At the conclusion of each year, on Dec. 31 to be exact, OnlyGators.com takes a look back at the top on-field moments and off-field stories from the previous 12 months. This year, which will go down as a difficult and controversial one for the Florida Gators, we sort through the Not Top 13 for 2013 – games, actions and stories that fans of the program will look to put in the rear view mirror as the clock strikes midnight. Don’t forget to check out the Top 13 for 2013 to end your year on a positive note!
13 » OFFSEASON GARBAGE
The time between the conclusion of spring practice in April and the start of summer practice in July can be long and seemingly endless for some, especially the media, which drummed up controversy where none should have exited in May. Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis, taking part in a Gator Gathering with boosters, jokingly referred to Alabama head coach Nick Saban as “the devil himself.” The slight was made public and Saban took great offense, despite the fact that Davis was kidding. Davis got called “a classless backstabbing coward” for his joke and received other undue ridicule.
Two months later, one of the top college football headlines was a report that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer actually turned in Florida (and running backs coach Brian White) for a petty secondary recruiting violation that the NCAA deemed to be meaningless. Meyer denied his actions and got taken to task for reporting his former school, especially considering he has previously been accused of violating NCAA secondary recruiting rules in a similar fashion.
12 » LACROSSE AND VOLLEYBALL COME UP SHORT
With revenge on their minds and the program’s first national title within reach, Florida lacrosse failed to take down Syracuse on the latter’s home turf in the quarterfinals of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Orange got the best of the Gators for the second-straight season, winning 13-9 on May 18 after picking up a controversial victory in the 2012 NCAA Final Four. UF had the opportunity to make SU pay while trying to win a championship but instead sent its fourth-year players – the first senior class in program history – home with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Florida volleyball saw its 2013 season come to a crashing halt when it fell 3-2 at home to Florida State in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. One of the top seeds in the tournament and a potential national title team, the Gators allowed their in-state rival to knock them out of postseason play as UF failed to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004. Like the lacrosse team, which sent its upperclassmen out in a disappointing fashion, the same happened to senior middle back Chloe Mann.
11 » SAME TEAM!
The moment that checked in No. 1 on ESPN’s own Not Top Plays of 2013 was simply a microcosm of Florida being unable to get out of its own way this year. Redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison and redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar blocked each other on a rushing play that actually gained some positive yardage against Georgia Southern in the second-to-last game of the season. In the same game, redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye was accused of gouging an opponent’s eyes.
10 » NOT TOO SWEET
The Gators’ 2013 season was a disaster (more on that later), but the end of their 2012 campaign – which actually took place on Jan. 3, 2013 – was also quite pathetic. No. 3 Florida was blasted in the 2013 Sugar Bowl by No. 21 Louisville, which scored on the first play of scrimmage from each half and dominated UF on both sides of the ball on its way to a 33-23 win. The Gators lost their first BCS bowl game since 2000 and snapped a streak of four-straight bowl game victories. Florida entered the game with just one loss – a turnover-filled failure against Georgia – as a blemish on its otherwise near-perfect resume but left New Orleans, LA as a beat-up team set to lose 13 starters to graduation and the NFL Draft.
9 » A SEASON LOST
One of the highest-profile players ever to join the Gators baseball team, junior right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson has dealt with a number of injuries over his career and wound up sidelined for all of 2013 after undergoing a shoulder procedure on Feb. 14. Whitson was slotted to be Florida’s No. 2 starting pitcher last season and likely would have elevated himself to the top spot in the rotation as the year went on. Instead, he missed the entire season and Florida’s pitching struggled in a major way with no starter who took the mound for at least seven contests achieving below a 3.41 ERA.
8 » TRANSFER IN, TRANSFER OUT
There is perhaps no transfer in the history of Florida basketball who has contributed less to the program during his time in Gainesville, FL than redshirt junior center Damontre Harris. Shortly after joining the Gators prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, Harris (by no fault of his own) dislocated his shoulder while training with the team and was unable to practice with Florida – providing then-junior center Patric Young with legitimate competition – for the vast majority of the campaign. Finally healthy in 2013-14, Harris was suspended for a few games by head coach Billy Donovan but never returned to the team, running into a number of issues off the court that were his own fault. Donovan officially dismissed Harris on Dec. 21, ending his UF career before it ever really started. He was supposed to be a major roleplayer for the Gators basketball team this season, serving as Young’s primary backup and a big-time part of what was supposed to be an extremely deep frontcourt.
