrogant edges.

Sunday showed, however, that no AD’s selection ever goes completely unpunished. Florida will take a little grumbling, maybe even a little yawning, over the shouting and protesting in the streets that was ignited by Tennessee’s choice of Greg Schiano, a deal that was sunk before it was signed.

Mullen, at least, knows he won’t get the quick hook from Stricklin, who once was his boss and supporter at Mississippi State. That alone helps Florida, which has forfeited the vital continuity of recruiting and player development with recent firings.

What helps the Gators more is Mullen’s ability to grow kids with good arms into quarterbacks with great instincts and solid leadership skills.

I don’t think even he can fix Feleipe Franks, but the next wave of highly-regarded prospects who arrive in the Swamp will know that Mullen had great success with Chris Leak and Tebow at Florida, with Alex Smith at Utah, and with Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State. They’ll know that and they’ll expect to happen for them.

That’s the start to revving up the Gators again, just as putrid quarterback play was the start of Florida’s drop into the pit of mediocrity, with the loss of basic offensive principles wringing the life out of the Gators’ great defensive traditions as well.

Will the turnaround be instantaneous? Of course not. Think of how far Alabama had sunk before Nick Saban took over, and how the Tide went 7-6 with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in his first season there.

Will ever Gator fan rejoice at Mullen’s hiring simply because he helped bring two national titles to Florida? Of course not. You can tell that by the fact that a great cheer of celebration went up in the Swamp Saturday when the videoboard showed Ohio State trailing Michigan. That was a rebuke of Meyer, plain and simple.

Mullen didn’t leave Florida for supposed health reasons, however, and then experience a miracle recovery in time to coach at his real dream job.

Mullen did a great job at Florida and got an SEC head coaching opportunity out of it. Now he has an even rarer opportunity, leaving Mississippi State for greener pastures. Normally coaches wear out their welcome there and get fired. Normally coaches don’t show themselves to be any better than those who came to Starkville before them.

The Bulldogs are better off, though, because of Mullen’s organization and ingenuity and psychological stamina. He will need all of that and more at Florida, but the good thing is he fully understands what it means to be a Gators coach and is not frightened of the challenge.

So UCLA gets the big splash with Kelly. He would have been a pain for SEC opponents to deal with, but he didn’t want to coach Florida and soon enough would have been a pain for Stricklin and the Gators brass, too.

Chip, remember, is the guy who cut Tebow from the Philadelphia Eagles roster. Instead Florida gets the coach who Tebow will greet with a big old bear hug, whether it’s at Monday’s official press conference announcement or soon thereafter.

Until the wins start coming in, that’s the most genuine celebration that Florida could hope to inspire.

 

 

 

Because hiring Chip Kelly hasn’t been easy for Florida, nothing else about him would be either

If Chip Kelly doesn’t want to coach the Florida Gators, it’s better to find it out now.

That’s the only conclusion to draw from Friday’s Yahoo Sports report that the Gators have moved on from their top coaching candidate.

In this Monday, Dec. 28, 2015 photo, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly listens to a question during a news conference at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Philadelphia. The Eagles fired Kelly with one game left in his third season, dumping the coach after missing the playoffs in consecutive years. Kelly was released Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 just before the end of a disappointing season that began with Super Bowl expectations. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

No matter the reason, if it’s Kelly telling Florida no or Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin tiring of the mind games, this would have been another one of those bad fits that have combined to set the program back a couple of times now.

Of course, there is a part of me that wants to wait for official announcements from Florida or from UCLA, to see if Kelly will change his mind.

[Saturday update: Chip Kelly agrees to a five-year deal to become UCLA’s football coach]

That’s what happened in 2012 when he was all set to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach but decided at the last minute to stay at Oregon.

The following year he told the Philadelphia Eagles no, thanks, but he would be staying at Oregon. Then he changed his mind and went to the NFL anyway.

The guy burns bright, like a firefly, and isn’t always sure at any given moment what he truly wants for himself.

Bottom line, though, Kelly could have taken the Gators job last Sunday when Florida’s top brass came to see him in New Hampshire. He is not coaching anybody and has no reason to delay if this opportunity to run one of the college game’s most coveted programs was a top priority.

