Florida Gators

Chomping Gators

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Florida Gator football started out strong in its season opener against Utah on Saturday, in which the Orange and Blue put up a gritty, 29-26 win.

The victory represents the first for the program in the Billy Napier era, while extending the Gators’ longest-active home-opener win streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which stands at 33 straight games.

With the big win now in the rearview mirror, Napier and company turn their attention to their SEC opener against the Kentucky Wildcats at home this coming Saturday.

The ‘Cats, led by Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Will Levis, represent another top-25 matchup for the Gators that will test their revamped squad.

The main concern the Cats have going into Gainesville, however, will be the play of the running back and the offensive line.

Let’s first start with the running backs. With the absence of Chris Rodriguez due to suspension, I didn’t think the Cats’ running backs would struggle against Miami of Ohio. On the night Kavosiey Smoke led the rushing attack with seven carries for 32 yards, while the other trio of Ramon Jefferson, JuTahn McClain, and La’Vell Wright all combined for 11 carries and a total of 36 yards.

That won’t be enough to help push the Cats over Florida. Here’s why:

For the offensive-line, it seemed their youth played a huge role against Miami of Ohio. After giving up four sacks on the night, the question now changes to; can they hold up against the Gators front seven?

It will be interesting to see, but Coach Zach Yenser has his work cut out for him this week as he tries to help the young O-line process through the different schemes and stunt recognition they will see Saturday night.

Defensively, it comes down to whether the Cats can contain the run game or not.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson stole the show in week one. The highly-touted recruit from Gainesville was only used sparingly as a true freshman under Dan Mullen.

In his first start for Napier, Richardson completed 17-of-24 passes for 168 yards, while he rushed for a team-high 106 yards and 3 touchdowns.

For Florida to reach their ceiling, the young quarterback has to carry the team.

Utah was unable to slow Richardson down and wasted a solid offensive performance due to the defense’s inability to limit quarterback runs.

Kentucky must find a way to make the NFL prospect play strictly from the pocket. With that being said, it’s way easier said than done.

In many ways, the game on Saturday will come down to Kentucky limiting Florida’s ground game. That is only done if the Wildcats can get Anthony Richardson on the ground.

The Gators O-line performed well opening holes for the running game and allowing no sacks.

Florida went 31 years without suffering a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats but has a 2-2 record in the last four games. Credit to Mark Stoops. He took over a program that was second-fiddle to basketball and has built a culture that they recruit and play to consistently win. Stoops has two 10-win seasons and more wins over Florida than his six predecessors combined.

With that said, it is going to be a battle on Saturday night. The crowd, weather (heat, rain & humidity) and overall team talent leads me to pick the Gators by 2 scores.

Florida 31 Kentucky 20

 

 

 

 

Gator Bait?

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There is a new era beginning for the Florida Gators football program.

Billy Napier’s era will officially begin on September 3, as the Gators host the No. 7 Utah Utes.

Utah finished the 2021 campaign as the Pac-12 Champions. Kyle Whittingham’s team finished the regular season with a 9-3 record. They beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game and fell three points short of beating Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. They finished 10-4.

Whittingham has a small connection to UF. He took the head coaching job at Utah in 2005, replacing Urban Meyer.

Meyer, of course, left Utah to accept the head coaching job at Florida and went on to win two National Championships in Gainesville.

The Gators don’t have a coach entering their 18th season at the helm, like Whittingham at Utah. Billy Napier was hired 276 days before the game kicked off. There are much easier ways to begin your tenure, something Napier jokingly acknowledged at SEC Media Day.

One of the biggest question marks for the Gators in 2022 is: Can they stop the run? Last season Florida finished 10th in the SEC allowing 163.92 yards per game. That was nearly 100 yards more than Georgia and nearly 78 more than Alabama.

The Gators have a ton of pass rushers but they’re thin on the interior defensive line. Is Florida stout enough to plug up the middle and stop Utah from running it up the gut? It won’t take long to find out what kind of defense the Gators will have this season.

