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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Florida Gators' Malik Zaire: 'This is everything to me'

"This is everything to me..." said Malik Zaire, the grad transfer from Notre Dame. "I have everything to prove, everything to lose."

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via AP, File

"This is everything to me..." said Malik Zaire, the grad transfer from Notre Dame. "I have everything to prove, everything to lose."

GAINESVILLE — We're two weeks and one day away from the Florida Gators' Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, and the quarterback position remains unresolved.

That's assuming coach Jim McElwain doesn't break some major news when he speaks to reporters later today.

In the meantime, the three quarterback candidates - Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio - addressed the media earlier this morning.

"This is everything to me..." said Zaire, the grad transfer from Notre Dame. "I have everything to prove, everything to lose."

The quarterbacks either don't know where they stand in the competition, or they aren't saying. But it's reasonable to think McElwain could be getting close to naming a starter. One year ago today is when the Gators announced Del Rio would start the first game.

"I know this time last year, (McElwain) named a guy," Del Rio said. "It's up to him. I'm not really worried about it...

"I know we're all good."

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AP Top 25: How I ordered Florida Gators, USF and Miami Hurricanes

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

The toughest part of my preseason AP Top 25 ballot was figuring out whether Florida State or Ohio State should be No. 2.

One of the next toughest parts? Figuring out how to order the other three top state schools - Florida, USF and Miami.

Outside opinions on this are all over the place. USA Today's coaches poll has UF at 16, Miami at 18 and USF at 21. Sports Illustrated ranked the Bulls 17th, above UF (18) and Miami (20). Statistical guru Bill Connelly's advanced S&P+ metrics have USF at 56, the Gators 15th and Miami at 18th.

Those three schools ended up in the same tier during my rankings process (along with Georgia and Michigan). I considered them alongside each other, and UF, USF and UM ended up bunched on my final ballot, too. That wasn't intentional or planned; it's just how it worked out.

I ranked them in this order: …

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Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?

MONICA HERNDON | Times

The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.

Not the very top. Spoiler alert: Alabama was a pretty easy choice at No. 1 on my preseason ballot.

But deciding who to put second was tricky. Like most polls I've seen, Florida State and Ohio State were my next two teams. The question: What order?

The full top 25 will be announced Monday, and I'll share my ballot in the next few days. In the meantime, let's break down the Seminoles and the Buckeyes.

The case for FSU

*The defense returns almost every starter, including a fully healthy Derwin James. Sports Illustrated put four Seminoles defenders on their list of the nation's top 100 players and could have added a fifth (defensive end Brian Burns).

*Quarterback Deondre Francois was at least solid (if not better) in his first year as a starter. He's tough, and he showed signs of success in the important areas (third down, red zone). It's reasonable to assume he will continue to progress.

*The offensive line should be better, with Alec Eberle and Landon Dickerson recovered from injuries and Rick Leonard entering his second season after switching from defensive end. …

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Former East Lake star Pete DiNovo no longer with UCF Knights

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Former East Lake High star Pete DiNovo is no longer with UCF, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday morning.

DiNovo is no longer listed on the Knights' roster, either.

#UCF QB Pete DiNovo is no longer with the team per OC Troy Walters, who said he hasn’t been at practice the past couple of days.

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound DiNovo left East Lake as Pinellas County's all-time leading passer and was the Tampa Bay Times' 2012 all-Suncoast offensive player of the year.

As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he became the first UCF freshman quarterback to start a season opener since Daunte Culpepper in 1996. DiNovo was 3-of-8 for 18 yards in that game against Penn State and appeared in only one game after that.

The Knights tinkered with moving him to receiver in 2015.

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Jim McElwain on Florida Gators suspensions: 'It hurts'

GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he is disappointed in the seven players who were suspended for the season opener against Michigan but said he acted quickly in punishing them.

McElwain's comments Monday afternoon were his first since news broke over the weekend about the punishment to standout receiver Antonio Callaway and the others.

"It's not just Antonio," McElwain said. "It hurts."

McElwain said the players were suspended from team activities and didn't rule out further punishment beyond the Sept. 2 game in Arlington, Texas.

"Anything further from there, obviously - we've got a lot of time now between then and whatever the next thing is," McElwain said. 

McElwain didn't detail their actions, which reportedly stem from the misuse of university-related funds.

"Obviously any time there's choices made, you've got to make up for whatever happened," McElwain said. "These guys are doing that." …

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Antonio Callway, six other Florida Gators suspended for Michigan game

The Florida Gators have suspended seven players, including star receiver Antonio Callaway, for the blockbuster Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, UF announced Sunday.

