Florida Gators

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I Have The Power

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

1)Georgia (1-0): Did everyone enjoy the Duck hunt in Atlanta? The Georgia faithful sure did. UGA dismantled Oregon 49-3. Could have been a lot worse. After week 1 Georgia is the best team in the country.

The defending national champions looked as if they could repeat. I am not going to say it but #13 looked like the best QB in the country last weekend. Yeah, I did say it.

2) Alabama (1-0): Alabama beat Utah State 55-0. Good solid opening day win for Alabama. Alabama and Georgia are the class of the country now.

The Tide is preparing to issue a beatdown to the Texas Longhorns on Saturday in Austin, Texas.

3) Florida (1-0): Yes, Florida goes right here after week one. The Gators playing in front of a raucous Swamp crowd on Saturday night beat the team everyone said would blow them out in Utah.

Utah was never coming into Gainesville and getting a win. BTW, I called this outcome.

The Gates land here. Billy got snubbed by LSU in the hiring process after building the best program in Louisiana. They called him Sunbelt Billy in LSU circles. Bet the power brokers in Red Stick are kicking themselves now after the Brian Kelly debacle against FSU.

Anthony Richardson looks like a Heisman front-runner.

4) Tennessee (1-0): The Vol offense looked world class, but can they stop anyone with a pulse. But today they land in the four spot. Look at the SEC East rising to the top of the current power rankings…

5) Arkansas (1-0): The Hogs beat a College Football Playoff contestant from a year ago at home last weekend in Cincinnati. That is enough to land in the top five of my initial SEC power rankings for 2022.

6) Mississippi State (1-0): The Air Raid is in full effect in year 3 of the Mike Leach era in Starkville. This could be a dangerous team in 2022. Alabama and Georgia are you listening?

7) Kentucky (1-0): The Cats looked ok in week one. Business picks up this weekend in Gainesville. I mean business really picks up. The Cats will not be ready to handle Anthony Richardson and the Gators.

8) Ole Miss (1-0): The Ole Miss defense looks solid. The offense will come around soon. Lane Kiffin will see to that.

9) Texas A&M (1-0): I am not a believer. Do not get upset by Appy State at home this weekend Aggies.

10) Missouri (1-0): The Tigers looked like you would expect Mizzou to look and that is the look of an SEC bottom feeder.

11) South Carolina (1-0): The Gamecocks had to block two punts for TDs against Georgia State to pull away.

Spencer Rattler looked rusty. Carolina better get better quick with Arkansas and Georgia coming up during the next two weeks.

12) Auburn (1-0): Auburn should never be in this position which is a formal accusation on everything associated with Auburn at this moment in time. This is unacceptable.

13) Vanderbilt (2-0): This may be the high-water mark for Vandy in 2022. Vandy looks good on offense currently. Enjoy it while it lasts.

14) LSU (0-1): What in the blue hell LSU?

You looked like hot garbage against Florida State. Offense was horrible. Players were unmotivated, coaches lacked emotion.

The culture in Baton Rouge right now is rotten. For week one you land right here where you deserve.

Florida looked impressive with Billy Napier in his first game. LSU looked awful under Brian Kelly in his first game.

Absolutely no reason for LSU to look this bad with the talent on that roster.

The East Beasts

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are going to take a look and preview the SEC East for the upcoming 2022 season.

#1 Georgia: The Bulldogs finally beat Alabama in the National Championship to win their first national championship since 1980.

They only return 10 starters but they are expected to reload. The defense was historically good but they lost players like linemen Jordan Davis and Travon Walker, linebacker Nakobe Dean and safety Lewis Cine.

Stetson Bennett returns under center and they return three starting offensive linemen. They have two very talented tight ends, Brock Bowers and Arik Gilbert.

#2 Tennessee: Head coach Josh Heupel is entering his second season in Knoxville and he has the program going in the right direction. The Volunteers averaged 39.3 points a game. They also led the SEC in plays of 40-plus yards (23) after only having three in 2020.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker is entering his senior year after having a breakout year in 2021. He passed for 2,945 yards, 31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He also rushed for 620 yards and 5 scores.

They also return four starting O-linemen. The defense allowed over 200 rushing yards and 33.6 points a game in SEC play last season.

