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Monday December 8, 2014 Quick glance: Birmingham Bowl tidbits

Updated: 12:02pm, December 9

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One season after missing a bowl game for the first time in more than 20 years, the Gators learned Sunday evening that they are headed to the Birmingham Bowl to face East Carolina.

The schools have met once before, a 24-17 Homecoming victory for the Gators in 1983. Coincidentally, Florida will play East Carolina in two of its next three games. Florida hosts the Pirates on Sept. 15 in the second game of the 2015 season.

The Gators’ trip to Birmingham represents their first game in the city since a 28-13 victory over Alabama in the 1993 Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the second year of the game’s existence. It was a rematch of the inaugural SEC title game in 1992, won by Alabama.

The game moved to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in 1994.

While Florida introduced new head coach Jim McElwain at a press conference Saturday, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is serving as UF’s interim head coach through the bowl game. McElwain hit the road to recruit Monday and will be on the road for several days.

Here is more information to get you ready for the Birmingham Bowl, which is scheduled for Jan. 3 at noon EST, and the bowl season:

Official Website: http://www.birminghambowl.com/

Bowl Schedule: The folks at SBNation.com created this fun bowl schedule guide and offer their picks.

First Look: ESPN.com offers a quick breakdown of the matchup between the Gators (6-5) and the Pirates (8-4). 

Florida Factoid: This is not Florida’s first bowl trip to Birmingham. The Gators defeated Illinois 14-10 in the All-American Bowl at Legion Field on Dec. 29, 1988. Emmitt Smith rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors.

Legion Field: The “Old Grey Lady” is without a regular tenant for the first time in its history now that UAB has dropped its football program. However, city officials want to keep the stadium open for business.

Prolific Pirate: East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy was named winner of the Burlsworth Trophy on Monday, given annually to the top player in the country who started his career as a walk-on. Heading into the Birmingham Bowl, Hardy has 110 receptions for 1,334 yards on the season. He has caught more career passes (376) than any player in FBS history after earning a spot on the scout team in 2010 as a walk-on.

Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill: In his fifth season, McNeill met with local reporters on Monday to discuss the bowl matchup against the Gators.

Saturday December 6, 2014 Tebow Understands Pressure to Win at Florida; McElwain Says Bring It On

Updated: 6:23pm, December 6

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's hiring of head coach Jim McElwain was a popular topic on Championship Saturday.

McElwain was introduced as the 25th head coach in Gators football history during an 11 a.m. press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The SEC Network crew of host Joe Tessitore and analysts Tim Tebow, Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum discussed McElwain in depth on their pregame show prior to Saturday's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta between Alabama and Missouri.

Jim McElwain

Tebow, whose Gators had their school-record 22-game win streak snapped by Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game when McElwain was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator, is more familiar with McElwain than he would probably prefer.

He gave the Gators high marks for landing McElwain to replace Will Muschamp in quotes provided by the SEC Network.

"He is bringing an offense that is very multi-faceted and he has had a lot of success,'' Tebow said. "He is able to adapt and grow with his athletes and play to their strengths. What I really like about him is how he rebuilt that program at Colorado State, and he is going to have to some of that at Florida, especially offensively."

A former defensive lineman at LSU and in the NFL, Spears said McElwain's offensive pedigree should have the Gators excited. He said McElwain's knowledge of the SEC is perhaps his most important attribute.

"I like that fact that he comes to Florida with knowledge of the conference and knowledge of playing big games and winning national championships," Spears said. "Florida needs to get back to being one of the best teams in the SEC because that makes the conference better."

A longtime Alabama media personality prior to launching his ESPN radio show last year, Finebaum remains close to the Alabama program. He said McElwain has some advantages in the timing of his arrival compared to Muschamp.

"He has one great advantage -- he gets to replace Will Muschamp as opposed to Urban Meyer; that was one of Will’s biggest obstacles and he never quite got over it,'' Finebaum said. "Everyone in Tuscaloosa loved this guy. That will help him. Will Muschamp could be rough around the edges, not this guy."

Like Muschamp, McElwain has a down-to-earth personality and background working under Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

McElwain has already started evaluating Florida's roster and said Saturday that Muschamp left him some good players.

"Coach Muschamp has been very helpful,'' McElwain said. "He put together a heck of a staff here that's going to go forward as I've talked to them about going and winning a bowl game. That's what it's all about right now. It's about investing in these young men who are here."

While the pressure to win is immediate at Florida, McElwain spoke about embracing that pressure. He plans to apply pressure on opponents more than feel it.

Tebow understands what McElwain is talking about. He relished playing under a microscope at Florida and became an icon in part by the way he handled it.