The six other players (besides Callaway) suspended: Offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, linebacker James Houston, defensive lineman Keivonnis Davis, defensive lineman Jordan Smith, defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones and linebacker Ventrell Miller.

"We have a small group of players that have made some choices that are extremely disappointing," UF coach Jim McElwain said in a statement. "Action has been taken - they have missed some practice and will miss the Michigan game. We will use this as a learning opportunity and we will have some players step up as we move forward."

The specific nature of those "choices" was not disclosed.

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Bucs legend Warren Sapp to be inducted into Miami Hurricanes' ring of honor

Warren Sapp will be inducted into the Mami Hurricanes' ring of honor this season.

AP photo (1994)

Warren Sapp will be inducted into the Mami Hurricanes' ring of honor this season.

Bucs legend Warren Sapp will be inducted into the Mami Hurricanes' ring of honor this season.

Sapp will be recognized during the Oct. 12 Thursday night game against Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium.

Before becoming a Pro Football Hall of Famer for the Bucs, Sapp was the unanimous Big East defensive player of the year in 1994. He won the Nagurski Trophy, became a first-round pick and later helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl.

The other four ex-Miami players headed into the ring of honor: receiver Michael Irvin, linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor. 

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Florida Gators release final assistant coach salary, contract information

Doug Nussmeier's contract has been extended through the 2018 season and will receive a raise from $540,000 to $832,725.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Doug Nussmeier's contract has been extended through the 2018 season and will receive a raise from $540,000 to $832,725.

The Florida Gators released contract information Friday for the rest of their coaching staff under open-records laws.

The notable change is for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. His contract has been extended through the 2018 season and will receive a raise from $540,000 to $832,725. But Nussmeier had reportedly been receiving about $300,000 from Michigan as part of his severance package there.

The other details:

*Receivers coach Kerry Dixon's contract is extended through the 2018 season, with a raise from $275,000 to $290,000

*Special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Greg Nord's contract is extended through the 2018 season, with a raise from $390,000 to $410,000

*Defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph's contract is extended through the 2019 season, with a raise from $490,000 to $590,000

*Linebackers coach Tim Skipper's contract is extended through the 2018 season, with a raise from $440,000 to $446,000.

UF previously released contract information for other assistants, which you can read here.

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Why one FSU player wants Feleipe Franks to be Florida Gators' quarterback

MONICA HERNDON | Times

As redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks battles to become the Florida Gators' starting quarterback, he has at least one supporter from rival Florida State.

Seminoles receiver Keith Gavin said he thinks his former teammate from Crawfordville's Wakulla High is finally ready to contribute at UF.

"I know his work ethic. I know what he can do..." Gavin said Sunday during FSU's media day. "I know he's going to grind for it."

Gavin and Franks were both four-star recruits out of Wakulla, and they remain in touch. Franks is competing with Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire and last year's Week 1 starter, Luke Del Rio, to begin the season as the top quarterback in the Gators' Sept. 2 showdown against Michigan.

Gavin is obviously biased, but he thinks the 6-foot-6, 214-pound Franks has the ability to earn the job.

"He's just an all-around great athlete, man," Gavin said. "I think he's going to show his potential, like, this year. When he gets his chance, I think he's really going to do some big things."

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USA Today projects league titles for FSU and USF, 8-4 for Gators

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USA Today projected the records and conference standings for every college football team in the country, and it looks like a good year for the Sunshine State (no matter what our Tom Jones writes).

The site projects two state teams to win their conferences - Florida State (at 11-1, presumably with a non-conference loss to Alabama) and USF. USA Today pegs the Bulls for 10-2 (6-2 in the AAC) and beating Memphis for the league title.

The Florida Gators are projected to go 8-4 in a three-way tie atop the SEC East, but Georgia is the site's division champion. The reigning champion of life, Tennessee, is the other team in that tie.

UCF is projected to finish 6-6, while the fightin' Lane Kiffins of Florida Atlantic are at 5-7.

Check out the full projections here.

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Roberto Aguayo's mentality is stronger than ever, brother Ricky says

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

TALLAHASSEE - Bucs coach Dirk Koetter isn't the only one who has sensed a change in kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Aguayo's younger brother has, too.

"His mentality is strong," Florida State kicker Ricky Aguayo said during the Seminoles' media day Sunday. "It's as strong as I've seen it."

Ricky said he and his brother, the former FSU star, talk every night to review that day's practice. The Bucs brought in veteran Nick Folk to push the elder Aguayo. Whether it's the competition or just his second NFL camp, Ricky said something has changed with Roberto.