7 » A DAMNING ACCUSATION
As part of an in-depth report that detailed and alleged rampant corruption at Auburn, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was accused of paying a player while serving as AU’s defensive coordinator in 2007. Former safety Mike McNeil alleged that Muschamp slipped him “about $400” out of a drawer after an especially tough practice asking, “Is this good enough? Is this good?’ Muschamp denied the allegation through a school spokesman twice before providing a short statement the next day. “Totally deny it,” he said. “I don’t know where this is coming from.” Nothing ever resulted from the accusation, which has not been brought up since it was first published on April 3.
6 » STOPPED SHORT, AGAIN
Just two days after shutting down “Dunk City” and advancing to a school-record third-straight Elite Eight with a 62-50 victory over Florida Gulf Coast, Florida basketball squared off against Michigan in what was supposed to be one of the best games of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Wolverines routed the Gators 79-59 and made UF the first team in event history to lose in the Elite Eight in three-straight tournaments. Florida put together one of its worst offensive performances of the season and was equally bad on defense at times. UM opened up with a 23-5 lead and at least an 11-point advantage over UF through the duration of the contest. The Gators suffered their worst (and largest) defeat since 2004 in their most important game of the 2012-13 season.
5 » “I AM ANTONIO!”
Sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison made plenty of headlines over the summer – for all the wrong reasons, of course. It started on June 17 when Morrison ended the Gators’ quiet and incident-free offseason by getting arrested on a charge of first-degree misdemeanor simple battery after allegedly striking a bouncer. Muschamp did not discipline him immediately and the situation likely would have been handled internally had Morrison not gotten arrested just over one month later…for barking at a police dog. Muschamp subsequently suspended Morrison for the first two games of the season, mostly because he was out late (booked at 4:15 a.m.) and not necessarily due to the action he took. Morrison was vindicated two days after his arrest when the latter charges against him were dropped by the state, and Muschamp reduced his two-game suspension to a single contest a month later. Prior to the Miami game, his first of the 2013 season, Morrison requested to meet with the media so he could issue a public apology, but he held back on discussing the incident or providing his side of the story. Expected to be one of Florida’s best players, Morrison had a lackluster season with just one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries in eight appearances. He missed the final three games of the 2013 campaign with a torn meniscus.
4 » TWO LEADERS GONE IN THREE DAYS
One of the most prevalent offseason storylines concerning the Gators football team was the immensely improved leadership of junior quarterback Jeff Driskel and senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Driskel, who started for Florida in 2012 but did not feel comfortable vocalizing himself, led offseason practices and became someone for UF’s offensive players to look up to throughout the year. Easley, a fun-loving yet energetic lineman known for dancing between plays and carrying a Chucky doll with him at all times, served not just as a leader but an inspiration for the defense. The 2013 season was already off to a rough start for Driskel, who underwent an appendectomy on July 30 and missed a good portion of fall camp. He was able to start the first game but went down two weeks later against Tennessee, fracturing his right fibula and tearing the medial part of his ankle. Just three days after the Gators lost their starting quarterback, Easley went down in practice with tears to his anterior cruciate ligament and medial meniscus, injuries that would also sideline him for the season.
Florida’s injury issues in 2013 were well-documented. They started in camp before the season and continued throughout the campaign, mounting each week until it became a fool’s errand to try and keep track of how many starters and contributing reserves were lost. But while the Gators also saw their starting running back, three starting tackles and numerous other players get lost for the season, the injuries to Driskel and Easley occurring in a three-day span were what really created a tailspin for the program this year. Redshirt junior backup QB Tyler Murphy‘s serious shoulder injury (that was never described as such) put a dagger in whatever portion of the team was still on life support.
