Gator Football Spring Practice Week 1 Wrapup

March 30, 2009

The Offense

Florida is experimenting with a fast-paced, uptempo offense. It is partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Oklahoma offense in the national title game and partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Northwestern offense in 2001.

I took a look at pace earlier this offseason, and I projected that the Gators would have scored about 55 a game last year if they played at Oklahoma’s pace. Urban Meyer may or may not have seen a similar figure from his stats guys, but he seems most interested in the way that an uptempo offense disrupts defenses.

The other big difference is that Tim Tebow will be taking some snaps under center. Tebow says it’s happening because it’s the way Scot Loeffler is influencing the offense, while Meyer says it’s happening to get Tebow more comfortable with it since he’ll have to do that in the NFL. It’s not that one is wrong and one is right, since the offense has always been a team effort under Meyer.

Many have pointed out that packages with the quarterback under center existed in Meyer’s offense in 2005 and 2006 when Chris Leak was running the show. That is true, and the I-formation is also coming back if they can find a fullback.

Behind Tebow, redshirt sophomore QB John Brantley is looking sharp.

Receivers

The question on everyone’s mind comes down to this: who will replace Percy Harvin? Meyer said around national signing day that he sees incoming freshman Andre Debose in that role. So far, that appears likely because no one has stepped up to take control of that role so far. Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps are the other candidates for that position.

Carl Moore was the invisible man for a lot of last season, which was odd for someone touted as a five-star guy from junior college. He’s been looking a lot better this year, now that

David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez have also looked good catching passes. Justin Williams has been practicing with the first team offense along with Thompson and Nelson. Riley Cooper is playing baseball and is not participating in spring football practice.

Personally, I’m thinking that the 2008 receiving corps is not going to be the best analogue for the 2009 corps in terms of fitting guys into roles. To me right now, 2006 seems like a better comparison given the personnel and likely ball distribution. Having Nelson as Dallas Baker, Thompson as Bubba Caldwell, Debose as Harvin, Moore as Jemaille Cornelius and so on feels a little more right. We’ll see.

Running Backs and Offensive Line

With Rainey rehabbing from surgery and Demps running track, Emmanuel Moody is the only scholarship running back at practice. Fortunately, he’s been playing very well so far though the defense has been stuffing him in goal line scenarios.

A probable cause for that is the fact that the offensive line has not been great. Partially that is because both Pouncey brothers are sidelined with injury right now, and the only other returning starter (Carl Johnson) is at a new position.

The younger guys who haven’t played much haven’t stepped up a whole lot. Things will get better when the Pounceys come back, but they alone won’t solve all the problems. It took half the season for last year’s line to gel, but hopefully this year’s crew will work themselves out a little sooner.

Defense

The defense has been dominating so far, but Meyer says that’s “usually” the case at this early stage of spring practice. It makes sense considering the offense is working through a lot of issues with new schemes and personnel while the defense is enjoying complete continuity.

The defense won the first scrimmage.

Defensive Line

Things are great at defensive end. They are so good and so deep that redshirt freshman Earl Okine has been moved to the inside.

With Torrey Davis kicked off the team and John Brown deciding to transfer, depth is again an issue at defensive tackle. Even the vaunted 2006 line needed Ray McDonald to move from the outside to the inside for depth.

As it turns out, things at tackle have been fine so far. Jaye Howard is bigger than ever and looking like a solid backup to starters Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders. Okine has been adjusting well so far. Omar Hunter, the guy Meyer called the Tim Tebow of the 2008 recruiting class, is finally in shape, healthy, and contributing.

Linebackers and Secondary

Brandon Spikes is happy to be back, and the Gators are happy to have him. He will be the unquestioned leader of what should be one of the top defenses in the country. This position is one of the best and deepest on the team, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Spikes, Stamper, and Jones are the first teamers right now, while Doe, Lorenzo Edwards, and Lerentree McCray are the second teamers.

The secondary is very crowded, especially at safety. Starters Ahmad Black and Major Wright are back, and both are playing well. Fifth year senior Dorian Munroe, injured all of 2008, wants his starting role back. Will Hill has been making plays. Dee Finley is finally on campus, and he’s looking athletic. It’s crowded back there.