#3 Kentucky: It’s a toss-up between the Wildcats and Tennessee for the No. 2 spot. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen helped them average 32.3 ppg last year. Coen left to take a job on the LA Rams staff. Mark Stoops hired Rich Scangarello from the 49ers to replace him.

QB Will Levis is back and they have a good running back stable led by Chris Rodriguez Jr.

Kentucky ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring defense, 21.7 ppg allowed. They have holes to fill up front and in the secondary. The linebacker unit is talented.

#4 Florida: The Gators are led by first year head coach Billy Napier. They finished 6-7 in 2021 and they should improve this season. Quarterback Anthony Richardson played in eight games last year and averaged 8.1 yards per play, ran for 401 yards and 9 total scores.

Florida should have a solid running back core that includes Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson and former top recruit Demarkcus Bowman. The Gators finished 10th in the SEC against the run and only had 20 sacks in conference play.

#5 South Carolina: The Gamecocks could be one of the most exciting teams to watch. They have several transfer players including quarterback Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) and receivers Corey Rucker (Arkansas State) and Antwane Wells (James Madison) to add to a receiving corps already featuring Josh Vann (15.8 yards per catch) and Dakereon Joyner.

They return all five starting O-linemen but that’s still an area of concern. They only averaged 3.8 yards per carry in 2021. The defense allowed 175 rushing yards a game.

#6 Missouri: The Tigers have a bad defense and inconsistent quarterback play. The defense allowed 6.7 yards per play, 36 points a game and more than 200 rushing yards a contest in SEC action last fall.

Offensively, the Tigers averaged only 22.6 points and 5.2 yards per play in SEC games last season.

Ends Isaiah McGuire and Trajan Jeffcoat lead the way up front, while cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine and safety Martez Manuel are two building blocks for new coordinator Blake Baker.

#7 Vanderbilt: Are we surprised to see the Commodores here?

Mike Wright and Ken Seals are competing for the QB 1 job.

Vanderbilt ranked 13th in the SEC against the run, last in pass efficiency defense, and surrendered an unpleasant combination of 6.8 yards per play and 35.6 points per game.

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.

Ill Play There

By: Jason Bishop

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

National Early Signing Day has come and gone for college football and here is what the top 10 looked like:

 

1.Texas A&M

2.Alabama

3.Georgia

4.Ohio State

5.Texas

6.Penn State

7.Notre Dame

8.North Carolina

9.Michigan

10.Oklahoma

Here are some of my take aways from National Early Signing Day:

Texas A&M-This is Jimbo Fisher’s first #1 class, however A&M has consistently been in the top 10 over the last few years. This has not translated into being relevant in the National Championship picture or even in the SEC West.

Notre Dame and Oklahoma-Both of these programs did well to finish in the top 10, considering they both lost their head coaches weeks before National Early Signing Day.

North Carolina-The Tar Heels once again finished inside the Top 10, second straight year. Possibly a rising ACC power?

Kentucky-The Wildcats finished with the 11th class in the country. Yes, you read that right, 11th! Kentucky is making a case to replace Florida as the second-best team in the SEC East.

Florida State and Tennessee-Two blue bloods hoping to wake up the echoes. Their recruiting classes will help. FSU finished 13th and Tennessee 14th.

Clemson-The Tigers were a perennial Top 5 program when it came to recruiting for a decade. Looks like the guard is changing in the ACC as the Tigers finished 17th.

Georgia Tech-The Yellow Jackets have recruited well the last few years under Geoff Collins, without a lot of wins to show for it. Tech finished 25th last year, but dipped to 41 this season. A bad omen for Geoff Collins.

UCF and Cincinnati-These two soon-to-be Big 12 teams have been the flies in the ointment of the college football playoff and you would think that would translate to better recruiting classes, it hasn’t. Cincinnati finished 38th and UCF 42nd.

Vanderbilt-Something must be in the water in Nashville as the Commodores netted a top 40 class for the first time in… who knows how long. 38th

Florida-The Gators’ dumpster fire only gets worse. The mighty Gators ended up with the 50th ranked class in the country. New Hire Billy Napier was left with a mess. Recruit after recruit decommitted from the swamp. Good luck, Billy.

Miami-Another big mess to clean up in the state of Florida. Mario Cristobal will have his work cut out for him too. The Hurricanes finished 62nd.

