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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Deshaun Watson on Dalvin Cook: 'He's one of the best running backs in the country'

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson praised FSU star Dalvin Cook on Friday during the ACC Football Kickoff.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson praised FSU star Dalvin Cook on Friday during the ACC Football Kickoff.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- We haven't yet heard from Florida State at the annual ACC Football Kickoff, but the Seminoles have been a major topic of discussion.

Clemson players were complimentary of their Atlantic Division rival, including FSU's star running back, Dalvin Cook.

"He's one of the best running backs in the country," said Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. "He does a lot of great things. He pass protects. He runs the ball well. He catches the ball well. He runs routes. He does everything. He's a great athlete and a great guy..."

Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware also said that Cook is "definitely at the top" of the best running backs he has faced.

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Bobby Petrino: Louisville football 'right there' in competing with FSU, Clemson

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson addresses reporters Friday during the ACC Football Kickoff.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson addresses reporters Friday during the ACC Football Kickoff.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Florida State and Clemson have been the class of the ACC, and that will likely continue this season. But don't sleep on Louisville.

The Cardinals have one of the top quarterbacks in the league (Lamar Jackson), and coach Bobby Petrino said he thinks his team is close to challenging the Seminoles and Tigers. Louisville's two losses to Clemson since joining the ACC have been by a combined nine points, and the Cardinals took a 21-0 lead on FSU in 2014 before the Noles rallied to win.

"I feel like we're right there..." Petrino said Friday during the ACC Football Kickoff. "It's been competitive, but like I said, it's our job to get over the hill and find a way to win."

Petrino is entering the third season of his second stint as Louisville's head coach and said he thinks his team finally had the roster and depth it needs to challenge for conference championships.

Petrino also said his Cardinals are tweaking their fall camp to account for a tough early schedule (home against FSU on Sept. 17 and at Clemson on Oct. 1). Those changes include harder conditioning earlier than usual and more practice with handling crowd noise. …

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Why I'm picking FSU to beat UNC for the ACC football championship

I'm predicting FSU to win this trophy, a few blocks away from here, less than five months from now.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

I'm predicting FSU to win this trophy, a few blocks away from here, less than five months from now.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The ACC will announce its preseason predictions and all-conference teams in the coming days. In the meantime, you'll have to settle for picking apart what I submitted Thursday night during my stay here at the ACC Football Kickoff. But please do remember that I get paid to write, not make predictions; if I were any good at that, I'd be living in Vegas and driving a much nicer car.

Preseason Player of the Year

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. I'm really, really high on Florida State's Dalvin Cook, but Watson proved in the national title game that he's the best quarterback in the country.

Atlantic Division
Might as well flip a coin between FSU and Clemson. The winner will almost certainly take the ACC title, and I think, end up in Tampa for the Jan. 9 national title game. …

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Mark Richt talks Miami Hurricanes' lack of ACC title and more

First-year Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt addresses reporters Thursday during the ACC Kickoff.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

First-year Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt addresses reporters Thursday during the ACC Kickoff.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A few quick notes from the Miami Hurricanes' appearances today at the ACC Kickoff at The Westin Charlotte:

It's not exactly a surprise, but first-year ‘Canes coach Mark Richt said he intends to finish his coaching career at UM.

"Being back at my alma mater is huge for me," Richt said. "It's a good spot for me to finish my career. I have no intention of doing anything other than finish my coaching career at Miami."

It's one thing to say it, but Richt also appears to be backing it up. His staff has been spending a lot of time in South Florida's youth leagues; he plans to spend an hour or so each Thursday during the season checking out youth parks, seeing (and being seen by) kids who are 8, 9 or 10 years old.

"I want those guys to love Miami," Richt said. "I want them to get excited about Miami. Why would I be seeing 8-year-olds if I didn't plan on sticking around for a while? I'm looking for the future by doing that." …

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ACC Network officially announced, coming in 2019

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The ACC Network is officially on its way.

The league formally announced the creation of a new network with ESPN on Thursday during the ACC Kickoff at the Westin hotel. The ACC's network is scheduled to launch in 2019, and the deal runs through 2035-36. An extra, digital component - ACC Network Extra - will begin this fall.

As part of the announcement, the ACC will expand to 20 conference basketball games.

The main network will broadcast 450 live events a year, including 40 football games and more than 150 men's/women's basketball games, commissioner John Swofford said during his announcement.