Not much has been reported about the corners, other than that Janoris Jenkins has been taking some reps as a punt returner thanks to Brandon James being out. Freshman Adrian Bushell intercepted Tebow as well, and that’s about it.

I would expect that the position will be just fine with Joe Haden and Jenkins locking things down as the starters. The depth at secondary is something any other team in the country would be envious of.


Told You So

March 27, 2009

Billy Donovan is not going to be the coach at Kentucky:

“In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible. I am committed to the University of Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here.”

When I saw a report that Jeremy Foley was in his office in Gainesville all Friday, I knew Donovan was staying put. When Foley doesn’t have a sense of urgency, there’s nothing to be anxious about. As it turns out, Kentucky’s A.D. Mitch Barnhart hasn’t even asked permission to speak to Donovan.

I know the rumors won’t end here, so I’ll just try to ignore them. Billy Donovan is the Florida head coach, and he will be for quite some time. That’s all anyone needs to know.

UPDATE

If you need anything more

“Billy (Donovan) will not be a candidate for any job that comes open, I can confirm.”

-UF spokesman Fred Demerest


No, Billy Donovan isn’t Going to Kentucky

March 27, 2009

Right now, it looks like Billy Gillispie is on his way out the door at Kentucky. I’d imagine that nothing causes folks to hit the panic button in Lexington quite like missing the NCAA tournament does.

With another coach out at UK, you know what that means: speculation about Billy Donovan going up there to take the head coaching job. Pat Dooley doesn’t believe it will happen, Kevin Brockway makes some good points in the negative, and Alligator Army reminds us all that the reason Billy D came back from the Orlando Magic was that he loved UF.

One of the other big arguments against Donovan leaving is that he already knows what the UK fanbase is like. After two down years in Gainesville, folks are restless but behind him 100%. After two down years in Kentucky, the Wildcats are ready to run Gillispie out of town.

Plus, I can remember it now: “We got the right Billy, and you didn’t.” That was the refrain I heard from ‘Cats fans after Gillispie signed on two years ago. Now what’s the verdict on that one?

I understand that Florida basketball will always be in the shadow of Florida football, whereas the opposite is true at Kentucky. If anyone knows that it’s Donovan, considering he’s spent time at both places. However, there’s something to be said for not having that kind of pressure and being able to survive a couple of rebuilding years.

The top reason I don’t see Donovan leaving is timing.

Why now? Why not two years ago? He’s admitted that one reason why he wanted to try the NBA two years ago was that he recognized that it was going to be a multi-year project getting UF hoops back to full strength.

It appears that with the young core of players returning along with the coming of guys like Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin and all-everything recruit Kenny Boynton, that project is nearing completion. Why bail on Florida at this point to do another rebuilding project at Kentucky?

Now would be a terrible time to go take that job. If he truly did want to go there someday, it would make more sense for him to make a run with the guys he’s got now in Gainesville and wait for Lexington to chew up and spit out whoever comes in next.

I can’t find any reasonable explanation as to why Billy Donovan would choose to leave Florida for Kentucky. Never is a long time, and he may decide one day that he’s done all he can in Gainesville and that he wants a new challenge.

However, don’t expect to see him leave in 2009.


Bad SEC Ads: Going for the Gold

March 26, 2009

Over at Team Speed Kills, SBNation’s SEC blog, I am going to be doing reviews of unintentionally funny commercials from within the conference. The first one is up, and it’s on Tommy Tuberville’s absurd Golden Flake spot. Check it out.


The Florida-Era Steve Spurrier is Officially Gone

March 24, 2009

The Florida-era Steve Spurrier is completely gone.

I don’t say that lightly, especially because of how big a part of my childhood he was. My first time at the Swamp was the ’89 Florida-Kentucky game when I was four. I’ve been to at least one game there every year since.

On fall Sundays while I was growing up, my family had a custom of eating lunch while watching the Steve Spurrier Show with lunch after church. It was jarring to go from that to Ron Zook’s show, and it never did quite feel right.

I inherited a lot of my attitudes about football from that Steve Spurrier: it’s okay to throw for the endzone late in a blowout if it’s the backup doing it, there’s a certain elegance about getting receivers wide open over and over, he who’s on top gets to talk, etc.

