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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087

Email: mbaker@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

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  1. Five reasons why Kentucky can beat Florida for the first time since 1986

    College

    By Matt Baker

    GAINESVILLE — Florida's 30-game winning streak over Kentucky is one of the most impressive feats in the country.

    Enjoy it, Gators fans. It might not reach 31.

    Here are five reasons why the undefeated Wildcats have a legitimate shot of beating the Gators for the first time since 1986:

    Kentucky is no longer terrible

    "This is a totally different Kentucky football team," UF coach Jim McElwain said....

    Florida Gators running back Jordan Cronkrite (32) carries the ball past Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Allen (41) and Kentucky Wildcats safety Mike Edwards (27) for a gain of six yards before he is stopped by Kentucky Wildcats cornerback Kendall Randolph (5) during the game between the University of Florida and the University of Kentucky in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida led 24-0 at the half. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times
  2. Oops: Florida Gators sent out wrong 2018 football schedule

    Blog

    Well this is awkward.

    The Florida Gators, it turns out, released an incorrect 2018 football schedule on Tuesday. What they sent out (and I posted) differed from the master schedule released by the SEC at the same time. I didn't notice the discrepancies, but the fine folks at Alligator Army and FBSchedules did. ...

  3. After Irma disruption, Miami eager to face Toledo

    College

    LAKE BUENA VISTA — Like thousands of other evacuees, Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz headed north to escape Hurricane Irma with his family, two suitcases and the anxiety of not knowing what would happen to everything he left behind.

    "All of a sudden in the back of my mind — this might be everything we have," Diaz said.

    Two weeks later, the anxiety is over, and the storm has passed. But things haven't yet returned to normal for Diaz's No. 14 Hurricanes. ...

    Miami and athletic director Blake James postponed last week’s game due to Irma.
  4. Florida Gators announce 2018 football schedule

    Blog

    The Florida Gators announced their 2018 football schedule Tuesday, including an early SEC game against Kentucky and a matchup against Colorado State, which was part of coach Jim McElwain's buyout from the Rams.

    Also of note, UF will host LSU for the second year in a row, after the Tigers hosted two consecutive games in the series because of Hurricane Matthew last season. And Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin gets a trip back to his former employer, Mississippi State, on Sept. 29....

  5. Toledo feels like a second season opener for Miami Hurricanes

    Blog

    LAKE BUENA VISTA - The schedule says Week 4, but it sure doesn't feel that way for the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes.

    "It's like opening the season again," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said Tuesday.

    That's because UM, like Florida State, had two games postponed/canceled because of Hurricane Irma. The ‘Canes are still dealing with the storm's aftermath. The team was dismissed two weeks ago to prepare for the storm, and it didn't reconvene until Friday - and not at home. The ‘Canes don't return to class next week, and they're practicing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and staying in a hotel on Orlando's International Drive....

    The Miami Hurricanes suit up for practice Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex
  6. Gators have their QB in Feleipe Franks

    College

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time this season, Florida coach Jim McElwain didn't have to answer a question about who his starting quarterback will be Saturday.

    Feleipe Franks' game-winning, 63-yard touchdown pass against Tennessee erased any lingering doubts that the job is his against Kentucky, and beyond.

    "I think it's just kind of a complete maturation and body of work from the time he was here as an early enrollee," McElwain said. "He's done a good job of getting better, especially with his feet."...

    Feleipe Franks, lying on his back, celebrates after his winning TD pass.
  7. Jesuit alum Malik Davis brings juice to Florida Gators' run game

    Blog

    GAINESVILLE - Jesuit High product Malik Davis had one of the most impressive plays of the Florida Gators' young season - a 72-yard rush against Tennessee.

    He also fumbled just before crossing the end zone; that comes with being a true freshman.

    But Davis is UF's leading rusher (102 yards on five carries) through two games, with more opportunities potentially coming.

    "He brings a little juice, there's no doubt," coach Jim McElwain said Monday. "He's a little bit different. He's a slasher. He does a really good job of sticking his foot in the ground and running through inside arm tackles."...

  8. USF, Florida, Miami make minor gains in football poll

    College

    USF, Florida and Miami all moved up in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.

    The Gators are up four spots to No. 20 in the rankings, released Sunday afternoon. USF is up one to No. 21, and the idle Hurricanes rose three spots to No. 14. Idle Florida State dropped one spot to 12th.

    Alabama remained No. 1, though Clemson chipped away some of its first-place votes to leapfrog Oklahoma for second. The Tigers gained 613 yards and kept Lamar Jackson mostly in check with a dominating 47-21 victory at Louisville. Jackson accounted for 381 of Louisville's 433 yards, most coming in the fourth quarter when the game was decided....

