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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Highlights from Jim McElwain's pre-spring news conference

Gators coach Jim McElwain met with reporters today to address a number of topics.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Gators coach Jim McElwain met with reporters today to address a number of topics.

GAINESVILLE - With the Florida Gators open spring football practice next week, coach Jim McElwain met with reporters today to address a number of topics. Some of the highlights:

The quarterback position remains in limbo. I'll have more on that later, although McElwain didn't say much. Here's how he responded to a question about how close Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are: "They're real close. There's probably about a half-inch difference between them, I think."

The Gators are also eager to experiment with Kadarius Toney, an early enrollee UF lists as an athlete. McElwain said UF will play around with Toney as a potential running (or at least change-of-pace) quarterback. "(Running the quarterback) is something we did a little bit with Austin, and yet this gives us a little bit more as we move forward. I mean, we also had those packages in for Dre Massey that we worked on extensively and were able to use it for one kickoff, right?" …

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NFL combine numbers: Florida's big 3 dominate, Big 12 lags

As the NFL combine approaches, here's an interesting stat from talent-evaluating guru Gil Brandt:

The three schools with the most players ever invited to the combine are...Florida State, Florida and Miami.

Schools with most players invited to NFL combine, history:

FSU 226
FLA 224
MIA 224
USC 220
OHST 216
NEB 195
LSU 200
OKL 189
TEN 192
ALA 191

It's not a surprise, necessarily, but it does show just how dominant the state has been at producing top-level talent.

It's also a stark contrast to another combine stat that's been floating around Twitter. The Big 12 had the fewest invites by a Power Five program, by far, with 19. The next-lowest league, the Pac-12, had 47.
To be fair, the Big 12 has only 10 teams, so that skews numbers. It's also risky to read too much into one year's worth of data.

But put the two sets of numbers together. Florida colleges typically produce the most NFL talent (thanks largely to in-state players). The Big 12 is lagging in NFL talent. If only there were a way for the Big 12 to recruit more players in Florida - you know, by adding some in-state programs from talent-rich areas like, I don't know, Tampa and Orlando.

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Which state school has the most specialty license plates in Tampa Bay?

[Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles]

Because I'm still interested in which state schools have the largest following, I wanted to find out which program has the most specialty license plates in the Tampa Bay area.

The answer was surprisingly easy to find: Florida.

Our four local counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando) had 36,722 specialty plates in January for either UF, Florida State, USF, Miami and UCF. Here's the breakdown, thanks to the state's really easy-to-use database:

UF: 14,416 plates (39 percent)
USF: 9,935 plates (27 percent)
FSU: 9,718 plates (26 percent)
Miami: 1,403 plates (4 percent)
UCF: 1,250 plates (3 percent)

And just for fun, here's how those numbers compare to five years ago:

UF: 14,878
USF: 10,198
FSU: 8,779
Miami: 1,364
UCF: 1,095

9 a.m. Update: In the comments, David Prater points out that I missed a biggie - Florida A&M, which tops Miami and UCF. Alas, I only looked at the major Division I-A programs (sorry, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, FAMU, Bethune, Flagler and so on....). Anyway, the FAMU numbers: 1,852 this year, down from 2,051 in 2012. 

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Florida Gators battling injury bug entering pivotal SEC basketball week

Leading scorer Canyon Barry will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a rolled ankle.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Leading scorer Canyon Barry will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a rolled ankle.

It's weird to say, given Florida's eight-game winning streak, but this pivotal week of men's basketball comes at an unfortunate time for the Gators.

No. 15 UF enters Tuesday's home game against No. 21 South Carolina and Saturday's game at No. 13 Kentucky still reeling from the season-ending knee injury to center John Egbunu. The injury list also includes leading scorer Canyon Barry, who will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a rolled ankle.

"Tough timing for us," Gators coach Mike White said during Monday's SEC coaches teleconference. "We've got to find a way to be as competitive as we can be."

Don't expect any wholesale changes in UF's game plan. White said that's not really possible, given the time of year and the practice schedule. Instead, UF will have to rely on others to fill Egbunu's defensive void, especially center Kevarrius Hayes.

"He's got some pressure on him to produce, for us to maintain our level of play," White said of Hayes. "But he's got to get some help from some other guys, as well."