When I saw that he is going to implement a Wildcat formation, I realized that the Spurrier I once knew is gone. I should have known this moment was coming given the state of the South Carolina offense the past couple years, but I figured it was what would happen if he got stuck with only quarterbacks at Noah Brindise-level and below.

I simply cannot fathom the Florida-era Spurrier ever deciding to run many plays without a quarterback on the field. He was a quarterback, loved to teach quarterbacks, and acted like a quarterback from the sideline as he still could read defenses better than most collegiate signal callers. That Spurrier would never have considered the Wildcat because he could get just as many yards on a fade route.

What started in Washington has completed in South Carolina. I am with those who think he thought he could walk into Columbia and win almost as quickly as he did at Florida. It worked before, why can’t it work now?

For one thing, the situations are completely different. Bear Bryant famously called Florida a sleeping giant of a program. Charley Pell and Galen Hall built it up to the point where it could take off, and they brought on the same probation that other big time programs had in the ‘80s while doing it. The cupboards were stocked, and Spurrier was the right guy in the right place at the right time for UF.

The talent level at South Carolina in 2005 was not comparable to that of Florida in 1990. It was comparable to that of Florida in 2005 though, and the Gamecocks’ win that year (in a game that Spurrier outcoached Urban Meyer, no less) showed it.

Three seasons later, the gap between Spurrier’s old program and his current one seems like it could scarcely be wider. Florida has added two more SEC and national titles, and it handed him his worst defeat ever last season to the tune of 56-6. Whatever he’s doing has caused him to fall behind the conference leaders, the opposite direction he wants to go.

Now to help catch up, Spurrier, a guy with six SEC titles, is essentially taking a page out of the playbook of Houston Nutt, a guy with no SEC titles. I can tell you that I would never have expected to see that happen when he took the job four years ago.

I have no doubt that his competitive fire is still burning; I doubt anything will ever extinguish that. The witticisms will still come, as they have periodically through his time in Columbia.

The trend-setting Spurrier though is gone, replaced by a more pragmatic and, yes, trend-following Spurrier. It’s time for all of us to stop expecting to see anything different.


The Ballad of Bryce Brown is Over

March 17, 2009

This year’s Terelle Pryor, at least in terms of length of recruitment, has chose to cast his lot with Al Davis’ BFF up in Knoxville. Is it a good or bad thing for Tennessee? Depends on whose colors you wear.


Some Foolishly Precise Predictions About the Bracket

March 15, 2009

Last year, I ran some numbers on teams from one year and where they return to the next. Some of the work, updated with last year’s tournament, went into my 5 Things You Should Consider When Filling Out Your Bracket post.

I used some aspects of that in order to make some projections about the tournament. It was based on historic trends, patterns, and a three-year moving average. As it turned out, they were pretty good.

I came up with 16 to 18 teams from the ’07 second round making the ’08 second round, and 17 ended up doing it.

I projected nine teams from the ’07 second round making the ’08 Sweet 16, and 10 did. I projected that from four to six teams (and most likely six) from the ’07 Sweet 16 would make it that far in ’08, and five did.

It didn’t work so well when it came to the Elite Eight, since I had fewer than three Elite Eight teams from ’07 making it back in ’08, and four teams did. In my defense, the back-to-back years of zero returners in ’05 and ’06 messed up the moving average analysis, and it was the first time that the number of repeat Elite Eight teams increased after having been three or more the previous season.

Anyway, I decided to do the same thing again this year. I am also publishing the projections this time just in case it turns out to be good again. I also applied the same analysis to seed in the first round, so we’ll see how this goes.

It could be that this is snake oil and I got lucky last year, or it could be really close again. We’ll have to see. Anyway, here’s what I got for this year:

  • 15 teams from the ’08 second round in the ’09 second round
  • From seven to nine (likely eight) teams from the ’08 second round in the ’09 Sweet 16
  • Five to seven (likely six or seven) teams from the ’08 Sweet 16 in the ’09 Sweet 16
  • Between one and three (likely one) teams from the ’08 Elite Eight in the ’09 Elite Eight
  • One team from the ’08 Elite Eight in the ’09 Final Four
  • Either five or six (likely six) upsets in the ’09 first round

If there are five first round upsets, the second round will have four ones, four twos, four threes, three fours, three fives, three sixes, two sevens, one eight, three nines, two tens, zero elevens, three twelves, one thirteen, and zero each of fourteens, fifteens, and sixteens.

