FOUR BITS: Johnson, Donovan, Rosario, Auburn

1 » Four-star power forward Brice Johnson (Cordova, SC), told CBSSports.com on Tuesday that the Florida Gators have earned a spot in his top two. The No. 49 player in the country according to Rivals, Johnson is also considering N.C. State and plans to make a decision before the end of October. Florida already has three commitments in their 2012 recruiting class – four-star guards Michael Frazier (Montverde, FL) and Braxton Ogbueze (Charlotte, NC) and three-star G Dillon Graham (Orlando, FL).

2 » Gators head coach Billy Donovan confirmed while speaking at the Ocala Tipoff Club banquet on Monday that he is discussing a contract extension with Florida. He is about to begin his fifth year of a six-year, $21 million contract that expires after the 2012-13 season. “We’re in the process and trying to get some things finalized,” he said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “When that gets done I don’t know. But we’ve had several conversations about it.”

3 » In one other basketball note, the Sun reports that Donovan said redshirt junior transfer guard Mike Rosario has injured a disc in his back, which he does not believe will stop him from playing this year. “He did a really, really good job lifting and getting stronger and putting on good weight. I thought with the injury, he put on some bad weight that he probably needs to get rid of right now,” Donovan said. “I think this preseason has been up-and-down for him in terms of injuries and different things he’s had to deal with.”

4 » Auburn Tigers head coach Gene Chizik said Monday that Barrett Trotter will remain the team’s starting quarterback heading into Saturday night’s game against the Gators. Auburn has the 106th passing offense in the nation because Trotter has completed just 56 percent of his passes this season for nine touchdowns and six interceptions. The Tigers, however, have four receivers with double-digit receptions and Tortter is nearing 1,000 yards on the season.

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FOUR BITS: Larson, Foley, jump pass, Burton

1 » Once Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan reinstated junior forward Erik Murphy one month ago, it appeared quite obvious that he would make the same decision once redshirt freshman F Cody Larson‘s legal situation was settled. Now that Larson has received a longer probation period and a re-invoked 120-day suspended sentence after violating his probation, Donovan official decided he could rejoin the team after being indefinitely suspended since April. “I think both guys have been through a lot,” Donovan said on Monday, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I think both those guys are really, really remorseful. I don’t think the incident is a reflection of who they are as people. They come from great families. […] I’ve seen a lot of growth from these kids since the incident. That’s encouraging.”

2 » According to a report from USA Today, Florida’s Jeremy Foley is the second-highest paid athletic director in the country, earning $1.55 million in pay. He only ranks behind Vanderbilt’s David Williams ($2.56 million), who holds multiple positions at the school including serving as a general counsel and a fully tenured law professor. The Gators paid Foley a retention bonus of $200,000 in 2011, but he will hit an even bigger one on Jan. 31, 2012 when he is owed $550,000. Additional retention bonuses include $150,000 in 2013, $250,000 in 2014 and $100,000 per year from 2015-18 (though he would likely receive a new contract well before then).

3 » If you were irritated that the LSU Tigers ran the jump pass play on Saturday, the team’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales may be to blame. Gonzales, who used to coach receiver at Florida before being overlooked for the offensive coordinator job in favor of Steve Addazio, left UF in a huff to take the same job at LSU. Gators redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard said after the game that he was a bit suspicious of the play call. “That was cold,” he said. “They did it against us. I looked at Billy on the sidelines, and he was laughing. I figured he had something to do with that.” According to some of the Tigers’ players, that play has been available all season. “”It was something that we always had,” tight end Mitch Joseph, who caught the pass, told the Times-Picayune, “but I couldn’t believe we called it this game. It just happened to be Florida.”

4 » One other tidbit stemming from the Florida-LSU game is a small war of words that has erupted between Gators sophomore running back Trey Burton and Tigers star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Asked to compare Alabama and LSU after the game, Burton said he would choose to face the Tigers’ defense again because the secondary was “not as good as advertised” while Alabama was stronger and more physical. Mathieu, learning of this, took offense and tweeted the following on Sunday: “I love the fact that Trey Burton from Florida opens his mouth and says OUR SECONDARY is not good, lol Boy you are Soft as cotton!” Burton wound up sharing Mathieu’s comments and subsequently changed his Twitter avatar – to this.

Extra BIT » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow talks about playing but losing Sunday’s game, in which he replaced Kyle Orton behind center after the half.