Cameron Rising and Tavion Thomas are a very tough combo to beat. Rising was a 64% passer last season with 20 TDs and just five picks, while Thomas added a school-record 21 rushing touchdowns, third-most in the FBS last season, with a 5.4 ypc average.

Returning that core, which tortured Ohio State’s D in the Rose Bowl, is vital in a cross-country road opener, especially against a soft Gator front.

This game is incredibly conflicting to me. If we know anything about the Pac 12 in recent years, it’s that they will eliminate themselves from playoff contention as soon as possible. The best team in the conference suffers a big loss at the beginning of the year almost every year. This would be that spot.

Last year, however, Florida was one of the worst teams against the spread because they were simply given credit for being Florida; even though they were a bad team. They went 6-7 and played in the SEC, yet they were only a home underdog once.

Now, Billy Napier comes to town after an incredible run at Louisiana and has Anthony Richardson at quarterback. Richardson only attempted 64 passes last year and is already considered a potential first round pick in the NFL draft. That’s how good he is.

Napier brought in a lot of transfers from Louisiana on the offensive line and in the backfield. The team should become familiar with his system quickly and the offense could hit the ground running.

The Swamp will be sold out and the weather should be welcoming. Game time temperature is expected to be 81 degrees with 88% humidity and 50% chance of rain with close to 89,000 hyped up Florida fans.

The weather, crowd and The Gators will make this a miserable trip for the Utes.

The Utes Don’t Care About The Weather or The Crowd, this is the most important opening game in Utah’s history.  UTAH 31 FLORIDA 24

Return Of The Chomp?

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Florida Gators are under new management for the fourth time in the last decade. That much turnover can be necessary and detrimental to a program.

There’s not much debate that Florida needed to move on from Will Muschamp in 2014. Or that Jim McElwain’s self-destruction and death threats didn’t warrant a change.

Dan Mullen’s recruiting incompetence was written off because the team was winning. He was the first head coach in UF history to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons. In the end, it became clear that the direction of the program under Mullen was going the wrong way — and just on the trail.

Billy Napier was hired to rebuild the Gators. He was tasked with reviving UF recruiting and getting talent back to Gainesville. He called college football a “talent-acquisition business” and began by building the biggest support staff UF ever seen. The Gators hauled several blue-chip recruits like Kamari Wilson, Shemar James, and Chris McClellan.

The team also has Anthony Richardson returning, who should give the Gators a chance anytime he’s on the field.

The Gators only leave the state of Florida three times in 2022. Their home schedule is fantastic. Utah, LSU and Kentucky are all great games to host in The Swamp.

With that being said, the opponents are strong. The Gators draw, somehow again, Texas A&M from the West. UF has played the Aggies three times since they joined the SEC and 2022 will be the fourth matchup. Meanwhile, Florida has played a former yearly rival in Auburn just once in that same time period.

The Gators also begin a home-and-home series with Utah. The Utes are the reigning Pac-12 Champions. Utah returns 60 letter winners and 17 total starters in 2022.

Billy Napier prescribes to a motto of “put the ball down and let’s play” but it would be easy to put the ball down against a small directional school rather than a loaded defending conference champion.

The Gators have also lost twice to Kentucky in the last four seasons. Mark Stoops has built that UK program for a decade. What was once an assured win, is now a presumed toss up.

Every year the SEC is tough. This year, will be a very difficult one for the Gators, thanks to their tough season opener and road trip to College Station.

Optimistic: 9-3, with three straight wins to end the year and all sorts of hype heading into 2023. Anthony Richardson proves to be the perfect dual-threat quarterback in Billy Napier’s system.

Tailback Lorenzo Lingard looks like the 5-star who signed with Miami out of high school, same for wideout Justin Shorter.

The Gators’ defense takes a big step forward without Todd Grantham calling the shots. Gervon Dexter emerges as the best defensive lineman in the conference.

Pessimistic: 5-7 and no postseason appearance in Year 1 for Napier. Florida opens the year 0-2, with home losses to Utah and Kentucky. After dismantling South Florida, the Gators lose at Tennessee for just the second time in 18 years.

They stumble at Tallahassee against Florida State to end the season. Richardson is up and down — or worse, gets hurt again and Jack Miller isn’t up to snuff. The lack of explosiveness at receiver is problematic all season.