3 » INEXCUSABLE LOSSES
As terrible as Florida’s injury woes were in 2013, the Gators could still have finished the year with a 6-6 record and an appearance in a bowl game. Instead, UF suffered two of the most embarrassing defeats in school history, falling to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1988 and dropping a game to an FCS school in Georgia Southern two weeks later. Not only did the Gators lose those games, they were dominated in both home contests. VU beat up on UF 34-17 on homecoming in Gainesville, FL, and GSU won 26-20 in The Swamp by netting 429 yards rushing on what was supposedly one of the best defenses in the nation. It was the first time Florida lost to an FCS team.
After the loss to the Commodores, athletic director Jeremy Foley backed Muschamp, giving him a 1,000 percent vote of confidence. The Gators responded to that with a hard-fought 19-14 loss against South Carolina but gave up the following week. Foley stuck his neck out for Muschamp and put his own legacy on the line by doing so. Florida finished the season 4-8 instead of 6-6, posting a losing record for the first time since 1979 and missing a bowl game for the first time in 22 years. UF lost seven-straight games to end the season, getting blown out by Florida State in the finale.
2 » AN ABSOLUTE EMBARRASSMENT
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper embarrassed himself, his family, his friends and Gator Nation when a video was leaked on July 31 showing Cooper dropping an abhorrent racial slur (the N-word) at a Kenny Chesney concert. Cooper, who said the word in a malicious manner with an exceedingly hateful and disgusting tone to his voice, was quick to address the racist remark head-on after it leaked. “I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself,” he said in a statement. “I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, Jeffrey Lurie, and Howie Roseman, and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”
Cooper was fined a substantial sum by the Eagles and did not shy away from the media attention, seemingly attacking the situation head-on by answering every question posed at him and doing so in what appeared to be an honest and humble manner. “I’m extremely embarrassed. I’m extremely hurt and extremely sorry for my actions,” he said, noting that he was willing to accept any forthcoming consequences. “This is kind of the lowest of the lows. This isn’t the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m just extremely sorry.” Cooper received more than his fair share of deserved backlash from players, fans and the media but never stopped trying to atone for his mistake. Words of support from QB Michael Vick helped calm the situation and kept it from engulfing the team over the course of the season.
Nevertheless, Cooper made a terrible mistake that most years would have easily earned the No. 1 spot on this list. But 2013 was not most years…
1 » AARON HERNANDEZ – ALLEGED MURDERER
The worst moment for the Gators in 2013 also happened to be the biggest sports story of the year. It all started on June 18 when New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was questioned as part of a homicide investigation. He was initially “not believed to be a murder suspect,” but it quickly became apparent that Hernandez had something to do with the death of an associates who was shot less than a mile from his $1.3 million, 5,600-square foot home in North Attleboro, MA. Over the next four days, Hernandez had his home searched and his rental car seized after it was determined that he was directly connected to the homicide. It was revealed that the deceased, 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, dated the sister of Hernandez’s girlfriend.
While the investigation was still going on but before an arrest was made, Hernandez was sued by another associate, who accused the former Florida football player of shooting him in the face while the two were in South Florida months earlier. Foley even stepped up and released an official statement on the behalf of the Gators as questions became raised about how he was handled during his time at Florida. Eight days after he was first questioned, Hernandez was arrested by police and subsequently released by New England. On June 26, he was officially charged with first-degree murder and five additional gun charges.
One of the media’s primary focuses after Hernandez’s arrest was his time in Gainesville. Old police reports were uncovered and discussed at length. Hernandez was accused in the court of public opinion of participating in an off-campus shooting in 2007. Meyer even went so far as to explain that the Gators did not enable Hernandez during his time with the team but rather did whatever they could to rehabilitate him.
On July 7, documents that were released by the state that painted a damning picture for Hernandez. More than two weeks later, Florida decided to remove Hernandez’s All-American brick from outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Hernandez has been in and out of court over the last few months for a variety of hearing and proceedings, but his murder trial has not yet begun. In the interim, the state has been subpoenaing a number of his friend and associates, including Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, who was served a grand jury subpoena on Oct. 27 following a game against the Patriots. Hernandez’s trial is expected to begin at some point in 2014.