Because he didn’t, it shows that the thought of coaching in the SEC, of struggling to overcome Nick Saban and all the others, held no instant appeal.

Because he didn’t, it shows that Kelly has no appetite for operating in an environment where his ego and his powers might be checked by Stricklin, or his failures magnified by a hypercritical SEC fan base.

Because he didn’t, it proved that there are other candidates out there who are far more motivated to take on this task, men who wouldn’t arrive in Gainesville with an exit strategy already building in the back of their minds.

It’s a major disappointment for Florida to miss out on the rebirth that Kelly could have brought to the Gators’ offense. This major swing and a miss looks bad for the program, too, just as it looked bad when Jeremy Foley went shopping for Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan but wound up hiring Ron Zook when those two didn’t jump at the offer.

This job search won’t have a good ending, however, if there is conflict at the beginning.

Stricklin and Kelly either haven’t connected or haven’t yet, even though there has been ample time to do so. There’s no forcing it now. Just as importantly for the Gators, there should be no looking back.

The only way Kelly can truly destroy the Gators is by taking a job in the SEC. That’s why the best news now might be his quick introduction at UCLA, far, far away.

Following blowout loss to Georgia, Jim McElwain sounded like he knows he is finished at Florida

 

Jim McElwain is 3-4, which might not seem so bad except the last time the Gators were 3-4 was way back in 1986.

That’s how it works when you’re coaching the Gators, a team with three national titles and a fan base that has gotten used to beating up on Georgia.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, left, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain meet at midfield after a 42-7 Georgia victory at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Nothing has been officially announced or even publicly discussed, but it sure looks like Saturday’s 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs at EverBank Field was the last straw for McElwain as Gators coach.

It was Georgia’s largest margin of victory in this series since a 44-0 victory in 1982 and it would have been a shutout if not for a late touchdown drive led by Malik Zaire, the quarterback who transferred in from Notre Dame but had gone unused by McElwain until now.

Replace all of that competitive sorrow with SEC championships and McElwain easily survives the kind of mess he caused early last week by dropping the unsubstantiated inference that he and his family and his players had received death threats. It would have been viewed as a poor choice of words and forgotten.

When it’s going like it’s going for the Gators these days, nothing is forgotten, or forgiven, by boosters who expect so much more.

“When you look back, I’ve made mistakes in my life,” McElwain said. “Yet I’ll stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is. It won’t be the first to ever happen to anybody and I get that.

“We put a lot into this program. People have been great to my wife and I. We’ll see what happens. That’s the stuff that’s out of your control, and yet I’m proud of our team. I know we haven’t won and yet those guys are what it’s all about.

“Look, we haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough, haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it. There’s no doubt.””

McElwain’s offenses did not rank within the top 100 of major-college teams even when the Gators were winning the 2015 and 2016 SEC East titles. He has not developed redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks and on Saturday, even after a bye week, 14 penalties showed a lack of focus by Florida, including a series of illegal procedure and false start flags against the offense.

Asked if he still wants to be the coach at Florida after all that is reported to be happening behind the scenes, McElwain said “Yeah, you know, this is a dream job. It’s a great place. Great fans. Great support. The resources are there to win. Obviously I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to deliver in the time I’ve been here, but this is one of those places I’ve said from the start where you should have the opportunity.

“My concerns are not at all me. My concerns are these guys, this university. You know, it’s a great place and that really is my concern.”

And if McElwain remains as Florida’s coach for the rest of the season, beginning with next Saturday’s trip to Missouri, how do he and the team bounce back?

“That was a blowout, and something I’m not proud of,” said McElwain, “but how you rebound when something doesn’t go right is you certainly don’t run the other way. You come back to work and get ready to go play this game next week.”

McElwain also was asked about being photographed with a smile on his face as he walked with wife Karen off the field and into the tunnel. The questioner suggested it was not a good look for a coach who just got beat by 35 points.

“She told me to keep my chin up,” McElwain said. “That’s something my dad used to tell me. It doesn’t do you any good to hang your head. Just like I told our guys. I’ve never been about good looks, so I apologize for that, I guess.”