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4 BITS: Larson avoids jail, Pouncey gets fined

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson will not serve any jail time in South Dakota even though his 120-day suspended sentence was revoked earlier this week by Minnehaha County Judge John Schlimgen due to Larson’s arrest in Florida on April 10. According to KSFY ABC, Judge Schlimgen re-invoked Larson’s suspended sentence due and gave him two more years of probation. Larson’s jail sentence will remain suspended as long as he stays out of trouble and follows a number of terms and conditions set forth by the Minnehaha County State Attorney’s Office. If he violates his probation again, chances are the judge will not be as lenient next time. Larson remains indefinitely suspended from the Gators basketball team because his legal status had not yet been decided until Friday. Head coach Billy Donovan will likely reinstate him soon, as he did with junior F Erik Murphy after his case was settled.

2 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was fined $7,500 by the NFL on Friday due to an unnecessary roughness call he got Sunday against Houston. Pouncey was fined for what the NFL determined was a late hit, though Pouncey said he did not hear the whistle and will not let the fine affect him. “I’m not changing how I play,” he said.

3 » Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap was praised by Pro Football Focus as the second-highest rated player at his position in the league. Dunlap does not have a sack yet this season after registering 9.5 in 2010 (including 8.5 in the final six games). He does, however lead Cincinnati with eight quarterback pressures, which is a great sign for the player. “Once you get one usually you get on a roll. Right now though the first one is the toughest,” Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m getting quarterback hits and pressures. Eventually they are going to turn into sacks.”

4 » On the injury front, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (sprained MCL) returned to practice for the first time on Thursday since getting hurt in Week 2. He is considered “on track” to play. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy, who has yet to play this year due to a sports hernia/groin injury, resumed practicing this week but was limited. Murphy, a starter in 2010 who was looking like Oakland’s most promising receiver, has fallen on the depth chart due to his absence and will have to work his way back up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham was injured during practice on Thursday. Graham hurt his hamstring and is questionable to play on Saturday. Though he may not be raking in the scores, he has been an integral part of Tampa Bay’s offense up to this point.

Updating the item above, Hernandez is listed as questionable on the Patriots’ injury report, Murphy will miss one more week, and Pittsburgh’s new left tackle Max Starks has earned the starting role for Sunday’s game.

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FOUR BITS: Larson faces jail, Starks returns to Steelers, Noah spotted, Hill arrested

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson may have had his legal matter settled in the state of Florida (he accepted deferred prosecution for his misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges) but how his actions will impact his legal status in South Dakota is another story. According to Keoland.com, Larson’s 120-day suspended jail sentence may be invoked due to him violating the law. “Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan filed a motion this week asking a Sioux Falls judge to drop the suspended sentence and consider jail time on the prescription drug charges from last year,” the website reports. “A court date has been set for Friday. That’s when it will be up to a judge to decide if Larson serves any or all of those 120 days.”

2 » After nearly three months away from football, former Gators offensive tackle Max Starks has officially been re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the same team that cut him shortly after the lockout ended due to concerns over his weight and status following offseason neck surgery. Starks, a favorite of the front office but reportedly a problem for the coaching staff, returned Wednesday and found his old No. 78 jersey hanging in his locker. “It was good to see everybody and everybody was happy to see me,” he told the Steelers’ website. “It was like old times. There are a lot of old faces and some new faces. It’s comfortable and it’s home. I am happy to be back.” OGGOA spoke with Starks a few weeks ago in an exclusive interview that will be published on the website in the coming days. He hopes to returns to the NFL gridiron as soon as Sunday.

3 » Back in Gainesville, FL working out with fellow former Florida forward Al Horford while the NBA lockout continues, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was caught by TMZ on Tuesday…having some fun in a pool. No, not that kind of fun. If you care to see two pictures of Noah playing beer pong, you can click here.

4 » Former Gators power forward Dametri Hill was arrested on Tuesday for not paying child support and for two previous charges of marijuana possession. According to the St. Petersburg Times, police caught up with Hill at the Tampa International Airport booked him with a warrant for contempt of court. After leaving Florida, Hill played with the San Antonio Spurs for a short time before pursuing professional basketball in seven countries over a 14-year period. He has recently participated in basketball camps as a coach and had hoped to continue living around the game.