Swofford said the new ESPN deals "competitively position the Atlantic Coast Conference for the long term."

The announcement, which leaked earlier this week, has other ramifications, too. The impending launch of a network was one factor that triggered the Big 12's decision to pursue expansion.

Perhaps the biggest note: All 15 teams (including sorta member Notre Dame) signed a grant-of-rights agreement that runs through the duration of ESPN's deal, Swofford said. That almost certainly ensures that the ACC's teams won't be poached by other leagues.

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FSU football to be subject of Showtime all-access documentary series

Florida State will be the subject of an all-access documentary series on Showtime, the network announced Tuesday afternoon. 

A Season with Florida State football will begin airing weekly 30-minute episodes on Tuesday, Sept. 5, the night after the Seminoles' season opener against Ole Miss in Orlando. The episodes will air every Tuesday at 10 p.m.

This is the second year for the series; Notre Dame was the subject last year.

"We are very excited to partner with Showtime this season and eager to give college football fans a unique look into our program," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement. "At Florida State, we have a tremendous family atmosphere, and we are looking forward to showcasing what makes FSU football special." 


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Jim McElwain on Tyrie Cleveland, Rick Wells arrests: 'These guys will be dealt with'

Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain addressed the recent arrests of freshmen receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells as he made the rounds Tuesday on ESPN but didn't reveal what punishments they might face.

"These guys will be dealt with," McElwain said this morning on ESPN's SportsCenter, "and it'll be taken care of."

Cleveland is one of UF's top recruits in this year's class. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound athlete was a four-star prospect and the No. 2 receiver in the country in 247Sports' composite rankings. Wells is a three-star recruit.

Both were arrested on felony charges early Monday morning related to a BB gun incident. Both have been released from jail, according to public records. Their next court dates have not yet been set.

McElwain stressed that the education aspect of incidents is important, too, beyond the punishment. No idea what that means for those two Gators receivers heading into the Sept. 3 season opener against UMass.

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Jalen Tabor only Florida Gator named first-team preseason all-SEC

The Florida Gators landed only one player on the preseason all-SEC first team: cornerback Jalen Tabor. The honorees - as voted on by the media (including me) - were released Friday morning.

Seven other Gators were also honored:
Second team: OL Martez Ivey, OL David Sharpe, DL Bryan Cox, LB Jarrad Davis, P Johnny Townsend
Third team: DL CeCe Jefferson, DB Marcus Maye

Here are the full teams, with total points from the 331 voters in parenthesis: …

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SEC predictions: Florida Gators second in SEC East, Bama is league favorite

HOOVER, Ala. - The Florida Gators are projected to finish second in the SEC East, according to the media's predictions.

Tennessee is the favorite to win the division, earning 225 first-place votes; UF got 57 first-place votes. Five media members projected UF to win the league.

Alabama is projected to win the West and the conference as a whole. LSU was second in both. I posted my predictions earlier today.

Overall predictions:
SEC East
1. Tennessee
2. Florida
3. Georgia
4. Kentucky
5. Vanderbilt
6. Missouri
7. South Carolina

SEC West
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Ole Miss
4. Texas A&M
5. Arkansas
6. Auburn
7. Mississippi State

SEC champion
1. Alabama (223 votes)
2. LSU (59)
3. Tennessee (29)
4. Georgia (7)
5. Florida (5)
6. Ole Miss (4)
T-7. Texas A&M (1)
T-7. South Carolina (1)
T-7. Vanderbilt (1)
T-7. Arkansas (1)

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Ole Miss preparing for loud FSU football crowd, Dalvin Cook

HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss is expecting a hostile crowd when it opens the season in a "neutral-site" game against Florida State at Orlando's Camping World Stadium.

"I did get a kick out of our AD telling me it's a neutral-site game - and I'd use that in quotes, ‘neutral site,'" Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said at Thursday's SEC media days. "I explain to him, anytime you go on a road to a neutral-site game and you have to use silent cadence, it shouldn't be considered a neutral site."

Freeze said Ole Miss will treat the game as if it were an SEC road game. One advantage of playing such a marquee game to begin the season? It's easy to keep players motivated.

"You'll have the eyes of the nation on you," Freeze said. "The kids know that. They get that."

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly said he welcomes the challenge of playing FSU.