"It takes time for success, but let’s be honest – this is the University of Florida,'' Tebow said. "You are supposed to recruit, play in big games, and play for a championship. There is not a long grace period – there is a lot of pressure. My question is how well can Coach Mac handle that pressure?"

McElwain won't run from it. In fact, he prefers to hang out with it.

"You know what, if there's no pressure, why wake up in the morning, right?" he said. "That's really what drives me anyway."

Saturday December 6, 2014 Gators Head Coaches Welcome Newest Member of Club, Plus Jim McElwain Unplugged

Updated: 4:55pm, December 6

The Swamp welcomes Jim McElwain

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The press conference is over. For new Gators coach Jim McElwain, that means the real work is about to begin.

McElwain sounds ready for the task ahead.

"You look out and you see that stadium, you think about all the great players, people, tradition that has been built at the University of Florida,'' he said Saturday. "That's something that is so exciting. I grew up in Montana. These are things you dream about."

As McElwain settles into his new job, his UF coaching colleagues offered up a special welcome for McElwain and his family to the Gator Family.

Check out this video that features messsages from Florida's other head coaches to McElwain to help him feel welcome:

******

As you can imagine, Saturday was pretty busy for McElwain, who was introduced to Gator Nation at an 11 a.m. press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. However, he was busy making the media rounds well before that.

Here is a glimpse at other McElwain interviews that were broadcast throughout the day on live TV or social media:

First, a "SportsCenter" interview ...

He also made an appearance on ESPN's "SECNation" show ...

And finally, he was perched high above The Swamp in this interview with Gators radio voice Mick Hubert for GatorVision ...

And last but not least, here is McElwain's press conference with local and state media where he discussed a myriad of topics in taking 48 questions ...

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In today's social-media world, it often starts with one tweet.

That was the case on Thursday when ESPN.com reporter Chris Low tweeted these 19 words into the Twittersphere:

And from there the floodgates opened. Here is more reaction on social media on the day the Gators got a new coach:

Thursday December 4, 2014 Machen on McElwain: 'We look forward to his leadership and pursuit of excellence'

Updated: 5:55pm, December 4

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- University of Florida President Bernie Machen was just getting settled here when Florida hired Urban Meyer as head coach in late 2004.

Bernie Machen

A decade later Machen is set to retire at the end of the year as the Gators welcome another head coach from the Mountain West Conference to town.

The Gators officially announced the hiring of Colorado State coach Jim McElwain on Thursday to replace Will Muschamp. McElwain led the Rams to a 10-2 record this season and was 22-16 in his three seasons at CSU.

Machen released the following statement on McElwain's hiring:

"It is with great pride and excitement that we welcome Coach McElwain and his family to the University of Florida,” he said. "We look forward to his leadership in the pursuit of excellence, both on and off the field.”

Thursday December 4, 2014 Meet Jim McElwain: A primer on Florida's new football coach

Updated: 1:06pm, December 4

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jim McElwain has spent the majority of his 30-year coaching career outside the spotlight. A career assistant until his three-year stint as head coach at Colorado State, McElwain’s most visible role previously was four years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban.

McElwain was muzzled working under Saban’s “one-voice” policy. However, McElwain’s offenses were not, helping the Crimson Tide win a pair of national titles in his four seasons in Tuscaloosa.

But don’t be fooled. McElwain has a personality to go along with his prolific career as an offensive coordinator. The 24th head coach of the Gators might not be a household name in Gator Nation, but he is well-respected and well-liked by those who know him. 

That can be a tricky combination to pull off.

He also isn’t afraid to venture off the beaten path like so many coaches.

Fan interest at Colorado State had dwindled prior to McElwain’s arrival. The Rams were 9-27 in the previous three seasons.

Once the Rams started to win under McElwain, students and fans started to pay more attention.

In mid-October as Colorado State prepared for a key Mountain West Conference showdown with Utah State, McElwain broke away from the office to speak to a couple of classes: Fashion Merchandising and Music Appreciation.

He impressed the professor in the Music Appreciation class by referencing The Cyrkle, a band that charted with hits “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day” in the late 1960s. The students had no clue.

It didn’t matter to McElwain. He had fun.

“There seemed to be a little bit of energy on campus and I thought that was pretty cool,’’ McElwain told The Denver Post.

As for his stop in the Fashion Merchandising class?

“I knew absolutely nothing about it and of course, they laughed at what I was wearing, which obviously meant my fashion was not very good,’’ he said.

The 52-year-old McElwain is headed to The Swamp. He’ll be in charge of the Gators soon.