 

Seminoles and Gators could sure use those canceled games now

No biggie when it happened.

Canceling a list of September cupcake games in the approach of a hurricane that ended up tracking through our state from bottom to top? That was just common sense for the athletic directors at Florida State and Florida, and for all kinds of legitimate reasons.

Florida State’s head coach Jimbo Fisher, second from right, talks to his staff on the sideline in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. Louisville won 31-28. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Now, however, the Seminoles and Gators would love to have those games back, the better to inch toward the bowl-eligible requirement of six wins in a season.

FSU has a 35-year streak of bowl participation on the line, but with a 2-4 record Jimbo Fisher has little room for error. Things would feel so much safer if that early game with Louisiana-Monroe had been played and another victory was in the bank.

Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference is 3-4 and just last week gave up 670 yards of total offense in a loss to South Alabama.

The Gators, meanwhile, are 3-3 and headed to Jacksonville for a game with the unbeaten Georgia Bulldogs, No. 3 in the AP poll. The game Florida lost to Hurricane Irma was Northern Colorado, a Big Sky team bumping along right now at 2-4.

Can’t easily reschedule this stuff without common open dates on the schedule, and all the schools announced long ago that they wouldn’t bother trying.

Were other state schools involved in the spate of hurricane-related cancellations? Of course, but the Miami Hurricanes, a Top-10 team, doesn’t need any other wins to get where they want to go. Same goes for South Florida and Central Florida, both of them undefeated and bound for the bowls.

Matter of fact, UCF may have gotten a break because their canceled game was Georgia Tech, a real pain to play.

Would they still be unbeaten if that game was played as originally scheduled? Would a

Florida head coach Jim McElwain reacts as time runs out in an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. Texas A&M won 19-17. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

victory over Georgia Tech have gotten the Knights a better ranking in the upcoming release of the first College Football Playoff committee rankings? These are questions without answers.

South Florida, meanwhile, was able to wrangle the schedule around to play Connecticut, a fellow member of the American Athletic Conference, in November rather than September. In the process the Bulls canceled a game with Massachusetts, a 1-6 independent, but no harm there.

Bottom line, the Florida-FSU game at the Swamp on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend may put one team in a bowl and knock the other one out.

Biggie.

And in case anybody is wondering, the last time both the Seminoles and Gators failed to qualify for a bowl was 1978, when Bobby Bowden was in his third FSU season and Doug Dickey was about to get the boot at Florida.

[Injured Jay Cutler once came back in Chicago despite replacement’s success]

[Hoping for churn at top of NBA and not another Cavs-Warriors rematch]

[Even UM’s greatest teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

Gators’ Jim McElwain follows the clumsy coaching norm by keeping Antonio Callaway on the team

 

Antonio Callaway, the only sure playmaker on a Florida offense that has ranked among the nation’s worst for a couple of years now, is suspended for the season opener against Michigan.

The kid earned every bit of it, and really should be kicked off the team by now. This latest case of misusing school-issued funds to buy textbooks and then resell them is piled on top of previous problems.

GAINESVILLE – Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway runs after a reception against Kentucky a 2016 game. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Pleading no contest to a marijuana charge and paying a fine. Being suspended for a semester by the university during a sexual assault investigation that eventually came to nothing. Getting pulled over as a passenger in a car with a 40-year-old man whose criminal history is well known to police. Being far too well acquainted, overall, with the school’s hearing system for student conduct code violations.

Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain needs this spectacular wide receiver and kick returner against the Wolverines on Sept. 2. Heck, the way this offense struggles to put points on the board, he needs Callaway against Northern Colorado the following week.

“Very disappointed,” is how McElwain described his reaction, as well as the necessity to suspend six other players for the opening game because of the same text-book scam.

Very light, in Callaway’s case, the punishment. He isn’t learning anything from all of these close calls and dodges except that McElwain, like most major coaches trying to get a shot at the national title, will do whatever he can to keep his best players eligible.

Here, meanwhile, is what I have learned through the years of watching college players trade touchdowns for true accountability.

