Greetings, Gators. I wasn't sure that this day was going to come. A week ago, I was done, ready to tell you that I'd finally grown out of The Report. After all, I'm a 38 year old father of two, a business owner, a Presbyterian. Isn't it a little pathetic to still be banging out this blog about the trials and tribulations of a team comprised of kids, many of whom weren't born when I graduated college? Clearly, the answer to that is a resounding yes. Yet, there I was Saturday morning, reading The Gainesville Sun sports section and I couldn't help but start jotting down notes and getting excited about writing the first edition of The Report. In a rare moment of introspection I tried to figure out why the old feeling crept back again at just the right time. Inexplicably and immediately, I hearkened back to Chris Rainey's brief but memorable senior farewell comments at Gator Growl 2011- "My piss is hot". Honestly, I still have no idea what he meant, but it was absurd and inappropriate and that, my friends, is the essence of The Gator Report. My piss remains hot.
Speaking of Rainey, we had a boatload of embarrassment this off season. Aaron Hernandez was apparently showing signs of his affinity for violence while in school at UF. Several years ago we were chasing USC for dominance in college football. We now tie them in terms of NFL players indicted for murder. The resultant "Free Hernandez" campaign by the Pouncey twins coupled with Riley Cooper's visceral, racist rant further painted that era of Florida football (and Meyer's culpability as the warden of that group) in an extremely negative light. Not to be outdone by the alumni, current player Antonio Morrison got arrested for punching a bouncer (AFTER telling him he was a football player named Antonio, which is akin to turning yourself in to the police BEFORE you commit the crime) and was then re-arrested for harassing a police dog the same week he was put on probation for arrest #1. All of this adds up to another reason why we should be glad that in a few days we'll have actual football to talk about.
Obviously, analysis about the upcoming season is not hard to come by, so I'll keep mine brief. I think we could all agree that the 11 win season last year was amazing given the disaster that was our offense most of the year. I think credit should be given to Muschamp, Dan Quinn and the rest of the defensive staff for fielding what might have been our best defense of all time last year. But that was then, and this is how I see us now-
It is all about Jeff Driskel this year. He threw for 12 TD's and averaged under 150 yards passing per game last year. In my opinion, the incompetence of our offense since the 2009 season has a lot to do why the UAA is forced to beg people to come to games (that and the nooner start time in August). Jeff has to be better about getting rid of the ball earlier and not staring down his receivers. Of course, having actual receivers to throw to would help him immensely. I'm confident that we can't possibly be worse from a talent standpoint at wideout, though the loss of Driskel's favorite target in Jordan Reed is a step in the wrong direction. We've reportedly recruited well at tight end and wideout, and the addition of Joker Phillips as our receivers coach should be huge, but until I see it on the field I will be skeptical about our taking a major step forward in the passing game.
I was hopeful about the running game because our O line should be the best we've had since 2008, but that was before Matt Jones went out with a viral infection the week before fall camp. Starter Jon Halapio is also out for the first few games. We can't afford to lose Driskel as a result of a bunch QB runs, so we all need to hope that Mack Brown can come through and carry us until Jones is back healthy.
I think we'll have our best pass rush in several years presuming RoPo and Dante Fowler stay healthy. We should be strong again on the interior line although losing Sharif Floyd can't help. The corners should be nasty and even though the safeties are young we are loaded with talent. The big question is at linebacker. Morrison is suspended for the first 2 games but will should be a very good middle linebacker for us. We've got experience with the other starters, but none behind them. Injuries here could be bad news for Muschamp's D.
Kyle Christy is an outstanding punter which is fortunate given our offensive prowess of late. We've had the luxury of being able to bang out field goals of 50+ yards for the past several years (which was, again, fortuitous since the O rarely ventured inside the 40), but that luxury now kicks for the Miami Dolphins. Apparently the heir apparent scholarship kicker has yet to beat out the walk on, so I'd call that a bad sign. I expect a significant step back here. Our best return man tore an ACL the first week of camp so we're auditioning for replacements. I look for Loucheiz (if I had another daughter, this would SO be her name) Purifoy to continue to be a menace on the punt block team.