Let’s take a closer look at the man who was born in Missoula, Mont., consumed episodes of “The Partridge Family” growing up, and whose perfect day is hanging out with his family on Montana’s Flathead Lake eating his those legendary barbecue ribs he is known for amongst family and friends:

FAMILY

McElwain started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Eastern Washington, where he played quarterback from 1980-83. While teaching a golf class, he met Karen, his future wife. The couple has three kids – daughters JoHanna, 23, and Elizabeth, 21, and 19-year-old son Jerret.

BACKGROUND

Growing up in Missoula, Mont., McElwain’s mother Marjorie and father Frank were educators. Marjorie McElwain was an English teacher who also worked at the University of Montana’s ticket office. Frank McElwain was a high school coach, official and principal who passed away in 2009. Jim developed into a talented quarterback at Sentinel (Mont.) High and is one of five siblings.

HIS LAST INTRO

If you don't know much about McElwain or have never heard him speak, here is a glimpse at his introductory press conference nearly three years ago at Colorado State:

 

CONNECTING WITH PLAYERS

McElwain’s players speak highly of his approach to the game. When Colorado State played at Alabama last season, McElwain’s return to Tuscaloosa was a big story. Several Alabama players shared McElwain stories with the media, including former Crimson Tide offensive lineman Kellen Williams.

“In camp two or three years ago, he brought in a picture of a dead fish and a picture of a Charlie Tuna,’’ Williams told The Anniston (Ala.) Star. “He said, ‘we have too many dead fish in here,’ and he put up the dead fish. Then he goes, ‘I want you to be like this guy,’ and he put up the picture of Charlie Tuna. Everybody broke out laughing.”

At a recent press conference to preview a big game at Colorado State, McElwain referenced such topics as Johnny Carson’s monologue, Randy Jackson’s role in Earth, Wind and Fire, and how the offense sometimes closes meetings with Winnie the Pooh references.

Hey, it seems to work.

“It kind of keeps us loose, but at the same time he expects us to be on point, doing what we’ve got to do to continue winning,’’ Rams linebacker Kevin Davis told the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera. “Mac’s definitely making it fun, but he’s keeping us on point, keeping us focused.”

OFFENSIVE APPROACH

McElwain has changed his system over the years to fit his job. The Rams feature a balanced spread attack that includes quarterback (Garrett Grayson) with more than 3,700 yards passing and 32 touchdowns, a running back (Dee Hart) with more than 1,200 yards rushing and a receiver (Rashard Higgins) with more than 1,600 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns.

At Alabama McElwain relied more on pro-style offense that relied heavily on the run with 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. He was known to toss a wildcat package into the game plan on occasion. If there is a common theme, it’s that McElwain has produced results.

When Saban searched for an offensive coordinator after the 2007 season, he landed on McElwain after reviewing what McElwain did in his one season at Fresno State on Pat Hill’s staff. Saban and Hill had worked together under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns.

The numbers: In McElwain’s season at Fresno State the Bulldogs averaged 419.5 yards a game and 32.9 points a game. The previous season Fresno State averaged 338.2 yards and 23 points.

FIRST GAME AS HEAD COACH

Colorado State opened McElwain’s tenure with a 22-17 win over Colorado in 2012. McElwain became the first Rams coach to win his debut since 1970.

GAME-DAY TRADITION

Before each game McElwain writes the names of his three kids on three sticks of gum. He writes his father’s name on another piece of gum. He carries the gum in his pocket during every game and afterward hands the three sticks to his kids, the stick with his father’s name to Karen.

“All the hours you put in, all the time you put in, you realize what it’s for and what it’s about,’’ McElwain told The Denver Post. “It’s about my family.”

FUN FACT

McElwain attended Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Missoula, Mont., and was a grade behind a famous classmate who has also done well in Colorado: former Broncos quarterback John Elway.

QUOTE FILE

“Yeah, he put up with my cooking. It was unbelievable. He actually smiled and said he liked it. I don’t know if he really did or not.’’ – McElwain on having former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron over one year for Thanksgiving dinner 

“The biggest thing about Coach Mac is I think he’s a teacher first. He’s a great teacher of the game. You can tell he really has a passion for that. And he’s extremely gifted at that, just the way he breaks down offenses and helps up understand it.’’ – Former Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones

“When you’re building a house, the most important part’s the foundation. Sometimes guys maybe want to take shortcuts to get instant results, but on the backend, your house falls down. That’s not what we’re about.” – McElwain on approach when he took over Colorado State program

“He was an unbelievable coach for me, not only as a player, but as a person. He just taught me a lot about life, hot to act, what to do, what not to do. He means the world to me.’’ – McCarron on McElwain’s influence

“From an offensive philosophy standpoint, in terms of what we want to accomplish – show balance, make explosive plays, be a good third-down team, make first downs in the red area, don’t turn the ball over – all of these things were very important philosophically to Jim.’’ – Saban on his interview with McElwain

*****

Editor’s note: A variety of sources was used to compile this information, including The Denver Post, US Official Newswire, The Missoulian, The Anniston Star, The Decatur Daily, The Dothan Eagle, ESPN.com, SI.com, and Boulder Daily Camera.