First, there is a reason that the Gators and many other high-profile programs generally schedule an easy game or two to open each season and have done so forever. It allows room for painless suspensions in response to offseason idiocies. This Michigan opener is an experiment, and with the exception of Miami as a season kickoff game in 2019, it’s not the kind of instant challenge that Florida will pursue on a regular basis.

Second, Cam Newton got away with a lot of stuff before he left the Gators in 2009 but more than that we probably still don’t know the whole story.

Urban Meyer knew what he had in this transformational quarterback, the logical successor to Tim Tebow, and he didn’t want Cam to get away. So even though a Fox sports report said Newton was caught three times for academic cheating before and after an arrest for buying a stolen laptop computer, he only decided to transfer to a junior college when the university threatened to expel him for repeated violations of the school’s honor code.

Was Newton worth the trouble that Meyer and his staff must have gone through to try to keep him on the team?

The fraternity of coaches probably has a different answer on this than you might, but consider that Gene Chizik had an undefeated and national championship at Auburn in his one season with Newton at quarterback. Two years later, without Newton, Chizik bottomed out and got fired.

[Is there anything with this waivers thing to worry about with Giancarlo Stanton?]

[Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin will have a strong influence on Buffalo Bills]

[The two places in America where there’s nothing but love for Jay Cutler]

“I saw these strides, right, and then sometimes you take a step back,” McElwain said of Callaway’s suspension. “Yet I’m sure he’s not the only one that’s done that, and yet it’s my responsibility to keep teaching.”

Teach on, just like Nick Saban has done by deciding not to suspend Da’Shawn Hand for the season opener against Florida State, even though the star defensive end was charged with DUI for being asleep at the wheel of a car while impaired.

This is how it works with the best players, in every sport, at every level. This is how it always will.

Here are the trap games that should worry Seminoles, Gators and Hurricanes, but unfortunately won’t

With Florida State opening against Alabama, Florida opening against Michigan and the ACC media picking Miami to finally win the Coastal Division, it’s chest-thumping time in the Sunshine State.

Here is the only summertime reminder you are likely to get that the season is long and the stumbling blocks are many.

Mark Richt gestures during Miami s Oct. 29, 2016 game at Notre Dame. (Getty Images)

Yes, we are talking about the trap games on everybody’s schedule. The potential for a little humiliation to go with all that hubris. The loss nobody saw coming, except maybe for the head coach, who worries too much anyway.

Here are my choices for that watch-your-step moment with each program. See if you agree.

Florida State – The Seminoles have a seven-game win streak against Boston College and they crushed the Eagles 45-7 last year so no problem, right?

Well, actually there are a few reasons to sweat this Oct. 27 test.

First, Boston College immediately follows Louisville on FSU’s schedule. It was Louisville that crushed FSU 63-20 last season at a time when the Seminoles were No. 2 in the polls, so the rematch is kind of a big deal.

Second, the BC game is on a Friday night, which is as flukey as it gets, and on the road, where there never, ever is a cruise-control setting.

Third, the Seminoles’ last trip to Alumni Stadium was a bruising, 14-0 FSU victory on a Friday night in 2015, and the score was a much scarier 7-0 until a fourth-quarter fumble return for a touchdown.

FSU should beat Boston College every time but there are no absolutes in college football, except maybe that Jimbo Fisher will always have a good quarterback.

Florida – The Gators have won 30 in a row over Kentucky, and that’s the longest active streak in major college football. Problem is, some of those recent wins have been real squeakers.

Like 14-9 in Jim McElwain’s first trip to Lexington in 2015. Like a wild, triple-overtime escape for the Gators at the Swamp in 2014.

Florida should beat Kentucky on Sept. 23 at what they’re calling Kroger Field up there now, but there are no absolutes in college football, except maybe that until and unless the Gators develop a quarterback, they could lose a game anywhere to anybody.

Miami – I’m looking at Toledo on Sept. 23 at Hard Rock Stadium for the simple reason that no one else is.

Everybody’s staring straight at FSU the previous Saturday and maybe investing a little early-season anxiety in that Sept. 9 trip to Arkansas State, with its cute 30,000-seat stadium and the utterly insane opportunity for a Sun Belt team to build an instant reputation by testing or upsetting Miami.