The front-seven once again struggles to stop the run. Penalties, team character and chemistry remain lingering issues despite the coaching change.

Realistic: 7-5 with one signature upset against either Utah, Kentucky, Tennessee or Texas A&M.

The Gators certainly could go 0-2 to start the year, but I see a split. While the roster has depth issues (particularly at receiver, defensive line and linebacker), there’s a lot of quality talent in Gainesville.

The pass rush, led by Brenton Cox Jr., is fierce, and cornerback Jason Marshall is one of the better defensive backs in the SEC.

Richardson has flashes of brilliance and frustration, ultimately leading him to return to the team in 2023.

Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall has a solid season but is not the band aid solution to Florida’s receiver problems.

Key Points: Starting out against Utah isn’t a given at home, and finishing up at Florida State in Tallahassee will be tough.

In between there’s a road game at Tennessee, LSU – as always – is on the slate, and then there’s the killer two-week stretch against Georgia and at Texas A&M.

It’s Florida. It’s going to be a problem for the other teams in those tough games, too. It’ll work its way to eight wins in an improved year, but factor in three losses somewhere in the mix to go along with one 50/50 game.

Seven wins will be okay, eight will be fine, nine or more would be terrific, but …

It’s the Florida Gators. It’s time to start winning more.

How Good Is Florida Gators Anthony Richardson?

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Anthony Richardson has a cannon for an arm! The Florida Gators quarterback showed it off Friday at the Manning Passing Academy.

Richardson is one of several elite college quarterbacks serving as a counselor for this year’s camp at Nicholls State University in Louisiana from June 23-26.

Friday featured the “Air It Out” competition between the quarterbacks, and AR-15 stole the show. On his rep, Richardson did a three-step drop and then let it fly. From the 30-yard line, he effortlessly launched a deep ball that jumped off his hands and traveled over 70 yards in the air, drawing “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd.

“That was a long throw,” Manning said in reaction to Richardson’s bomb.

This weekend gives Richardson an opportunity to give back and learn from three legends, with NFL standouts Archie Manning, Peyton Manning and Eli all participating in their namesake event.

“Talking to the Manning’s, I just want to soak up everything I can,” Richardson said. “Be a better person, be a better quarterback, you know, just get as much knowledge as I can. And working with the younger guys, I just try to connect with them because I was once in their shoes. So just helping them and giving them advice on what to expect when things come up.”

Anthony Richardson showed why he’s considered as one of the more physically-gifted quarterbacks in college football. The rising redshirt sophomore wowed onlookers with his deep passes, effortlessly flicking the football around 70 yards downfield.

Richardson has huge hands and probably threw the tightest spiral we saw. His athleticism is well documented (he turned a backflip after connecting on one throw) but he has big-time arm talent as well. Richardson has a bit of a looping throwing motion that can be offset some by the velocity on his throws.

The Gainesville native flashed some tantalizing playmaking ability in 2021. He’ll need to continue developing, but he could be primed for a breakout year; especially under new Florida head coach Billy Napier.

After serving as a backup for most of last season, Richardson is finally QB1 for the Gators following his stellar spring game. He threw for 207 yards and scored three total touchdowns.

More importantly, he looked comfortable in the new offense under first-year coach Billy Napier. Richardson studied former Louisiana QB Levi Lewis to get a feel for Napier’s system.

“Watching some of their games from last year, even hearing about Coach Napier and then considering him, I started watching some of the games just to see what was going to happen,” Richardson said this week. “And watching Levi play, that was their old quarterback, that put me in good hands because we have similar skill sets. I talked to coach Napier and coach Ryan O’Hara when they came in and they told me I was going to fit well in their offense. Then I went through spring, I think I do fit well in the offense, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Billy Napier will rely heavily on Richardson to lead his new program this fall. What he picks up in the passing game, especially at the event this weekend, will be crucial for the Gator’s success this fall.

Growing Gators

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Most of Gator Nation didn’t even know who Jaden Rashada was two months ago. Today, his recruitment has fans wondering whether this staff can close the deal.