Wednesday November 26, 2014 FSU coach Jimbo Fisher fondly recalls recruitment of Gators QB Treon Harris

Updated: 2:11pm, November 26

Treon Harris

Gators quarterback Treon Harris committed to FSU prior to signing with Florida. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jameis Winston is the quarterback most will be focused on Saturday during the Florida-Florida State game.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is a perfect 24-0 as FSU's starting quarterback and has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every one of those starts.

However, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher is very familiar with Gators quarterback Treon Harris. Harris verbally committed to FSU before changing his mind and signing with Florida.

Harris suffered a bruised knee in last week's win against Eastern Kentucky but is expected to start on Saturday in Tallahassee according to Gators coach Will Muschamp.

Jimbo Fisher

“Treon is one of those guys that I always say, 'be quick but don’t hurry.' When you watch him play, it’s like everyone around him is going 1,000 miles an hour and he’s going five miles an hour," Fisher told reporters this week. "But no one can catch him or touch him."

Since replacing Jeff Driskel as the starter, Harris has led Florida to three wins in four games. He would be undefeated if not for the late-game collapse against South Carolina when an apparent game-icing touchdown run by Harris was wiped out by a penalty.

Harris has thrown for 727 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He has added 250 yards rushing, which ranks third on the team.

While his accuracy has suffered lately due to an injured fingernail -- Harris is 9 of 23 in the past two games -- he remains a threat in Fisher's view.

And despite Harris' switch from the Seminoles to the Gators, Fisher enjoyed the experience of getting to know Harris and his family.

"He’s fun to be around. I enjoyed being around him," Fisher said. "He’s a heck of a player. That’s why we recruited him.”

Fisher is also familiar with Driskel. He is the last quarterback to knock off the Seminoles.

As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Driskel completed 15 of 23 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown in Florida's 37-26 win at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Monday November 24, 2014 Gators Turn Attention to Stanford and Planning Thanksgiving in California

Updated: 5:34pm, November 24

Becky Burleigh and Gators soccer team

Gators coach Becky Burleigh, center, after Sunday's win over Texas Tech. (Photo: Jim Burgess)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Becky Burleigh planned to spend part of her Monday afternoon figuring out Thanksgiving plans.

Not that she minded one turkey leg.

In her 20th season in charge of the Gators women’s soccer program, Burleigh can’t think of a better place to spend this Thanksgiving than Palo Alto, Calif., home of Stanford University.

If the Gators had lost Sunday in the NCAA Sweet 16, they would have parted ways for Thanksgiving. Instead, they defeated Texas Tech, 3-2, to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in 11 years.

The victory came with a cross-country trip to Stanford, where Florida (17-4-1) will face No. 3-ranked Stanford (20-1-2) on Friday night for a Final Four berth.

“The fact we get to spend the holiday together as a group, I think that’s important to us,’’ Burleigh said Monday. “I don’t think our team minds that dynamic at all. They enjoy each other’s company.”

Since losing to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament on penalty kicks, Florida has responded with three consecutive wins in the NCAA Tournament, defeating Mercer, Cal and Texas Tech.

Next stop: Cagan Stadium, where the Cardinal knocked off the Gators 1-0 in September.

Stanford won its 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament game at home on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Washington. The game-winner was scored on a goal by senior Lo’eau LaBonta off a penalty.

LaBonta did the same in Stanford’s second-round win over Arkansas. And in the first meeting against Florida, it was LaBonta’s score in overtime that defeated Florida.

Needless to say the Gators defense will keep a close eye on LaBonta on Friday night.

For now Burleigh and Co. are searching for ways to extend their season to the College Cup – and working out details on how they will spend Thanksgiving.

Burleigh likes where her team is headed.

“I’m just really thankful to our team for winning so that we get to spend more time together because it’s been really fun with this group,’’ Burleigh said. “I think the best part about this team so far is that we still have not played our best soccer. For us, that’s really exciting because when we can do that, I think we’re really hard to beat.”

D.J. Durkin

Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and his daughter after Saturday's win. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Now that the Gators are bowl eligible they have a bowl coach.

Following Saturday's 52-3 win over Eastern Kentucky to clinch bowl eligibility -- Florida improved to 6-4 in head coach Will Muschamp's final home game -- the Gators announced that defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as head coach for Florida's bowl game.