Well, let it be known that Toledo beat Arkansas State 31-10 last season in that same little stadium. And that Toledo played great in a game at BYU last year before losing 55-53 on a field goal as time expired. And that the Rockets’ Logan Woodside led the nation in touchdown passes last year, including five in that BYU game. And that Nick Saban once was the head coach at Toledo, which surely counts for something.

Miami should beat Toledo every time, but there are no absolutes in college football, except maybe that teams with FSU and Notre Dame on their schedule are going to have a milder reaction to a MAC matchup.

That’s all for now, but I’m reserving the right to freak out over more potential trap games as the season rolls along.

[Jeffrey Loria says there is no deal on Marlins sale so stop talking about it]

[Astros and Nats might bring World Series buzz back to WPB next spring]

[A dream travel itinerary to see Sunshine State’s top college football games]

 

 

How to lavishly spend the 2017 college football season on the road and in the doghouse

 

With unlimited funds and unlimited time, wouldn’t it be fun to attend as many games involving Florida’s college football teams as possible?

Something to think about on a lazy summer day, with a preferred list of 2017 games to follow.

New South Florida head coach Charlie Strong  (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Don’t think about it too long, however. My guess is that merely committing to watch each and every one of these games on the man cave’s big screen would be the end to most marriages.

 

Saturday, Aug. 26 – South Florida at San Jose State (Charlie Strong’s USF debut)

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Florida International at Central Florida (Butch Davis’ FIU debut)

Friday, Sept. 1 – Navy at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin’s FAU debut)

Saturday, Sept. 2 – Florida State vs. Alabama at Atlanta (Why, oh why, does Florida-Michigan have to be on the same day?)

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Miami at Arkansas State (Red Wolves crushed UCF in bowl game last year)

Friday, Sept. 15 – Illinois at USF (Illini went 3-9 last year but beating Big Ten team has certain cachet)

Saturday, Sept. 16 – Miami at FSU (Catch first half of Tennessee at Florida on the way to Tallahassee)

Thursday, Sept. 21 – Temple at USF (Weeknight games good for Bulls’ exposure)

Saturday, Sept. 23 – North Carolina State at FSU (Seminoles needed late rally for 24-20 win last year)

Friday, Sept. 29 – Miami at Duke (Division rival and often a pain in the ACC for Miami)

Saturday, Sept. 30 – Florida State at Wake Forest (End-zone interception secured close win on Seminoles’ last trip there)

Saturday, Oct. 7 – LSU at Florida (Goal-line stand against Tigers clinched SEC East for Gators in 2016)

Thursday, Oct. 12 – Georgia Tech at Miami (2nd straight week on ESPN national telecast for Mark Richt)

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Texas A&M at Florida (First trip to Swamp for Aggies, who joined SEC in 2012)

Saturday, Oct. 21 – Louisville at FSU (Cardinals put 63 points on Seminoles behind Heisman winner Lamar Jackson last year)

Friday, Oct. 27 – FSU at Boston College (Short week after Louisville showdown)

Saturday, Oct. 28 – Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville (Sooner or later Bulldogs are going to be good)

Saturday, Nov. 4 – Virginia Tech at Miami (If Miami ever wins the Coastal, it will be a game like this that does it)

Saturday, Nov. 11 – FSU at Clemson (Tigers are defending national champions)

Thursday, Nov. 16 – Tulsa at USF (Will Charlie Strong have the Bulls in the Top Ten by this point?)

Saturday, Nov. 18 – FIU at FAU (Butch vs. Kiffin in battle for major recruiting coup)

Friday, Nov. 24 – Miami at Pittsburgh (Stop grumbling about Thanksgiving travel and get to the airport)

Saturday, Nov. 25 – FSU at Florida (Would be nice to see this game mean a lot to both teams again)

 

That’s all of the schedule we know right now. The conference champions follow in December and then the College Football Playoff and the bowls.

Would you be sick of college football after traveling to all of those games? No problem. Just switch to the NFL in 2018.