"If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best," Kelly said. "It's going to be a great game. They have some great players. They are good on defense, and their offense is pretty good, too." …

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Will Muschamp on Gators tenure: 'I wish it would have ended differently'

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp addresses reporters Thursday during SEC media days at The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp addresses reporters Thursday during SEC media days at The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. -- When South Carolina coach Will Muschamp stepped up to the stage Thursday during SEC media day, he addressed the elephants in the room -- the fact that he's replacing the legendary Steve Spurrier and still hounded by his rough tenure at Florida.

"There's only one Steve Spurrier in life," Muschamp said, "and I'm not it."

Muschamp praised the job Spurrier did before him with the Gamecocks (despite the 3-9 record) and said Spurrier "brought this program to relevance nationally."

As for his four seasons at UF, Muschamp isn't bitter. He still calls athletic director Jeremy Foley a friend and wished Foley well as he prepares to retire.

Muschamp said the Gators played well on defense and special teams during his tenure; offense, obviously, was the issue and something he plans to fix this time.

"I had a great run at Florida..." Muschamp said. "I have nothing but fond memories. I don't get into the negative part of how it ended. That's part of our profession. Things didn't work, and a decision was made....

"I wish it would have ended differently."

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My SEC football predictions: 'Bama over Tennessee

SEC media days are winding down in Hoover, Ala.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

SEC media days are winding down in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. - The media's sure-to-be-wrong projected order of finish for the SEC will be announced later today. My colleagues don't have a very good batting average: They've been right only once in the last seven seasons (Alabama in 2014).

Because I'm here this year, I get to participate and add my folly to the predictions. I'm terrible at betting (just ask my friends about my poker skills), and if I were any good at predicting things, I'd be a millionaire in Vegas.

But in the interest of full disclosure, here's what I submitted last night: …

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College Football Playoff might move semifinals from New Year's Eve

HOOVER, Ala. - The College Football Playoff is starting to explore the possibility of moving national semifinal games away from Dec. 31, executive director Bill Hancock said Wednesday during SEC media days.

Hancock said the earliest such a move would happen would be the 2018 season.

The playoff has been criticized for holding semifinals on New Year's Eve, and last year's TV ratings were down 36 percent from the previous year.

Hancock said his staff is looking into moving games to times/dates where more fans could watch.

Hancock also said preparations are going well for this season's title game at Raymond James Stadium (more on that later) and that there has been "no talk" about expanding the playoff beyond four teams.

"I don't think you go from no talk at all to unanimity about a change," Hancock said. "I just don't see it happening."

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SEC media days: Bret Bielema takes a shot at Alabama

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

HOOVER, Ala. -- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is easily the most entertaining coach so far at SEC media days. He pointed out how his Razorbacks aren't a sexy team - they need time in the bathroom to get ready.

And, despite pointing out that he got a stern talking-to from the league after one of his previous shots at a conference foe, he couldn't resist one dig.

"You don't have to ask me if we're going to suspend anyone for the first game," Bielema said. "It doesn't come up in our program."

I'm sure it's coincidental that Bielema made that comment not long after Alabama's Nick Saban said that offensive lineman Cam Robinson and defensive back Hootie Jones probably won't be suspended after their arrests on guns/marijuana complaints. The charges were later dropped.

Or maybe it was a shot at Mississippi State, which issued a one-game suspension for five-star recruit Jeffery Simmons, who was shown repeatedly punching a woman in a viral video.

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Why Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher teamed up to support West Virginia flood victims

HOOVER, Ala. - One of the most interesting parts of Alabama coach Nick Saban's SEC media days news conference had very little to do with football.

Saban and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher have been teaming up to raise funds and football equipment for high school teams in West Virginia that have been dealing with flooding. Fisher and his former boss both grew up in West Virginia. So is FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett - Saban said the joint fundraising effort was Trickett's idea.

"Jimbo and I both wanted to do something that would be helpful..." Saban said. "We made contributions to some of the flood relief to help the people, but we also wanted to do something to help the young people whose seasons could be wiped out if we can't replace the equipment they lost in the flood."

Saban said the NCAA provided a waiver to allow them to help.

"We're hopeful that we have a really, really positive response so these young people will be able to play," Saban said.

Fisher has asked Florida high schools to donate uniforms or equpiment and send them to:

Uniform Flood Donation c/o Florida State Football

403 Stadium Dr. West

Tallahassee, FL 32306

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