Durkin is in his second season as the Gators' defensive coordinator and fifth year on Florida's staff. He joined the program in 2010 as special teams coordinator and remained on staff when Muschamp replaced Urban Meyer after the 2010 season.

Durkin replaced Dan Quinn as the team's defensive coordinator when Quinn left after the 2012 season for the same position with the Seattle Seahawks.

Wednesday November 19, 2014 Muschamp, Durkin see bright NFL future for Fowler

Updated: 2:33pm, November 19

Dante Fowler

Dante Fowler Jr. greets fans during the Gator Walk prior to the South Carolina game. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – He’s not a senior, but defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is prepared to play his final game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

One of the most gifted recruits the Gators landed under outgoing head coach Will Muschamp, Fowler announced via Twitter on Tuesday night that he will enter the NFL Draft rather than return for his senior season.

“I came in with champ. I'm leaving with Him. Simple as that,’’ Fowler tweeted.

A 6-foot-3, 261-pound speed rusher from St. Petersburg, Fowler is a highly-ranked prospect with first-round potential in April’s draft.

“Yes. There’s no question in my mind,’’ Muschamp said Wednesday when asked if Fowler was a first-rounder. “Somebody is going to be very lucky to have him.”

Fowler leads the Gators with 4 ½ sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries through nine games. He also has two forced fumbles and ranks third on the team with 49 tackles. While Fowler has amassed on 10 ½ career sacks, Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said not to be deceived by the stats.

The tape tells the truer story.

“He’s a very disruptive guy,’’ Durkin said. “He’s a guy who’s accounted for every single time he lines up by the opposition. They have a plan for him and he’s overcome that and been disruptive for us. He’s been great for us. He’s played hard, he’s play consistently. I’m very happy with how he’s play.

“I’m not an NFL expert but I think Dante is a really good player and will probably be drafted very high.”

Durkin said he has not spoken to Fowler about the decision and learned about it on Twitter like others. Muschamp’s stance has always been that if a player is a certain first-round NFL pick, then he should leave. If not, he should come back.

Based on what Muschamp and Durkin said Wednesday, sounds like Fowler made the right decision.

Saturday November 15, 2014 A Great Gator Hoax: 50-year Anniversary

Updated: 7:43am, November 15

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators host South Carolina today in a key SEC East showdown for Florida. The Gators must win to keep their hopes of a division title alive.

Only if they could play the South Carolina team that ran onto the field 50 years ago in this matchup. If so, the Gators would romp today at The Swamp.

Imagine some frat guys pulling a prank on Homecoming. Imagine the worst Gamecocks team to ever step onto the field. They didn't stay out there long that day at Florida Field, but they made an impression during their brief time in the spotlight.

Gators historian Norm Carlson wrote about A Great Gator Hoax in 2006 to celebrate 100 years of Florida football. Since this is the 50-year anniversary, enjoy another trip down Memory Lane.

Friday November 14, 2014 Business Insider: Gators Most Dominant College Sports Program in Country

Updated: 1:18pm, November 14

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- From top to bottom, from football to gymnastics to lacrosse, the University of Florida's athletic department is the most dominant college sports program in the country.

Billy D

No, that's not some random opinion from a guy who writes for GatorZone.com, the UAA's official website.

Instead, the ranking comes from a poll released Thursday by BusinessInsider.com, which explained its ranking system in the following paragraph:

To create the ranking we used data compiled by Niche for its college rankings as well as athletic department revenues compiled by USA Today.

A number of factors go into the rankings with the most weight given to athletics revenue, Niche's NCAA championship score (with more weight given to bigger sports), average home football attendance, average home men's basketball attendance, as well as Niche's student survey responses.

Bottom line, not only do Gator fans think highly of UF's athletic department, so do many others.

The top five: 1. Florida; 2. Alabama; 3. North Carolina; 4. Texas; 5. LSU.

Tuesday November 11, 2014 Veterans Day, a retired U.S. Navy Captain, and an open letter to a quarterback

Updated: 4:39pm, November 11

Jeff Driskel

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel scores on a 1-yard plunge at Vanderbilt. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has received more than his fair share of vile messages from anonymous critics on social media this season.

The fourth-year junior has stayed on the high road through what has been a disappointing season for Florida’s opening-day starter, which is not surprising to anyone who has been around Driskel during his UF career.

Driskel didn’t know it until Tuesday on Veterans Day, but he has a big fan in retired U.S. Navy Capt. E.R. Gilkison, whose letter to Driskel ended up on social media Tuesday.

Driskel is from a Navy family.

He was born in Jacksonville and lived there for the first few years of his life while his parents, Mary and Jerry Driskel, worked for the U.S. Navy. A Naval senior chief, Jerry was assigned to the U.S. Naval Base in Sasebo, Japan, when Driskel was 7.

