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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Jim McElwain not surprised by Bucs rookie Vernon Hargreaves' success

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

TAMPA -- Rookie defensive back Vernon Hargreaves has been an important part of the Bucs' turnaround, as our Rick Stroud wrote earlier this week.

Hargreaves' success isn't a shock to the man who coached his final year of college.

"I'm not surprised at all," Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said Thursday during a media session to promote the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

"How good he was and how much he loved the game and loved to play and loved to compete...Really, what he passed down to Quincy (Wilson) and Jalen (Tabor), I think that's a testament right there, as well, to how he kind of went about his business. There was no doubt in my mind when his name was called that he was going to be successful, wherever he was going to be."

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Florida Gators' Jim McElwain: Geoff Collins should be considered as USF's next coach

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

TAMPA -- Former Texas head coach and Florida Gators assistant Charlie Strong seems to be the frontrunner to take over USF, but here's another name that surfaced when Willie Taggart left for Oregon.
Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.

"It should be," UF head coach Jim McElwain said. "He's a heck of a coach."

Collins wants to become a head coach, and he interviewed with UCF last year. The Gators will lose almost all of their defensive starters, so this would be a peak for Collins to head out on.

Those are all reasons why Collins might be interested in USF. But what would the Bulls - or another program - be getting in Collins as a head coach?

"They're going to get a guy that motivates players," McElwain said Thursday during a media session to promote the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. "A guy that really understands the game and understands both sides of the ball, not just the defensive side. He's done a great job of studying the offensive side and the things that it takes there. A relentless, competitive recruiter, and a guy that's now been around at some places to see how he can establish his own kinds of ways of doing things." …

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Florida Gators don't plan to burn redshirt for Feleipe Franks

Austin Appleby and head coach Jim McElwain watch quarterback Feleipe Franks during passing drills at the Georgia Dome.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Austin Appleby and head coach Jim McElwain watch quarterback Feleipe Franks during passing drills at the Georgia Dome.

The Florida Gators do not plan to burn the redshirt for freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks in the Outback Bowl, coach Jim McElwain said Thursday.

McElwain said he expects Luke Del Rio to return from a shoulder injury that cost him the last four games. Either Del Rio or Austin Appleby would start against Iowa and the other would be available as a backup.

McElwain did not rule out pulling the redshirt off Franks or true freshman Kyle Trask after the SEC Championship Game. But McElwain said Thursday during an Outback Bowl media session that it would not be fair to throw either freshman quarterback into the bowl game, exhausting a year of eligibility.

Florida plays Iowa in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

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More honors for DeMarcus Walker, Deondre Francois, Dalvin Cook and Jalen Tabor

Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker has been named the ACC's co-defensive player of the year, as voted on by the league's coaches. FSU quarterback Deondre Francois was the rookie of the year, and running back Dalvin Cook received two votes as the overall player of the year (which Louisville's Lamar Jackson won).

Notable selections:

First team: FSU offensive tackle Roderick Johnson, Cook, Walker, defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, defensive back Tarvarus McFadden and Miami cornerback Corn Elder

Second team: FSU receiver Travis Rudolph and guard Kareem Are, Miami guard Danny Isidora and Miami punter Justin Vogel (Berkeley Prep) and Clemson WR Artavis Scott (East Lake High)

You can see all of the teams and awards here.

In other news, Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor is the only Gator named first-team all-SEC by the Associated Press. Second-team picks were offensive lineman Martez Ivey, defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, cornerback Quincy Wilson, safety Marcus Maye and punter Johnny Townsend.

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ACC football predictions: How wrong was I?

As we battle the lull before college football's bowl season begins, I thought it'd be interesting to look back on my preseason predictions. How bad was I?

I did the SEC yesterday, so the ACC is up today. As I wrote then, remember that if I were any good at predicting things, I'd be 1) winning my fantasy football league and 2) retired, on a beach, after making millions on one night in Vegas.

ACC Atlantic

What I predicted:
1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. Louisville
4. Boston College
5. N.C. State
6. Syracuse
7. Wake Forest

How they finished:
1. Clemson
2. Louisville
3. Florida State
4. N.C. State
5. Wake Forest
6. Syracuse
7. Boston College

What I got right: Not much. I was high on Louisville but not this high. So I guess I get partial credit, maybe? I also thought Syracuse would need some time to build with new coach Dino Babers.

What I got wrong: I thought Boston College would take a step forward, and Wake Forest's offense would continue to struggle. I was also too high on FSU, which leads to... …

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USF coaching search: Why Nick Saban thinks Lane Kiffin is ready to be a head coach again

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wants to be a head coach again. Could that opportunity come at USF?

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wants to be a head coach again. Could that opportunity come at USF?

Before Willie Taggart left USF for Oregon, Lane Kiffin was a name that popped up in conversations about the Bulls' next head coach.