That must start Tuesday against the Gamecocks - one of the best defensive teams in the country. South Carolina is 10-4 in the SEC, trailing only UF and Kentucky (who are both 12-2). …

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FSU's spring game set for April 8

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback Deondre Francois begin spring drills in mid-March.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback Deondre Francois begin spring drills in mid-March.

FSU announced Thursday its annual Garnet and Gold spring game will be held April 8 at 3 p.m. at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The game returns to Tallahassee after renovations to Doak Campbell forced the '16 spring game to be held at Orlando's Camping World Stadium.

General admission seats are on sale for $5 each. Entrance is free for FSU students with valid IDs. Parking will be free in the stadium lots.

Seating in the Champions Club section also is available ($40 for Champions Club season-ticket holders and University Club members, $50 for the general public). Preceding the game will be a free Friday Night Block Party on April 7, highlighted by a concert by country music artist Eric Paslay.

The 'Noles begin spring drills in mid-March.

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USF's Bell, North Texas' Davis headed to UF

Three days after national signing day, and a month before the start of spring practice, USF coach Charlie Strong has lost his secondary coach and ace south Florida recruiter.

Miami native Corey Bell, whose hiring at USF was announced Jan. 11, has resigned to join Jim McElwain's staff at Florida, presumably to replace Torrian Gray. A Lakeland native, Gray is leaving UF after one season to join the Washington Redskins staff.

Florida also announced the hiring of North Texas offensive line coach Brad Davis. A member of Oklahoma's 2000 national title team, Davis replaces Mike Summers, who left to become co-offensive coordinator/line coach at Louisville.

Bell, a head coach at two Miami high schools, was hugely instrumental in helping the Bulls sign a trio of three-star recruits from Class 6A state champ Miami Carol City on Wednesday. In all, five of USF's 18 signees hailed from Miami.

"We were able to comb the state, made south Florida a priority, and the guy that did a great job there was Corey Bell," Strong said Wednesday.

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Gators add Belle Glade's Seider to staff

The Gators fortified their south Florida recruiting connections Friday, formally announcing the hiring of Belle Glade Glades Central alumnus Ja'Juan Seider to their staff.

The running backs coach at West Virginia the last four years, Seider presumably will have the same job in Gainesville. Current Gator running backs coach Tim Skipper is expected to shift to the linebackers, a spot he previously coached for Jim McElwain at Colorado State.

"A lot is talked about (Seider's) ability to recruit, but he is more than that –- he is a great coach as well," McElwain said.

A quarterback at Belle Glade Glades Central, Seider began his collegiate playing career at WVU, but transferred to Florida A&M, earning the Jake Gaither Award in 1999 following a dazzling senior year (2,512 passing yards, 27 TDs). 

His pupils at WVU included 2015 Big 12 rushing leader Wendell Smallwood (1,519 yards) and current Buccaneers RB Charles Sims, who transferred from Houston and posted a 1,000-yard season in 2013.

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Wondering about freshman quarterbacks under Jim McElwain? Meet Rob Compson

If history is the best indication of the future, then one of the most important characters for the Florida Gators' game Saturday against South Carolina involves a stiff quarterback you've never heard of from Montana State.

Hang with me.

UF coach Jim McElwain has no problem burning a quarterback's redshirt with three games left in the regular season. That means Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks could start this week against the Gamecocks, with starter Luke Del Rio (shoulder) out.

On Monday, McElwain said he's played a freshman this late in a year before, back when he was at Montana State.

That brings us to Rob Compson.

I wrote about Rob a little bit last August, as McElwain began his first season with the Gators. McElwain's comparison is a little fuzzy; Compson had already redshirted when he made his college debut.

Anyway, when I spoke to Compson last year, he told me the story of his first start, which has some similarities to what's going on this week. Compson was the scout-team quarterback when the starter got hurt. He put himself in the competition, then moved up quickly. He got his first start with three games left in the season. Sound familiar? …

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Florida State's Jesus Wilson has foot surgery, Derwin James' return still unclear

Jesus Wilson had surgery to repair a foot injury.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Jesus Wilson had surgery to repair a foot injury.

Florida State will continue to be without receiver Jesus Wilson, who had surgery to repair a foot injury, coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday.

Wilson is the Seminoles' second-leading receiver in catches (30) and yards (390). Nyqwan Murray and Wharton High product Auden Tate and will continue to receive extra reps without Wilson.