If there are six first round upsets, the second round will have the same as above only with one five, four sixes, three twelves, and zero elevens.

As the post title indicates, I have a feeling that this is probably a fool’s errand. However, I’m hoping when the brackets come out that the combination of the returners and seeds will put together a pretty accurate projection of the field. I think it’s probably more likely that it will be impossible to meet all of the above conditions.

After all, if there’s one thing that I know about the tournament, it changes everything up the moment you think you have it figured out.


The Oakland Raiders Put Tennessee On Notice

March 14, 2009

onnotice

“As you are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Kiffin is involved in arbitration with the Raiders. Not withstanding the fact that Mr. Kiffin must have told you about the pendency of this proceeding, we want to put you on notice of it, and the University’s involvement in some of the underlying facts.”

The Raiders have been feuding with Lane Kiffin since before they fired him near the beginning of the 2008 NFL season. The team believes that Kiffin broke NFL rules, breached his contract, and “induced” assistant coach James Cregg to breach his contract by leaving before the end of the season to work at Tennessee.

CBS Sports managed to get a copy of a letter the Oakland Raiders sent to the University of Tennessee, and the quote right at the beginning is in it. It details the team’s list of grievances against Kiffin, but that’s not all.

The Raiders apparently plan to use some of the statements that Kiffin and Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton made about the Raiders. At Kiffin’s introductory press conference, the two laughed about Oakland and called it “dysfunctional.” The team, however, says any dysfunction was a direct result of Kiffin’s alleged rule breaking and lying to the team and media.

The letter is also notice to Tennessee that the Raiders plan to get access to all of Kiffin’s employment agreements with the university. They feel those documents are necessary evidence for sorting out the grievance Kiffin filed with the NFL over whether he was entitiled to the remainder of the money in his contract. Oakland’s front office refuses to give him any of it since it believes he breached his contract.

That request for documentation really isn’t the biggest deal of this whole thing. UT is a public university, and those documents can probably be obtained as a part of whatever freedom of information act the state of Tennessee has.

The biggest accusation is that the team believes that it is “quite possible” that Kiffin gave information about the Raiders to opponents while unemployed. The Raiders also estimate that the arbitration process will occupy some of Kiffin’s time over the next five months.

The idea that Kiffin would give inside information to opponents should not sit well with any fans, and it certainly wouldn’t go over well in the SEC if proven. For instance, a contingent of Alabama fans became vocally upset last December when news broke that former Utah and current Florida head coach Urban Meyer discussed Alabama with his friend and current Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham.

The idea of devoting time to this case over the next few months will also probably chafe Kiffin himself. After all, he was the person who (fictitiously) said he fired someone over being 25 minutes late to pick him up from the airport to illustrate how much time he wanted to devote to his job.

Whether much comes of this, I can’t say. It seems to me that at this point, just about everyone has his or her mind made up on both the Raiders and Kiffin. If you read the letter it will become clear though that Oakland will drag Tennessee into this arbitration process, and the team practically advocates for UT to fire him:

“It cannot be in the best interest of the University to continue to serve as his ally in his personal, though misplaced, war to rewrite the past.”

I think this will be a story worth watching regardless of what Kiffin has said and done over the past couple of months. I cannot remember ever seeing an NFL team publicly feud with a university, so this fight makes for a unique precedent.

All those who were cheering Kiffin on as he made Tennessee “more interesting” had no idea just how right they were.

UPDATE

Kiffin and his lawyer have fired back:

“Starting with Al Davis’ nationally televised press conference publicizing the firing the head coach Lane Kiffin last fall, the Raiders have continued to attack coach Kiffin in the media…

“Starting next Tuesday at a hotel in Oakland, the Raiders will no longer be able to rely on unsupported allegations made in the media, as a key Raiders personnel, starting with Al Davis, will finally have to answer questions under oath at their depositions, a process that coach Kiffin is confident will demonstrate that he was fired by the Raiders without cause and show that the continuing assault of allegations being made against him are false.”