And no less of an authority than Alabama coach Nick Saban believes Kiffin is "absolutely" ready for another head coaching shot.

"He wants to be a head coach," Saban said last week in Atlanta after beating the Gators to win the SEC title. "I want him to be a head coach. I want to help him get a head coaching job."
Kiffin has resurrected his career under Saban as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator. He has helped ‘Bama win three consecutive SEC championships with three different quarterbacks with three varying skill sets.

With Blake Sims at quarterback, Kiffin ditched the pro-style system for more no-huddle looks in 2014. ‘Bama finished 12-2 and went to the College Football Playoff.

With Florida State transfer Jake Coker at quarterback, Kiffin used more play-action passes and pounded the ball with Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry. ‘Bama finished 14-1 and won the national title. …

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SEC football predictions: How wrong was I?

The Florida Gators and their fans can celebrate how wrong I was in my preseason predictions. You're welcome?

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

The Florida Gators and their fans can celebrate how wrong I was in my preseason predictions. You're welcome?

As we battle the lull before college football's bowl season begins, I thought it'd be interesting to look back on my preseason predictions. How bad was I?

We'll do the SEC today and the ACC later. Keep in mind that if I were any good at predicting things, I'd be 1) winning my fantasy football league and 2) retired, on a beach, after making millions on one night in Vegas.

SEC East

What I predicted:
1. Tennessee
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Missouri
5. Kentucky
6. Vanderbilt
7. South Carolina

How they finished:
1. Florida
2. Tennessee
3. Georgia
4. Kentucky
5. South Carolina
6. Vanderbilt
7. Missouri

What I got right: Not much, aside from Vandy at six. That counts for something, right?

What I got wrong: I thought Tennessee's talent would finally come through with a championship. In fairness, the Vols did win the Championship of Life (no, I will never stop making this joke). But they failed to weather injuries the way UF did. I also thought Kirby Smart would get Georgia going faster than he has so far. He's doing it on the recruiting trail (his Bulldogs have the nation's No. 4 class for 2017), but it hasn't shown up on the field. …

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Six Florida Gators named all-SEC, including first-teamer Jalen Tabor

Six Florida Gators earned all-SEC honors (first or second team), the conference announced Tuesday afternoon.

Cornerback Jalen Tabor was the only first-team selection, while defensive lineman Caleb Brantley, offensive lineman Martez Ivey, cornerback Quincy Wilson, linebacker Jarrad Davis and punter Johnny Townsend were second-team picks.

Here are the full teams, as voted on by coaches:

First team
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss
OL Cam Robinson, Alabama
OL Dan Skipper, Arkansas
OL Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M
OL Will Clapp, LSU
C Ethan Pocic, LSU
WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
WR ArDaarius Stewart, Alabama
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
RB Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
RB Derrius Guice, LSU
All-purpose Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama
DL Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DL Carl Lawson, Auburn
DL Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
LB Kendell Beckwith, LSU
DB Jalen Tabor, UF
DB Tre'Davious White, LSU
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
DB Aarion Penton, Missouri

K Daniel Carlson, Auburn
P JK Scott, Alabama
KR/PR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M …

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College Football Playoff: Alabama, Ohio State favored in semifinals

The Alabama Crimson Tide celebrated its SEC Championship last weekend at the Georgia Dome. Vegas thinks 'Bama will be celebrating there again later this month as Peach Bowl champs.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

The Alabama Crimson Tide celebrated its SEC Championship last weekend at the Georgia Dome. Vegas thinks 'Bama will be celebrating there again later this month as Peach Bowl champs.

If the odds makers are correct, Tampa's national title game will be Ohio State vs. Alabama.

That's according to some odds released last evening by Bovada.

The third-seeded Buckeyes are a three-point favorite over No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, while No. 1 ‘Bama is a 17-point favorite over Washington in the other semifinal, the Peach Bowl. I'm posting these for entertainment purposes only, of course.

Here are the overall odds from Bovada to win the College Football Playoff, which culminates with the Jan. 9 national championship at Raymond James Stadium:

Alabama 5/12

Ohio State 5/1

Clemson 11/2

Washington 11/1

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Florida State's Dalvin Cook not a Heisman Trophy finalist

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is not a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Cook, a junior, was second among Power Five running backs with 1,620 rushing yards, 2,043 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns.

The Miami native is one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back. That will be announced Thursday.

Cook will likely end his FSU career in the Dec. 30 Orange Bowl; he's expected to declare early for the NFL draft. He has already broken FSU's career records with 4,319 rushing yards and 45 rushing touchdowns. Cook finished seventh in Heisman voting last season.

The Heisman finalists are: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook.

The winner will be announced Saturday evening.