I understand that sentiment stems from other prospects as well, but the Gators haven’t had enough top targets in the 2023 cycle yet.

With Rashada included, it’s too early to be judging their efforts for this ‘bump’ class. Recruits have to be ready, or scheduled to announce before they can close on them.

Billy Napier and his army showed that ability in his transition class, finishing with a top-20 ranking after signing top-100 prospects Shemar James and Kamari Wilson.

He also landed impact transfers O’Cyrus Torrence, Montrell Johnson, Jalen Kimber and Ricky Pearsall.

We are six months away from the early signing period for the 2023 class. Only two of the top 15 players in the Sunshine State have committed, Keon Keeley (Notre Dame) and Raylen Wilson (Michigan), along with just six of Florida’s top 30 players.

The Gators hosted 19 of those 30 recruits for unofficial and/or official visits this spring/summer and are currently the favorite for eight of them.

UF is also up to 31 official visitors so far this month, and only one prospect who was uncommitted prior to his trip has since pledged elsewhere (Jordan Hall to Michigan State).

Aside from Hall, the only other significant 2023 target Florida has missed on so far is five-star cornerback A.J. Harris, who recently committed to Georgia.

Harris stated that he attended a UGA camp in sixth grade, shook Kirby Smart’s hand and told Smart he was going to play for him one day. Realistically, it sounds like the Gators had their work cut out for them.

With Aaron Gates committed, plus a recruiting board with five-star Cormani McClain, top-200 Sharif Denson and 6-foot-3 cornerback RJ Johnson, Florida should be fine at their position. McClain is a must-get, but his recruitment will be a marathon.

Four-star running back Treyaun Webb, who officially visited UF earlier this month, makes his commitment on June 30.

Five-star receiver Jalen Brown and top-150 prospects Aidan Mizell, Eugene Wilson III and Will Norman all plan to decide before their senior seasons.

The Gators will need to close on those recruits, along with Rashada, in the coming weeks and months. If they land at least half of the targets above, their 2023 class will be in good shape heading into the fall.

Should most of them commit elsewhere, then there will be cause for concern. Either way, the end of summer is when we’ll have a realistic idea of where this class stands.

I’ll say this: Napier won’t miss any of his targets for lack of trying (or name, image and likeness). The Gator Guard has established UF as one of the foremost aggressive NIL collectives, and Napier’s investment and involvement in recruiting is the most we’ve seen from a Florida coach since Will Muschamp.

In terms of ranking the last four Florida coaches as “closers” and how aggressively they recruit, I would list them in this order based on my knowledge: 1) Will Muschamp 2) Billy Napier 3) Jim McElwain 4) Dan Mullen.

I looked back at how many signees from each of those classes joined before July.

Muschamp had the most with 10 commits, although one pledged to the previous staff.

McElwain and Mullen both had eight commits, but only six committed to Mullen.

Urban Meyer, who signed a top recruiting class in 2006, had just five members in it at the end of June.

I wrote when Billy Napier was hired that he would be judged on this recruiting class. Judgment Day is in February, not June.

Gator Goals

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

A year ago, Florida fans were questioning the program’s coaching decision (Dan Mullen), but Florida football was fresh off an SEC title game and the program seemed to be trending in the right direction.

As you can see, things change. Quickly.

Florida finished the 2021 season with a 6-7 record. As a result, Mullen was let go. The Gators rebounded with one of the hottest names on the market- Billy Napier. The move was a home run in the coaching world and it showed that Florida is serious about winning.

With spring ball starting up, it’s time to take a glance at our new-looking Gators. What storylines should I be following? Easy, it all starts with recruiting!

During Napier’s Signing Day press conference, he made it clear: there’s plenty of work to be done. For example, the Gators signed only six players from their talent-rich home state.

While the Gators shifted their focus to the upcoming class paired with Napier’s first full season UF’s head coach — the coaching staff made it clear: Florida plans to scour the talent from the Sunshine State.

“That’s the approach that we will take and certainly with the ’23 group, which we’ve already started on,” Napier said. “That will be the mentality, for sure.”