Five Things To Consider When Filling Out Your Bracket

March 13, 2009

It’s almost bracket picking time, and everyone has a system or a theory to help them out. Regardless of your system, consider these historical trends while you’re picking your winners.

Keep in mind that these trends say what is likely to happen, not what will happen. Everything here is based off of the era of 64-team tournaments, which means we’ve only got 24 past tournaments to go off of.

One last thing: I do not classify an eight-seed losing to a nine-seed as an upset. That is all; let’s do this.

Kansas, UCLA, Memphis, and North Carolina will all win their first round games, but at least one will probably lose its second round game.

In the last ten years, nearly every Final Four team has won its first round game the next year (provided it made the tournament). The three that have not were all Big Ten teams and six-seeds or below. No Big Ten squads made the Final Four and it’s looking like all of last year’s participants will be at least four-seeds, so those teams should be safe.

For all of the tournaments though, never have all Final Four teams from one year made the Sweet 16 the next.

The champion will almost certainly be a one, two, or three-seed.

Only three teams lower than a 3-seed have won it all: 8-seed Villanova in 1985, 6-seed Kansas in 1988, and 4-seed Arizona in 1997. Keep in mind that in the ‘80s when the six and eight-seeds won, we didn’t have nearly the coverage of the sport we do now. The committee has gotten better with more time and more film, and a team at the top will take home the title.

In case you’re wondering, one-seeds have won just over half of the championships and seven of the last ten. Three-seeds aren’t even that great a bet, as only three of those have ever won the whole thing (though two were this decade).

Strictly speaking, based on history each one-seed has a 13.5 percent chance of winning it all, each two-seed has a 5.2 percent chance, each three-seed has a 3.1 percent chance, and everyone else from four-seeds to eight-seeds has a 0.4 percent chance.

One and three-seeds playing in their home state are money, but twos are not quite so reliable.

Only a single one-seed in 62 contests has lost a game in its home state, and that was in 2001 when three-seed Maryland beat Stanford in Anaheim. Only a single three-seed in 19 contests has lost a game in its home state, and that was in 2007 when Texas A&M lost to two-seed Memphis in San Antonio.

Two-seeds however are just 30-8 (.789) in their home states, essentially losing one of every five contests. When you take out games against one-seeds, they go to 27-7 (.794) which is basically the same performance. They have won ten in a row in their home state, but six of those came from UCLA’s 2006 and 2007 teams. Even then, two-seeds are just 16-4 (.800) in home state games since 2003.

When picking first round upsets, don’t bet on lucky seven.

The average number of first round upsets is 5.63. The most common number is five in a year, something that has happened seven times. The next most common number of first round upsets is eight (five times) and then six (four times).

What about seven you ask? We’ve seen seven first round upsets exactly once, and that was in 2002. I have no good explanation for this phenomenon other than that there have been a relatively small number of 64-team tournaments, but try not to bet against history with this one.

For what it’s worth, this decade has evenly split up the number of upsets: 2007 had two, 2004 had three, 2005 had four, 2003 had five, 2008 had six, 2002 had seven, 2006 had eight, and 2001 had nine. If you’re considering extending the pattern, be advised that we’ve never seen one or ten first round upsets in a year. Then again, we had never seen two or nine in a year until it happened this decade.

Having a team return to the Final Four is about a coin flip.

Having all Final Four teams shut out of the next year’s Final Four has happened 11 times in 23 possible chances. That means 12 times in 23 chances we’ve seen at least one come back.

The most that have ever returned is two, and each time that has happened one of the two Final Four repeat teams was on at least a three-year run of making it that far: Duke and UNLV both made it in 1990-91 during a four-year run for Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina both made it in 1997-98 during a three-year run for UK, and both UCLA and Florida made it in 2006-07 during a three-year run for the Bruins.

That would seem to indicate that if two teams were to make it back, UCLA would be one of them. It’s a trend, not a rule though, so nothing is set in stone.

Anyway, it’s no guarantee than any of last year’s bunch makes it back, much less two. Just pull out a quarter and let George tell you.


I Guess This is What Playoff Opponents Are Afraid Of

March 10, 2009

The Onion strikes again. I think it’s kind of funny that the Onion can put together a more credible set for its sports “coverage” than Fox can, but sometimes, that’s the way it goes.


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