Driskel had read the letter by Tuesday afternoon when he met with reporters.

"Before we get started here, I just want to say Happy Veterans Day to all the vets out there,'' Driskel said. "I'd also like to say thanks to Capt. Gilkison, who sent me a nice letter. I saw it on the Internet today and that was one of the most heart-warming things that I've ever gotten."

Tuesday November 11, 2014 Spurrier and Muschamp root for one another -- except for Saturday of course

Updated: 11:53am, November 11

Spurrier and Muschamp

Steve Spurrier, center, and Will Muschamp, right, talk to ESPN's Joe Tessitore in July. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They will meet as opposing head coaches for the fourth time on Saturday.

Steve Spurrier 2, Will Muschamp 1 is the current ledger.

Muschamp wants to even the score.

Spurrier, in his fifth trip back to The Swamp as South Carolina’s coach, wants to spoil the Gators’ day.

“I’m pulling for him to make it down there,’’ Spurrier said of Muschamp this week. “Of course, I’m pulling for us to beat him down there.”

One of the first people Muschamp talked to after taking over the Gators was Spurrier, who led the program for 12 years, won the program's first national title in 1996 and earned the 1966 Heisman Trophy as Florida’s quarterback.

Ever since the two have been friendly rivals on the field and friends off it.

Here is a column I wrote over the summer about their relationship.

In his 10th season at South Carolina, the Gamecocks are 4-5 and trying to avoid a losing season for the first time under Spurrier. Meanwhile, the Gators have some momentum after back-to-back wins and need a victory to keep any hope of an SEC East title alive.

Whatever happens at Florida Field on Saturday afternoon, you can be sure Spurrier and Muschamp will share a friendly story before the game -- perhaps about their July plane ride back from ESPN headquarters -- and a handshake afterward.

And at some point they will resume their friendship in the offseason.

“I've got great respect for Coach Spurrier and the job he's done as a coach, and more than anything, as a man," Muschamp said Monday. "He's a good guy. He's been great to me since I've been here at the University of Florida. Really look up to him in this profession. He does things the right way."

Ditto for Spurrier.

“I consider him a good friend in coaching,’’ he said of Muschamp. “He’s a good person and good coach. They’ve sort of come together these last couple of weeks since the Georgia game, it seems like.”

Jonathan Bullard

Jonathan Bullard knocks down Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason last week. (Photo: Tim Casey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Defensive tackle Leon Orr will not play in tonight's game against Vanderbilt.

Orr expressed displeasure when he realized he would not be in the starting lineup for the fifth straight game. A fifth-year senior, Orr was scheduled to be heavily involved in a game plan featuring an eight-man rotation of defensive linemen like Florida normally uses.

Leon Orr

Orr has played in 37 games during his career, starting 10. He has started two games this season.

After talking to head coach Will Muschamp, Orr (No. 8, photo left) opted to leave the team and return to Gainesville on a bus.

"He was more concerned with starting than being part of the team,'' Muschamp said.

Muschamp has said multiple times recently he is pleased with the way the defense has improved since the Tennessee game, which coincided with junior Jonathan Bullard moving to the interior line from defensive end.

Bullard, who has been starting at tackle, will continue to play on the interior line next to nose tackle Darius Cummings. Bullard has started every game this season and his 25 tackles rank second on the team among UF's defensive linemen.

Orr has 16 tackles in his five games.

Antonio Morrison

Antonio Morrison had a career-high 15 tackles against Georgia. (Photo: Jay Metz)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison remembers more than he would like about last year’s Vanderbilt game.

First, he remembers the Gators lost, snapping a 22-game win streak over the Commodores. As if that wasn’t painful enough, Morrison remembers it was the final game of his sophomore season.

Antonio Morrison

“I got injured this game. I tore my meniscus and played the whole game,’’ Morrison said. “I’m ready to play these guys.”

Morrison was Florida’s leading tackler at the time of a knee injury that cost him the season’s final three games. He finished with 56 tackles but lacked the impact he made as a true freshman in 2012 when his hit on Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel and fumble recovery turned the momentum in the Gators’ 37-26 win in Tallahassee.

In Florida’s biggest win since that game – Saturday’s 38-20 victory over ninth-ranked Georgia – Morrison racked up a career-high 15 tackles. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Morrison ranks third in the SEC in tackles per game (9.6) and has 67 overall with at least four games remaining in the season.

Morrison’s blue-collar play of late has not gone unnoticed. Neither has his strong rebound from the injury and unspectacular sophomore season.

“His endurance is much better,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s able to sustain and play longer periods of time at a high level, and I think a lot of that goes back to his conditioning.