Wilson has missed the last two games with the injury.

There's still no timetable for the return of star safety Derwin James (knee), but Fisher said he is "dying to go."

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Florida-LSU game gets 1 p.m. kickoff

The rescheduled game between the Florida Gators and LSU will have a 1 p.m. (Eastern) kickoff next week on the SEC Network, the conference announced Monday. 

The game was originally scheduled to be played Oct. 8 in Gainesville but was moved to Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge because of Hurricane Matthew. UF said at the time that the game would kick off no later than 3:30 p.m.

 

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Florida Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio out this week against South Carolina

Luke Del Rio injured a shoulder in the second quarter of Saturday's 31-10 loss at Arkansas.

Getty Images

Luke Del Rio injured a shoulder in the second quarter of Saturday's 31-10 loss at Arkansas.

GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio will be out "a while" with an injured shoulder, coach Jim McElwain said Monday.

McElwain said Del Rio hurt the shoulder in the second quarter of Saturday's 31-10 loss at Arkansas. UF didn't know the severity of the injury until after the game. Del Rio had his shoulder iced during his postgame interview.

Del Rio has an MRI scheduled today, and UF does not yet know the extent of the injury or how long he will be out.

"It's bad, man," McElwain said. "When you can't lift your duffel bag up, chances are something's hurt."

Austin Appleby, a grad transfer from Purdue, will get the first reps in practice today with Del Rio out. Appleby started both games earlier this season when Del Rio was out with a knee injury.

McElwain said the competition will be open at quarterback. He hasn't ruled out starting one of his true freshmen, Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks, even though it would mean burning a redshirt with three regular-season games remaining.

UF considered benching Del Rio Saturday. In retrospect, McElwain said, the Gators should have because Del Rio was not 100 percent. …

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Will Muschamp has no animosity toward Florida Gators as he returns to The Swamp

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp insists there are no hard feelings between him and the Florida Gators. He said that in the spring, and he said that Sunday night in a teleconference with reporters, as his Gamecocks prepare to come to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

 

"We had four great years at the University of Florida," Muschamp said. "I have tremendous respect for the university, the program. I grew up in Gainesville. I grew up a Gator...We've got great memories. We've got great friends that are friends to this day.

 

"In this profession, if you don't win enough games you get fired. That's part of it."

 

The game will have another wrinkle, because it's UF's senior day...so most of the Gators being honored will be playing their final game at The Swamp against the coach who recruited them there.

 

Muschamp said he doesn't know how much that knowledge of personnel will help him Saturday. He hasn't heard from any of his former players this week, and he's not sure what that feeling will be like.

 

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Muschamp said.


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Florida Gators drop big, fall below FSU in latest AP poll

The Florida Gators dropped 12 spots to No. 22 in the latest AP poll, which was released Sunday.

UF entered Saturday ranked No. 10 before suffering a 31-10 loss at Arkansas. UF hosts South Carolina this weekend at noon.

The Gators fell below rival Florida State, which moved up four spots after its 24-20 comeback win at North Carolina State.

The top five remains Alabama, followed by Clemson, Michigan, Washington and Louisville. Check out the full rankings here.

 

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Arkansas-Florida matchup to watch: Keon Hatcher vs Florida Gators secondary

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Greetings from Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, where Arkansas hosts the No. 10 Florida Gators at 3:30.

One final thought as kickoff nears: The big key today will be how UF handles Arkansas' passing attack. Austin Allen is the best quarterback the Gators have faced all season, and he'll be the best they face until the regular-season finale at Florida State.

One matchup I'm especially interested in is how Razorbacks receiver Keon Hatcher handles a UF secondary that might be as talented as any in the country. I covered Hatcher at Owasso High, just north of Tulsa, Okla. He had a message written on the bottom of his pads, which stuck out from underneath his jersey: CUL8R.

See you later.

Hatcher has never lacked confidence. But then again, neither have UF's defensive backs.

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Video: Previewing Florida-Arkansas, FSU-NC State and the championship race heats up

The calendar has turned to November (or Novembert, if you believe in Arkansas' Bret Bielema), and the College Football Playoff race is starting to heat up. Times staff writers Joey Knight and Matt Baker preview this week's games. How will the Razorbacks challenge a Florida Gators team looking to win the SEC East? Will North Carolina State provide any test for Florida State? And who's in our final four?

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