USC-The mighty Trojans finished with only 6 commits. SIX! Good enough for 81st.

Georgia State-The Panthers must get credit. They cracked the top 100 with the 84th class. This program keeps getting better.

Georgia Southern-The Eagles must improve from being outside of the top 100 to compete. They reeled in the 109th class.

 

SEC Hardwood

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We’re about two weeks into the college basketball season. The SEC is known for football but there are several programs ranked in the top 25 in basketball.

It looks like Kentucky will have some competition after a down 2020-21 season. Let’s examine the ranked teams to see who the real contenders are.

#10 Alabama: The Crimson Tide (4 – 0) have been doing well on the hardwood lately. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last season and lost to UCLA in overtime.

They also won the SEC Tournament. Alabama finished last season ranked No. 5 in the final AP Poll and Coaches Poll. Those were the school’s highest season-ending rankings since 1956.

Junior guard Jaden Shackelford leads the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game. Junior Jahvon Quinerly averages 15.5 PPG and senior Keon Ellis averages 14.5 PPG.

Alabama heads to the ESPN Events Invitational this week in Orlando, where it will meet Iona on Thursday at 4 p.m. CT in a rematch of its NCAA tournament opener in March. They will play either Belmont or Drake on Friday, with a chance to meet Kansas on Sunday in the finale. The Jayhawks are No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 3 in the coaches poll this week.

# 10 Kentucky: The Wildcats (3 – 1) lost the third game of the season to No. 5 Duke, 79 -71. Last season they finished 9 – 16, their worst season since 1988-89.

Since head coach John Calipari took over in 2009, he’s built the team with the top one-and-done players every season. Surprisingly, out of the top four scorers on the team only one is a freshman.

Freshman TyTy Washington Jr. and junior forwards Oscar Tshiebwe, Keion Brooks all lead the team with 13 PPG.

The next four games are against Albany, North Florida, Central Michigan and Southern. Those should all be blow out wins. The schedule gets tougher after that with games against Notre Dame and Ohio State.

#13 Arkansas: The Razorbacks (3 – 0) are looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. In 2020-21 they were 25 -7 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

Senior guard JD Notae leads the team with 21.7 PPG. Fellow senior Chris Lykes averages 15.7 PPG.

They have eight games before conference play begins December 29th and only two of those games are against Power 5 teams. They should be undefeated during this stretch.

#15 Tennessee: The Vols (3 – 1) just played some elite teams over the weekend in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament. They were blown out by No. 5 Villanova 71 – 53 on Friday. They rebounded Saturday and beat No. 18 North Carolina, 89 -72. They have some marquee games against Colorado, Texas Tech, No. 9 Memphis and No. 17 Arizona before SEC play starts.

#19 Auburn: The Tigers (3 – 0) have been doing well the last few seasons since Bruce Pearl took over as head coach in 2014. They advanced to the Final Four in 2019 and would have been in the 2020 NCAA Tournament if it was not cancelled due to the pandemic. Last year they were 13 – 14.

They play UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas for their next game. No. 24 Michigan State, No. 6 Baylor and Syracuse are potential opponents in the next round.

#23 Florida: The Gators (3 – 0) play Cal in the Fort Myers Tip-Off this week. They will face No. 21 Seton Hall or Ohio State in the next round.

The best team they have played so far is Florida State and they won 71 – 55.

 

And The Winner Is…..

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Following an off week, the Florida Gators are set to take on the No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville.

The gators re coming off an embarrassing loss to LSU. The Bulldogs enter this weekend game undefeated.  The Gators open this week as a 14-point underdog.

The context that makes this year’s World’s Largest Cocktail Party so compelling is that Florida can put up points and move the ball.  The Gators are ranked No. 5 nationally in yards per play, better than any team Georgia has faced or will face this season.

With Mullen refusing to commit to promising redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson, the Gators need a Superman performance from their quarterback.

Georgia’s defense is built in the trenches and Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter, Devonte Wyatt, Travon Walker and Nolan Smith are the main pieces in this dominating front.

These guys not only win on-on-one blocks; they are absolute menaces to opposing offenses. Georgia loves to substitute and play situational defense and does a great job at maximizing their talent while rotating and keeping players fresh.