It’s not as if Napier underestimated what Florida has to offer in the first place. Rather, he’s looking to forge new relationships in the final two months of a player’s recruitment; historically, the Gators relied on previously established connections.

Evidenced by his previous team’s (University of Louisiana Lafayette) improvement from year one to year two, there’s tangible reason to believe the Gators will make a massive leap in the recruiting rankings next season under Napier.

The University of Louisiana Lafayette improved 28 places in the team rankings from Napier’s first season to his second. After finishing fourth in the Sun Belt conference his first year, the Ragin’ Cajuns would rank atop the conference in recruiting for each of the next three seasons.

The blueprint looks to already be in place.

“I think you build your schedule based off of the ’22s. And then maybe the ’23 players in that area. You try to do the best job you can,” Napier said. “And certainly, each assistant coach kind of is taking the same philosophy.”

Katie Turner, Florida’s newly hired assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy, may not technically be a coach, but she’s a vital part of the team’s talent acquisition efforts.

Napier and his coaching staff know they’ll have to maintain the intensity on the recruiting trail if they hope to have a stress-free National Signing Day in 2023.

“We’re hopeful that we won’t be doing this much business in February next year, and we’ll be able to be a little bit more strategic about our time on the road relative to the next group,” Napier said. “But I think we made the most of it, for sure.”

Florida can be a pressure cooker, but that may be said of every high-level Division I football program. The expectations across the country have risen, along with budgets and coaches’ salaries. You’re expected to win fast or die young.

The 2023 recruiting cycle is well underway, and the Florida Gators have several goals in mind as l Billy Napier puts together his first full class of signees after a transitional 2022 haul.

One of those goals, simply put, is to recruit more effectively than the Gators’ past, which consistently missed opportunities and underwhelmed year after year on the trail.

The second goal is to put a fence around the state of Florida, being able to keep elite talent home rather than allowing non-locals to tap into Florida’s top talent and prospects as they please.

Florida has the most blue-chips of any other state (and the most 5-stars) by leaps in 2023. We’ll see if new head coaches in Florida’s Billy Napier can make some progress getting in-state prospects to stay closer to home.

In my review, Napier will be evaluated by this first class. He needs a top 5 class or this may be another short tenure for Coach Napier.

Prove It To Me

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It is that time of the year that is dreaded and that is the official ending of football season.

Football, the greatest game on the planet, is in hibernation until August. However, it is never too early to discuss SEC football in the South. Here is a look at my top five teams in the SEC with the most to prove in 2022:

 

1: Texas A&M: All the talent money can buy. They need a good season this year, and need to prove they can win.

Can Jimbo get it done in College Station? Yes, they beat Alabama last season, but they found a way to lose 4 football games.

The Aggies must find a QB that can lead this team to the SEC title game. The new NIL landscape favors the Aggies, who have very deep pockets. If this team can’t win 10-11 games this fall, then the heat starts mounting on Jimbo Fisher.

 

2: LSU: When you think LSU, you think contenders.

LSU will have a new coach, and will have to prove they are making progress.

I think Brian Kelly is a pretty good hire. Talent is never an issue in Baton Rouge, but right now the QB position is a big question mark. If the Tigers can figure that out quickly, they could be factor in the West.

 

3: Tennessee: The Vols have not been relevant since 2007, when they last won the SEC East.

Tennessee has not won a national title since 1998.

Skill position talent is much improved, but Tennessee does not have the offensive or defensive line talent to be a serious SEC contender yet.

Tennessee has lost 15 straight to Alabama and is 1-16 against Florida in the last 17 years.

Since Philip Fulmer was forced out in 2008 the Vols have whiffed on 4 straight head football coaches. Josh Heupel hopes to reverse that trend.

Tennessee went 7-6 in 2021. In the last five years Tennessee is a combined 0-15 against Alabama, Florida and Georgia, which are the 3 biggest games on the Vol schedule. Tennessee needs to beat one of those three teams in 2022.

 

4: Florida: Florida also has a new head coach.

They must prove they can compete in the SEC East. The East is way better when Florida can challenge UGA for that top spot.