  9. AP Top 25: Florida Gators, USF and Miami Hurricanes all up

    Blog

    USF, Florida and Miami all moved up in the latest AP Top 25.

    The Gators are up four spots to No. 20 in the updated rankings, released Sunday afternoon. USF is up one (to 21) after Friday's win over Illinois, and the idle Hurricanes rose three spots to No. 14.

    Florida State dropped one spot, to 12th.

    Alabama remained No. 1 in the rankings, although Clemson chipped away some of its first-place votes to jump to second. Oklahoma is third, followed by Penn State, USC, Oklahoma State, Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
    Also of note, former Bulls coach Willie Taggart is back in the top 25; his Oregon Ducks are 24th....

  10. AP Top 25: A new No. 1 on my ballot, still no Gators or USF

    Blog

    There's a new team atop my weekly AP Top 25 ballot: Clemson.

    It's nothing Alabama did wrong. The Crimson Tide has the best win (24-7 over Florida State in the opener). But the Tigers have the best overall body of work (two top-25 wins, including Saturday's dominant road win against Louisville). That's enough for Clemson to move up to No. 1 this week.

    What looked like a pretty mediocre slate of games ended up having a huge impact on my ballot. Six teams dropped out (Adios, UCLA, Kansas State, Stanford, Tennessee, South Carolina and LSU). Math tells us that six teams had to come enter. Picking the six was brutal, because there were few good options. The six I chose: Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Utah, West Virginia, San Diego State and Kentucky. Two I didn't choose: USF or Florida....

  11. Matt Baker's takeaways from Florida-Tennessee

    College

    Saturday was a reminder of why UF coach Jim McElwain recruited K Eddy Pineiro so aggressively before last season. Pineiro made both field goals as two Tennessee kickers, Aaron Medley and Brent Cimaglia, combined to go 2-for-5. That wouldn't have happened to UF two years ago, and it was the difference in the game.

    The Gators seem to have an electric playmaker: freshman WR Kadarius Toney had 32 yards on his first three touches. So why did he only touch the ball three times through the first 41 minutes of the game?

    UF's best scoring play might be the pick-six. Since routing Missouri 40-14 on Oct. 15 last season, the Gators have scored seven times on interception returns … and three times on rushes....

    Feleipe Franks looks for a receiver, though UF might prefer to have the defense on the field.
  12. No. 24 Gators beat No. 23 Tennessee on final-play 63-yard TD pass

    College

    GAINESVILLE — Forget 50 minutes of awful football.

    No. 24 Florida delivered one of the most improbable plays in school history Saturday— a 63-yard bomb from quarterback Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland, who caught it in the end zone as time expired to give the Gators a 26-20 win over No. 23 Tennessee.

    "I was just shocked that it all happened," Cleveland said.

    His shock is understandable, given everything that preceded it....

    GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Eddy Pineiro #15 and Johnny Townsend #19 of the Florida Gators celebrate after Pineiro hit a 41-yard field goal in the first half during their game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) 775015300
  13. Why Florida-Tennessee is the biggest game of Jim McElwain's career

    College

    GAINESVILLE — The Tennessee rivalry has the same ups and downs as the rest of Florida's Jim McElwain era.

    The 28-27 come-from-behind thriller in 2015 was his first big win with the Gators and an encouraging sign of things to come.

    When UF's 11-game win streak over the Volunteers ended with last year's 38-28 collapse, McElwain's honeymoon period expired with it.

    Saturday's top-25 showdown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium? It's the most important game of McElwain's young UF career....

    Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain looks at the action on the field in the first half during the Outback Bowl between the Florida Gators and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, January 2, 2017. (Times)
  14. Viewing guide for Week 3 of college football

    College

    Must-see and meh timeframes Saturday for college football:

    Lamest time window: Noon, but it's a pretty mediocre slate overall.

    Noon: No. 9 Oklahoma State is fun to watch and should put up plenty of points at Pitt.

    3:30: Neither team might win the SEC East, but No. 24 Florida-No. 23 Tennessee is always intense. ...

    In this Sept. 21, 2013, file photo, then-Florida running back Mack Brown (33) runs a 3-yard touchdown past Tennessee defensive back Justin Coleman (27). After inspecting the stadium, meeting with campus and city officials, and assessing available resources, Florida decided its Southeastern Conference opener against Tennessee would be played as scheduled this weekend. (Associated Press)
  15. College football, Week 3: Heisman, record watches

    College

    Heisman Watch

    5. USC RB Ronald Jones: QB Sam Darnold isn't the only Trojans star, and Jones could be in for a big day against a below-average Texas run defense.

    4. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley: Should be able to pad his stats (359 yards from scrimmage, four touchdowns) against lowly Georgia State....

    Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield drops back to pass against Ohio State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete) OHJL103