"It's the most mature I've seen him," Ricky said. "I try to feed off that and try to be a step or two ahead at my age. I'm glad I have a brother like that."

Ricky made a school-record six field goals in his FSU debut last year against Ole Miss but made only 13 of his final 20. He said he has progressed, too, after his first season to focus less on the situation and more on the process of each kick.

"I've learned to not worry about that stuff...every kick is the same," Ricky said.

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FSU's Deondre Francois got beat up, but he 'never got broke'

MONICA HERNDON | Times

TALLAHASSEE - For all the hits Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois took last year, Seminoles quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders noticed one thing.

"He never got broke," Sanders said during Sunday's FSU media day.

Sanders was talking specifically about severe injuries - the broken bones or separated shoulders that sideline passers - but it works metaphorically, too. Francois didn't cave. That's something that's hard to measure in recruiting or in practice, but Sanders liked what he saw during Francois' redshirt freshman season.

"Just standing there and continued to make throws when he was getting hit, when he was sore," Sanders said. When a quarterback has the ability to stand in there and see and not only see defenders but see their eyes, where their eyes are looking, that's when you have a chance to be special as a quarterback. He seems to have that ability."

A few other quick notes from media day:

Coach Jimbo Fisher remains optimistic an offense that lost its all-time leading rusher and its top four leaders in receptions. "I don't feel we've lost that much firepower," Fisher said. "I think we'll be as dynamic as we've been, I really do." …

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FSU suspends Da'Vante Phillips after five felony charges

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Florida State has indefinitely suspended receiver Da'Vante Phillips after he faces five fraud-related felony charges.

According to the Florida State University Police Department's probable cause affidavit, Phillips purchased four money orders worth $485.89 in January. But he then "used white out or another substance" and altered the amount to $700 each.

Phillips faces four complaints related to cashing/depositing a bank item with intent to defraud and a fifth on grand theft between $300 and $5,000, according to Leon County court records.

FSU released this statement Friday afternoon: Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher announced today that junior receiver Da'Vante Phillips has been indefinitely suspended from the football team in accordance with athletic department policy. He will have no further comment at this time.

Phillips was a four-star recruit in the 2015 recruiting class, but the 6-foot-1, 206-pound athlete hasn't yet had much success on the field. In two seasons, he has caught only five passes.

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Malik Zaire, Everett Golson both faced same first obstacle after transfer

GAINESVILLE - Malik Zaire said his biggest adjustment in joining the Florida Gators hasn't been the new playbook or new teammates.

It's the Florida summer.

"It was hot when I first got here," Zaire said. "Adjusting to that heat, I feel like that was the biggest thing as an obstacle for me."

Zaire's comments during Wednesday's media day sounded familiar. So I dug back through my archives to see what happened the last time a graduate transfer quarterback from Notre Dame ended up in the state.

What was the biggest adjustment for Everett Golson when he arrived at Florida State in the summer of 2015?

"The heat..." Golson said during the Seminoles' 2015 preseason media day. "Just coming from a place, Notre Dame, in the fall you look forward to that 40-degree weather days. People are out on the quad in 40-degree weather. Then coming here where it's 50 degrees higher, it's different. It's the real-deal hot."

Zaire said he talked with Golson some about the process of joining a team as a grad transfer quarterback. There's a lot to it beyond what happens on the field. …

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Feleipe Franks, not Malik Zaire, gets Florida's first-team reps

GAINESVILLE - Feleipe Franks was the Florida Gators' first-team quarterback for the first few moments of the first practice of the fall.

Whether that will continue beyond today (or beyond the few moments of practice open to reporters) remains to be seen.

Malik Zaire made his Gators debut. His roster size (6-foot, 225 pounds) seems a little generous, but he looked quick, even in passing drills. I counted six overthrown passes, but neither Franks nor Luke Del Rio looked particularly sharp, either.
We'll pause here to repeat a few important facts. First moments of the first practice. I'm not reading much into it.

What I am reading something into: Zaire worked with the veterans, not rookies today. Redshirt freshman Kyle Trask, however, worked with the rookies. It certainly seems as if the quarterback battle is now down to three - Zaire, Del Rio and Franks. Not a surprise, but still worth mentioning.

Two other notes:

One day after coach Jim McElwain said Chauncey Gardner would remain at cornerback, Gardner began practice at safety. The Outback Bowl MVP apparently is a candidate to replace last year's leading tackler, Marcell Harris, who will miss the season with a torn Achilles. …

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