Billy Napier was a great hire for UF. There is talent on the roster, but it is undisciplined talent. If Napier can change that culture in Gainesville and recruit then Florida will be back soon.

If Florida can win 8-9 games in 2022 then things should take off quickly in Gainesville.

Since Steve Spurrier retired Florida has missed on 4 of its last 5 football coaches. Only Urban Meyer has had consistent success since 2001.

Florida has not won an SEC or National Title since 2008. Too much talent in the State of Florida for the flagship university not to be a national player and to top it off you just lost to UCF in a bowl game.

 

5 Ole Miss: Ole Miss surprised a lot of people last season by being a top 10 team. Was it a fluke? They must prove they can maintain solid seasons with Lane for years to come.

I don’t think 2021 was a fluke for Ole Miss. If Matt Corral can be replaced then I think this team will finish right behind Alabama, and Alabama does come to Oxford in 2022.

The defense is improving, and we know a Lane Kiffin offense will produce. I think this will be the surprise team in the SEC next year. I believe Ole Miss is here to stay and 2022 will prove that.

I did not mention Auburn because Bryan Harsin is dead man walking on The Plains of Auburn. Of course, it has all been self-induced by Auburn, who set this man up for failure.

Swampy Draft

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Florida Gators had to make an offseason change from Dan Mullen to Billy Napier as their new head coach, but that does not mean there were no stars on the team in 2021.

A handful of Florida Gators received NFL Scouting Combine invitations ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. This is an opportunity for these players to increase their stock.

Florida saw four of its players invited this season, but each had quality ends to their college careers and definitely drew the eyes of NFL scouts.

Here’s a breakdown of each Florida Gator invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine:

Zach Carter: Carter can play inside and outside along the defensive line, which should be attractive to NFL teams.

He opted out of the Gasparilla Bowl to prepare for the draft. Carter is likely to play more defensive end at the next level, but his versatility showed he can do both, should a team want to move him back inside.

The NFL Scouting Combine will definitely be an opportunity to show off his athleticism and running through certain drills could show he is able to play multiple positions for an NFL team looking for a versatile lineman.

Last season, Carter had the best season of his college career, finishing with 31 total tackles, 15 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two pass deflections and one forced fumble.

In his career, Carter had 102 total tackles, 39 solo tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, eight pass deflections, one fumble recovery, two forced fumbles and one touchdown.

Carter is currently projected as a late 3rd early 4th round pick.

Kaiir Elam: Elam left school early to head to the pros. That was for good reason after a productive career with the Gators.

Elam received some first-round NFL Draft buzz. He’s not a lock for the one of the first 32 picks, but he is a high-quality prospect coming into the pros.

The NFL Scouting Combine usually propels a handful of prospects to higher positioning and that could very well be the case with Elam as well. Elam made a quick impact on Florida when he started playing as a true freshman and kept it rolling over three seasons.

Elam played three seasons for the Gators, having another productive year in 2021, as he had 29 total tackles, 17 solo tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and five pass deflections. In his career, Elam had 78 total tackles, 53 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, 20 pass deflections and one fumble recovery.

Elam should be the first Gator selected.

Jeremiah Moon: Moon had a productive year to conclude his college career and ended up at the Reese’s Senior Bowl to showcase his talent to NFL scouts up close.

Now that he is headed to the NFL Scouting Combine, he can showcase his abilities once again.

Moon was an EDGE defender before transitioning to linebacker due to injuries. But Moon appeared to provide a physicality to the position that the Gators needed. He has the ability to play the EDGE or linebacker spots, which should be intriguing to NFL teams.

He took advantage of a sixth year eligibility after the free year of 2020. He finished 2021 with a solid stat line: 49 total tackles, 20 solo tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one pass deflection and one forced fumble.

He finished his Gators career with 151 total tackles, 60 solo tackles, 14 tackles for loss, eight sacks, four pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Moon is a late day three selection or free agent.

Dameon Pierce: Pierce could be a steal in the NFL Draft when April comes around. He was actually tabbed as the top running back from the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl by CBS Sports.

With that type of performance, there should be a lot of eyes on Pierce throughout the combine as he showcases his speed and agility.