“He’s a very instinctive, tough player. One of his better games was against LSU, a traditional two-back team. You saw him playing off blocks and making [14] tackles, which is hard to do. I think he’s had a good year for us.”

His teammates agree.

“He’s grown up so much,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. “He’s matured. He fell into his leader role and he takes it very serious. He’s playing well and I’m happy for him.”

Morrison played behind Jon Bostic as a freshman and then endured some off-the-field issues the summer after the season. Once he suffered the season-ending injury last season, Morrison refocused his commitment to the game and it’s now showing up on Saturdays.

Morrison has recorded 10 or more tackles in five games this season and has 27 more tackles than any other player on the roster – defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is second with 40.

“I think he's playing his best football here this year since he's been here,’’ defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He's really stepped up as a leader. He's not just out there making plays. He's been real effective in many ways for us.”

Morrison said there’s no secret to his success. He’s healthy. He’s committed. He’s playing hard every play.

“I just matured,’’ he said. “I go as hard as I can. I became a lot more mature for my age. I just worked all offseason. I didn’t want to have the same results personally and as a team.”

Saturday November 1, 2014 Bates recalls first taste of Florida-Georgia rivalry in his unique and humorous style

Updated: 10:08am, November 1

James Bates

James Bates was inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame on Friday. (Photo: Tim Casey)

You can check out a photo gallery from Friday's ceremony here.

JACKSONVILLE -- Former Gators linebacker James Bates told the story with his trademark sense of humor.

It was 1992 and Bates and teammate Anthony Ingrassia were both new to UF. Bates was a true freshman from Sevierville, Tenn. Ingrassia was a transfer from Boston University.

Both were being redshirted and didn't travel with the Gators to the annual Florida-Georgia game at the old Gator Bowl.

Instead, they were back in Gainesville watching the game on TV at Yon Hall. Once they saw the atmosphere and fanfare on the television, they knew they had to get to Jacksonville ASAP.

"How do we get there,'' Ingrassia asked.

"I don't know,'' replied Bates. "I know we go out toward the airport."

And then Bates dropped his punch line.

"So I pulled out my phone and said, Siri! Siri! How do we get to Jacksonville?"

"I made that part up,'' Bates confessed to the crowd at Friday's Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "We found our way to Jacksonville."

Georgia Bates

Georgia Bates as her dad shared a story about origin of her name on Friday. (Photo: Tim Casey)

They did, reveling in the game's unique place in college football.

Over the next four seasons Bates played in the game and never lost to Georgia.

He won't be at today's annual showdown due to his job as a college football analyst for FOX Sports, but his family -- and aptly named daughter Georgia -- will be.

"Georgia is taking my place,'' Bates said. "I don't think we would have named her Georgia if we had gone 0-4. It would have been Lucy or something else."

Bates joined former UF standout Louis Oliver, former Georgia linebacker Ben Zambiasi and Pat Dye, who played at Georgia and was head coach at Auburn, in the 2014 Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame class.

Oliver was unable to attend due to a last-minute conflict but Bates represented the Gators well like he did as a player.

He never imagined getting inducted into a Hall of Fame for his time as a player.

"I get goose bumps right now just thinking about it,'' Bates said. "My Gators right now aren't where they want to be, but it doesn't matter. It's Florida-Georgia. It is truly a thing of beauty and I cannot believe that I got to go and be a part of that and I can't believe I'm remembered to be a part of this Hall of Fame."

Dye and Bates took turns poking fun at their rival in the series. After Bates reminded everyone of Florida's success against Georgia during his playing days, Dye pointed out to everyone the tide has turned.

Georgia has won three in a row in the series and with a victory today can post their first four-game win streak over the Gators since a six-game streak from 1978-83.

"Nobody hates the Gators more than I do,'' Dye said. "But, I tell you it's not good for the conference when Florida is struggling. James, they might could use your ass out there."

James Bates and Pat Dye

Bates and Dye share a moment following Friday's induction ceremony. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Wednesday October 29, 2014 Humphries recalls way Collins helped him develop

Updated: 5:41pm, October 29

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators offensive lineman D.J. Humphries was a month from his fourth birthday when former UF offensive lineman Mo Collins played his final game at Florida Field in November 1997.

However, as Humphries grew into one of the nation’s top offensive line prospects at Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, N.C., Collins was nearby supporting his alma mater, West Charlotte High.

Collins was retired from the NFL and helping young players chase their dreams the way he dreamed two decades earlier. He purchased equipment for a new weight room at his old high school, where he became head coach earlier this year.

D.J. Humphries

He also worked with Humphries (photo, left), who reflected on their relationship Wednesday. Collins died Sunday at 38.