 

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College Football Playoff: Five thoughts on who might be coming to Tampa

MONICA HERNDON | Times

The College Football Playoff have announced the two semifinals that will decide who comes to Tampa for the Jan. 9 national championship: No. 1 Alabama faces No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl, and No. 2 Clemson plays No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Now that the matchups have sunk in, here are my five thoughts:

1. Washington might not be an easy matchup for ‘Bama after all. Not stylistically. I still think the way to beat the Crimson Tide is through some shifts and formations, like what Florida showed in the SEC Championship, plus a running quarterback. That doesn't sound like Washington. But the Huskies do have some other traits that might help end Alabama's 25-game winning streak. The Tide's defensive weakness is its secondary, and Washington can challenge that. Quarterback Jake Browning is No. 5 nationally in passer rating, and receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis are in the top 10 in touchdown catches. And you can't turn the ball over against ‘Bama and expect to win. The Huskies are plus-21 in turnover margin - No. 1 in the country. …

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Fennelly: Penn State's win puts CFP committee in a pickle

Florida is still being dusted for fingerprints, but we think we know the names of the guys who did it. Be on the lookout for a short coach brandishing a dynasty.

It’s Alabama.

And everyone else.

But which everyones?

To me, it’s Clemson, Washington and … Penn State.

That’s right.

Ohio State can dot the “i” in indignant all it wants.

Per chance to dream …

Won’t happen.

The College Football Playoff selection committee is in a pickle. Its credibility is on the clock. And still will be after it chooses Ohio State over Penn State.

I’m sure committee members were on the tops of tables, singing “On Wisconsin” when Penn State was losing 28-7 Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game. A Wisconsin win would have today so easy.

Not now.

Penn State is sitting there.

It plays in the best conference in America this season.

It has won nine games in a row.

It came from behind to beat Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.

Oh, and it beat Ohio State.

And that is about to mean nothing.

Alabama. Clemson. Washington. Penn State.

Not a chance.

Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes sat on their duffs Saturday. And they appear a lock for the CFP.

Why do they even bother with these conference title games?

Abolish them. Now. …

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Florida Gators' Quincy Wilson, Jalen Tabor and Caleb Brantley mum on NFL draft

ATLANTA - NFL draft decisions will have to wait for a few Florida Gators.

A few players - cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor, defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and offensive tackle David Sharpe, to name four - could leave early for the NFL. All four said after Saturday's SEC Championship that they had not yet made up their minds and will do so in the coming weeks.

Wilson, Tabor and Brantley have all been projected as potential first-round picks in various mock drafts since the summer, for what that's worth.

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Tim Tebow isn't picking the Florida Gators to beat Alabama

ATLANTA -- Former Florida Gators star Tim Tebow isn't picking his former team to beat mighty Alabama in Saturday's SEC Championship. 

"I think a lot has to go right, to be honest with you," Tebow said Friday afternoon. "I think they have to get a few turnovers. I don't think they can turn the ball over. I think they'll have to get a defense or a special teams touchdown and find a way to get, you know, 13 to 17 points offensively. I think that would be really hard, so I think it's going to be tough, but, shoot, that's why they play the game."

Tebow was in the Georgia Dome as an SEC Network analyst. If he were just down the hall in the UF locker room, here's what he said he would tell the Gators: Listen, all those guys, you played against the rest of these guys in high school, in U.S. Army All-American games, in Under Armour All-America Game, all that. You know who they are. They're not invincible. Guess what? When you hit them hard enough, they get knocked down too.

Tebow said UF would have to create the us-against-the-world mentality Urban Meyer did in 2006 to have a chance against 'Bama, a three-touchdown favorite. 

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Florida Gators' Doug Nussmeier has done outstanding 'based on the hands we were dealt'

The Florida Gators' locker room is ready at the Georgia Dome for Saturday's SEC Championship.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

The Florida Gators' locker room is ready at the Georgia Dome for Saturday's SEC Championship.

ATLANTA -- Fans looking for a scapegoat for the Florida Gators' offense won't find one in offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

At least not according to head coach Jim McElwain.

"He's done an outstanding job based on the hands we were dealt when we got here..." McElwain said Friday in his final news conference before Friday's SEC Championship.

I touched on some of those hands in today's Tampa Bay Times - the seven healthy offensive linemen he had on scholarship in the first spring practice, no holdover quarterbacks and only three offensive starters from that regime.

McElwain said Nussmeier has done a good job of figuring out those pieces and finding ways to win with them, even if the circumstances aren't ideal.

"Obviously there's things that need to be continually tweaked and looked at. You know what? The one thing I do know is our guys play their tails off, and that's great to see. It will be a constant evolution as we move forward as to how we go about it."

One of Nussmeier's former bosses, Alabama coach Nick Saban, praised Nussmeier, too said he didn't want him to leave for Michigan. …

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