What also helps Pierce, in addition to him carrying and catching the football, he can pass block very effectively. NFL teams will love that in a young prospect. Pierce is very powerful and has a low center of gravity.

He had a career-year finding the end zone in 2021. He finished the season with 100 carries, 574 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5.7 yards per carry, 19 catches, 216 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.

He finished his Gators career with 329 carries for 1,806 yards, 23 touchdowns. 5.5 yards per carry, 45 catches, 422 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.

Pierce is projected a late 3rd early 4th round selection.

In Or Out

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Florida Gators Ty’Ron Hopper saga continues to grow.

The redshirt sophomore entered his name into the transfer portal on January 20, only to withdraw it in an hour’s time. Now, four days later, Hopper’s name is back in the transfer portal.

Hopper saw game action on defense and special teams in all 13 games last season, including four starts. He finished fourth on the team with 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.

The redshirt sophomore from Alpharetta, Ga., figured to be a key member of the 2022 squad. Hopper was seen as one of Florida’s rising stars heading into the new year.

As a freshman in 2019, he appeared in four games as a reserve linebacker and on special teams. He made two tackles in his limited role.

2020 saw more playing time and more contributions. Hopper appeared in 11 games for the Gators, finishing with 15 total tackles (five solo, 10 assisted) and one tackle for loss.

He was expected to be a starting linebacker for the Gators in 2022. While he has entered his name into the transfer portal that doesn’t mean he cannot choose to still return to Florida.

The news of Hopper looking to transfer comes at an interesting time. Hours before he first entered the portal last week, former Florida Gators coach Christian Robinson would be joining the Auburn Tigers.

Robinson was an integral part of Hopper’s recruitment and was also his position coach for three seasons. A redshirt sophomore, Hopper has three years of eligibility (a free COVID year included) of eligibility left.

Robinson was a popular coach not just among the linebackers, but the entire team. He joins an Auburn team going into its second season under head coach Bryan Harsin.

 

 

Getting To Know Napier

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The college football regular season is over.

Some coaches at prominent programs were fired and vacant positions are being filled.

USC lured Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma about 24 hours after they lost to Oklahoma State. He was the most high-profile coach on the market.

The Florida Gators fired head coach Dan Mullen. In my opinion Urban Meyer should have been targeted to return to Gainesville. He’s struggling in his first season in Jacksonville. Instead, the Gators hired Billy Napier, who is currently the head ball coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Napier played quarterback for Furman from 1999 – 2002 and took over as the starting quarterback his junior year. He led the Paladins to the 2001 NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship Game and they lost to Montana, 13 – 6. He earned second-team All-Southern Conference honors in 2001 and 2002.

His father is a high school football coach in Northern Georgia. Napier followed in his footsteps and started as a Grad Assistant at Clemson from 2003-04. From 2006-08 he was the tight end coach and recruiting coordinator for the Tigers.

In 2008 Tommy Bowden resigned and Dabo Swinney was named the interim head. Swinney promoted him to quarterback coach. When Swinney was promoted to the full-time head coach after the 2008 season, he promoted Napier to offensive coordinator. In 2009 Clemson scored a then school record 436 points and won the ACC Atlantic Division.

The offense was not nearly as productive in 2010 and he was fired after the season.

In 2011 he was hired by Nick Saban as an offensive analyst for Alabama. In 2012 and 2013 he made coaching stops at Colorado State and Florida State.

In 2013 he returned to Tuscaloosa as wide receiver coach and stayed there until 2016. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Arizona State in 2017.

In 2018 he was hired for the head coach position at Louisiana-Lafayette. His record for the Ragin’ Cajuns is 39 -12. They were 12 -1 this season and beat Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Championship game.

Hiring coaches from the Nick Saban coaching tree is very popular, considering he’s the best college coach of all time.

Every program is hoping they can replicate his success. Napier will make the 27th former Saban assistant to get hired as a head coach.

I think this is a decent hire for Florida. They have someone who has proven he is capable of turning a program around.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I rate this as a 7. Hopefully he can turn the Gators back into a powerhouse.