“He pretty much taught me the craft, you know what I mean?" Humphries said. "He took me from being a left tackle with a right-handed stance and showed me all the stuff to become an All-American in high school. That was pretty tough when I found I lost him this week. That was a big deal.”

Humphries and others have shared their fondness for Collins, who stood 6-foot-5 and weighed 337 pounds as an NFL rookie in 1998.

Former UF coach Steve Spurrier called Collins “one of my favorite players” on Tuesday night while talking to South Carolina beat reporters.

Todd Gurley

Georgia running back Todd Gurley scored two touchdowns last year against Florida (Photo: AJC)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators got a pregame victory Wednesday morning against Georgia if there is such a thing.

Suspended Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley will not play against Florida on Saturday according to a ruling issued by the NCAA.

While Gurley has missed the last two games for accepting more than $3,000 in cash for autographed memorabilia over the past two years, Gators coach Will Muschamp said Monday that he “absolutely” expected Gurley back on Saturday.

However, the onetime Heisman hopeful must sit out a total of four games – 30 percent of the season – based on the NCAA’s ruling. Georgia plans to appeal the decision.

The case came to light three weeks ago and Georgia suspended Gurley as it launched an internal investigation into claims from an autograph broker.

In addition to missing four games, Gurley must repay a portion of the money received to a charity of his choice and complete 40 hours of community service.

Despite missing the last two games, Gurley still ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (773) and leads the conference in yards per game (154.6). In Georgia’s 23-20 victory over the Gators last year in Jacksonville, Gurley rushed for a game-high 100 yards on 17 carries and led the Bulldogs with 87 yards receiving, including a 73-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter that put Georgia ahead 14-0.

With Gurley unavailable, the Bulldogs have turned to freshman Nick Chubb, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has 569 yards rushing on the season.

Tuesday October 28, 2014 Gators Know Importance of Georgia Game, More Early-Week Chatter

Updated: 7:01pm, October 28

Gators

Dante Fowler Jr., left, Leon Orr, center, and Neiron Ball against Georgia in 2013. (File photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The annual Florida-Georgia clash is four days away. Personally, this game has always been my favorite on the schedule.

The atmosphere in Jacksonville is unique with the stadium split down the middle – one side Orange and Blue, the other Red and Black.

This year’s game has a little twist we haven’t seen since 1970 – both teams will wear their home jerseys. Florida is technically the visitor this season and will be stationed on the East sideline across the field from the press box.

The SEC approved the home-jersey request during its annual spring meetings.

Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley told GatorZone.com in March the backstory of how the decision came to fruition.

“It's just something a little different. To be honest, a fan suggested it. He sent me a picture of what they used to do when Coach Spurrier was playing,’’ Foley said. “He had a blue jersey on and whoever was tackling him had a red jersey on. It's a unique rivalry and just a little different something to do. There is no particular reason. Georgia agreed and we agreed. At the end of the day, you've still got to win the ballgame no matter what color jersey you have on. I think it's just a little something that makes the game even more unique.”

The Gators (3-3, 2-3 in SEC) enter this year’s game a heavy underdog against the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1). While few seem to think the Gators have a chance, they are not looking at it that way as fans and media speculate about the future of head coach Will Muschamp.

Muschamp is 0-3 against Georgia, his alma mater.

“This game is huge,’’ Gators safety Keanu Neal said Tuesday. “We’ve got to bring Florida back.”

“It’s bigger than playing for the coaches,’’ linebacker Neiron Ball said. “We’re playing for the program. Our program is better than we’ve shown.”

The main storylines on the Florida side involve Muschamp and freshman quarterback Treon Harris, who will make his first career start Saturday. On the Georgia side, will Todd Gurley play or won’t he?

Gurley has missed the past two games while school officials investigate whether he broke NCAA rules by signing memorabilia for profit. The NCAA is expected to make a ruling on Georgia’s application for his reinstatement any day now.

The Gators have an idea of what the ruling will be.

“Absolutely. I would expect him to play,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “He’s an extremely talented running back. Todd Gurley’s one of the best players in college football.”

For more flavor early in the week leading up to Saturday’s game, here are some fresh links for your perusal:

--Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper told reporters Tuesday that less turnovers will equal more offense writes Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.

--Florida defensive end Dante Fowler has no plans to quit on the season and look toward the NFL writes David Jones of Florida Today.

--UF players confident ahead of Georgia game is lead topic in a notebook by Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

--As a former Georgia captain, Muschamp’s future is of interest in Georgia as Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Steve Hummer chimes in with his thoughts.

--Georgia a heavy favorite, but wary of hungry Gators writes Marc Weiszer of The Athens Banner-Herald.

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