I'd say a 9-3 year is the proper over/under given our schedule. That said, Muschamp has to like flying under the radar in spite of losing only one regular season game. The most important game this year is unquestionably Georgia. Muschamp needs a win against his alma mater and Gator fans are tired of watching the SEC Championship game from home. Like last year where we went on the road to A&M in week 2, we've got to get off to a quick start against Toledo and the Canes, but I like us to go undefeated heading into the roady at LSU, but wouldn't be shocked if we were 1-1 after week 2 either. I say 9-3 is the over under, I think we end up 10-2 and will hope for a better bowl showing than last year.
But in order to go 10-2, you have to get that first win, and Toledo should provide a good test presuming either team can survive the noon start. Here's what I found out about Toledo-
- This is their first matchup against an SEC team in their 92 years of football;
- They return 16 starters including almost their entire offense and senior QB;
- They are 20-4 over the last 3 seasons inside the MAC;
- They went 9-4 last year with a bowl loss to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (a quick aside- UF fans won't travel to see us in the Sugar Bowl, what would the over/under be on an appearance against Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl? I'd say 250 but that includes coaches' wives and players' families);
- They played Arizona tough in their opener last year, ultimately falling 24-17 in the desert in overtime.
I don't think this offense will be good enough early to blow anybody out, so I'm astounded by the 23.5 point line on this game. I think it is close through the first half before the Rockets eventually melt in the heat of The Swamp: UF 31-Toledo 13.
We've got a great opening weekend slate-
South Carolina v. UNC- UNC's QB is Bryn Renner. Bryn's mother hasn't slept well ever since she heard about Jadaveon Clowney. The Thursday night crowd at Williams Brice will be rocking for the rights to which fan base can rightfully refer to themselves as "Carolina", which brings up a question. Have you ever heard of someone from North or South Dakota refer to their home state as "Dakota"? That presumes you've ever met someone from those states, of course. Cackalacka 42-Tar Heel 24.
Vandy v. Ole Miss- Another Thursday night delight. If you've read the Report over the years, you know I'm a closet Commodore. Whichever team wins this will be off to a great start on another bowl bid. I'd be lying if I told you I knew anything else about either team. Anchor Down 27-Hoddy Toddy 24.
Miami v. FAU- This is the Friday game which I'd ignore if we weren't playing The U in week 2. The U is favored by 32.5 so it should be over fairly quickly. I guess it is good that they get an extra day to recover/prep for Florida, but I think it is an advantage to play someone that's decent as your warm up for a big game. Canes Thang 55-Hooters 3.
Alabama v. Virginia Tech- Bama must feel like the Georgia Dome is a de facto home field, they've been appearing there so often these last 5 years. Once plucky Va. Tech fell on hard times last year. Opening with Bama is not a great way to feel better about yourselves. I think Bama's D takes a step back this year as will their O line, but that in no means makes me feel like the Hokies can challenge them. Roll Tide 35-Hokies 9.
Oklahoma State v. Mississippi State (Houston)- There's big expectations for the Cowpokes this year and it feels like the excitement for Dan Mullen has died in StarkVegas. That said, I think this one is closer than the 12.5 point line. OSU 27-MSU 21.
Auburn v. Washington State- Who would have thought that after last year Auburn could be favored by 14.5 to beat anybody, much less a PAC-12 team coached by Mike Leach. If WSU hangs around in this one it could be nervous times on The Plains. War Eagle 24-WSU 17.
LSU v. TCU (Dallas)- I'm really curious to see what LSU has after all of those juniors opted for the NFL. They've recruited well according to the experts, but TCU is going to give them a good test early. And look at all that purple! TigahBait 31-HornyFrogs 17.
Clemson v. Georgia- You can bet that Death Valley (Clemson) will be rocking for this much anticipated affair. Clemson is coming off arguably their biggest win in two decades with their bowl win over LSU. Georgia has almost their entire offense returning. This one should be a shoot out, the only question is whether either defense can stop the offense. I want to pick Clemson here, but my brain is telling me that it is only because I so completely loathe Georgia. In the end, SEC over ACC in a big game, right? Then again, can you imagine the panic in Athens if UGA loses and then has South Carolina up next? Dawgs 42-Tigers 34. I'd be so happy to be wrong...
SEC Championship Prediction- South Carolina over Bama
National Championship Prediction- South Carolina over Ohio State
That's it for week 1, Gators. I could go on and on, but it is a long season and I don't want to burn out early. Before I sign off though, I do want to say a very Happy Birthday to Mrs. Report today. She remains as smart, funny and smoking hot as the day she sat behind me in the rain at the Florida/Georgia game in 1993.