The Bulldogs are great at creating pressure to make quarterbacks think they are bringing more than they are and forcing sacks and turnovers. Georgia loves to stunt and play games with their defensive lineman.

What is Florida’s identity on offense? Who knows, the first three weeks of the season, the Gators were a top rushing team in the country. The last few weeks, Florida has looked completely different trying to throw the ball around the field.

Richardson seems to spark the Gators offense and they respond when he’s in the game. He gives them the best chance to win. Mullen needs to accept the younger player is better and needs to play.

Mullen will need to dial up a great game plan to exploit Georgia’s aggressive front-7. The best way to score on the Bulldogs is to get to the back end of their defense, but does Florida have the QB, OL and skill players to test them.

No doubt the Gator’s defense spent the entire bye week working on playing the counter better. LSU ate their lunch with it. That makes me believe that Georgia will have to see if the Gators can stop the run.

Look for Zamir White, Kendall Milton and James Cook to rake up big runs against the undisciplined Gators front-7. Georgia’s running game will set up play action passes. Brock Bowers will create big play opportunities with size and speed.

Kirby Smart has owned Dan Mullen in their careers (3-1) as head coaches. He owns Mullen when it comes to recruiting. Smart will own Mullen on Saturday.

My Prediction:  Georgia 45  Florida 20

The Crystal Ball Of The SEC

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Labor Day weekend is upon us and that means the greatest game of all, College Football kicks off.

I love many sports, but college football is just special. In this part of the world, you have SEC football; which is the best brand in college athletics.

Others try and duplicate it, but they simply come up short.

Oklahoma and Texas are moving over probably next season instead of 2025. Some critics say conference expansion is bad using excuses like geography, and any other reason they can find.

We live in a generation of participation trophies as it relates to sports, and quite frankly the SEC has an ‘iron sharpens iron’ kind of mentality and that keeps them ahead of the rest in the college football world.

Here are my 2021 SEC Predictions:

Most Overrated Team: Texas A&M: The 2021 hype train has the Aggies picked by some to knock of Alabama to win the West.

I don’t think defensively A&M is there yet, and will Jimbo Fisher open up the offense to the Alabama and LSU levels of the past two seasons?

I don’t think the Aggies have those types of weapons and will come up short in the West. What happens if they lose at home to Alabama? Well, they are and I think they end up losing to Ole Miss and possibly LSU.

Most Underrated Team: Ole Miss: Ole Miss may end up having the best offense in the conference. So, when you line up against this team you better be prepared to score a lot of points.

Everyone harps on the Ole Miss defense, but I ask the question they can’t be worse than they were last year, right? I expect improvement out of the unit in 2021. This team could sneak up into the double-digit win category.

SEC West:

Alabama: Until someone knocks them off, they are the pick here.

Nick Saban is the best head coach in the history of the conference and he has the national championships to prove it in the playoff era of college football.

Ole Miss: This team is dangerous. Sleep on them if you want to.

Texas A&M: I’m just not buying the hype. This team is too conservative on offense, and do they have enough defense to be championship elite? The answer is no.

LSU: Coach O it is starting to slip away. Fix it in 2021 or your seat is going to get very hot.

Auburn: New coaching staff that wants to go from a spread offense to more of a pro type offense. Going to take some time Aubbies.

Arkansas: I love how the Hogs are building this roster, but you are in the best division of the best conference in college football.

Mississippi State: Not a terrible team, but you have six bowl teams ahead of you.

SEC East:

Georgia: This is an elite football program that gets the underachiever label by folks who don’t hold everyone to the same standard they judge UGA by.

Could it be they know UGA is about to knock the National Title door down in the near future and what that may mean? Cue the 1980 jokes haters.

Florida: Gators will be good, but a different kind of good. One that starts with better defensive play. Florida lost 6,600 yards and 79 TDs to the NFL draft from last year.

Missouri: A much improved Tiger squad could challenge for 2nd in the East.

Kentucky: Nope, I’m not buying what you are selling Cats. Your offense is like watching paint dry.

Tennessee: Vols are building back the roster. It is going to take a couple of years.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are starting a Graduate Assistant at QB. Ouch!

Vanderbilt: We love the Dores during baseball season, but they are an instant win during the fall.

SEC Title game will be Alabama against Georgia.

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