Extra BIT » The University of Florida announced Wednesday that the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut spring game will take place on April 7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It will be a busy day on campus at UF with a track and field meet, baseball game and softball game also taking place.

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FOUR BITS: Young, Jaeckel, cheer, Jenkins

1 » Florida Gators sophomore forward/center Patric Young, one of the most important pieces to the team’s 2011-12 season, was named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list on Monday. The Wooden Award is presented each year to the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player and is awarded after the postseason has concluded. Every player in the nation is eligible to win except freshmen, medical redshirts and transfers. Young is one of seven players representing the Southeastern Conference on the watch list and the only one from Florida.

2 » Gators senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel picked up a pair of prestigious weekly honors after standout performances over the weekend. Jaeckel was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday and was honored with the AVCA National Player of the Week award just one day later. Over the course of two road games against Auburn and Georgia, Jaeckel totaled 29 kills, 12 blocks, four digs and two service aces. Florida swept both opponents 3-0 and is now 11-3 with a 4-1 record in SEC competition so far this season.

3 » UF cheerleader Tarin Moses wrote a Sideline Report blog for AmericanCheerleaders.com, which takes readers through a day in the life of a member of the Gators’ spirit squad before, during and after a big contest at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Though the majority of Florida fans already know of the traditions Moses writes about, the entry is an interesting look at the game from her perspective.

4 » Former Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins, playing his final collegiate season with the North Alabama Lions after transferring due to multiple rules violations, was named the Gulf Coast Conference Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday because he had an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal during his team’s game on Saturday. It was Jenkins’s third touchdown of the season (punt return, fumble return), and he is also third on North Alabama with 33 tackles through five games. The Lions have started the 2011 season 5-0.

Extra BIT » Offensive tackle Max Starks has not played a game in the NFL this season after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers when the lockout ended this summer. Due to a massive amount of injuries and an intense need for a player who knows the system, Pittsburgh flew Starks in to work out for the team on Tuesday, NFL.com‘s Jason LaCanfora reports. Starks was originally cut by the Steelers due to weight issues and concerns stemming from offseason neck surgery. When asked last week if Starks was an option to return, head coach Mike Tomlin flat-out said no.

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SIX BITS: Leak signed, Thomas and Wright back, Murphy in limbo, Hernandez working, Gators fed

1 » In a story first reported by the Florida Times-Union one day earlier, former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has officially been signed by the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL to be the team’s starting signal caller this season. “I am blessed and excited to be a part of an organization that’s committed to excellence and winning championships,” Leak said in a prepared statement released after signing his contract. “This is a great opportunity to be home and closer to my family. I look forward to playing in Jacksonville with support of greatest fans in the AFL.” Now a member of the Sharks, Leak will be joining his fourth professional football league. He played one preseason game with the NFL’s Chicago Bears after being undrafted in 2007, signed with Team Florida of the AAFL (which was stopped before it started), and played for three teams over four years in the CFL. With Jacksonville, he may have finally found a long-term home. “I am very excited to add Chris to our Sharks family,” team head coach Les Moss said. “He was a player I originally targeted before our first season, but was under contract in Canada and could not join us. Chris has never played the indoor game, but his accuracy and skill sets are what attracted him to us and are the requirements to be a top quarterback in the Arena Football League.”

2 » Denver Broncos defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who missed most of the preseason and his team’s first three regular season games with an injured pectoral muscle, has begun practicing with the Broncos for the first time in seven weeks. Nevertheless, he remains questionable to play on Sunday and may need another week in practice before he’s game-ready. Also returning to practice this week is Chicago Bears safety Major Wright, who was suffering from a head/neck injury that kept him out of last week’s game.

3 » Rehabbing a sports hernia that has kept him out of both practice and game action since early in the offseason, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphyhas been missing practice again this week even though the team planned to have him back one week ago. Indications coming out of Oakland are that Murphy was improving but is now stuck in limbo. While he’s been out, the Raiders have seen some of their younger receivers step up, turning what was once a guaranteed starting job for Murphy into a fight for field time whenever he does get healthy.

4 » Speaking of recovering from injuries, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is still working to that end after missing Sunday’s game due to injury. Hernandez sprained his MCL last week against San Diego and said this week that he is “feeling pretty good,” which is not necessarily an indication of when he will return. Various reports have him out 1-2 or 4-6 weeks, but Hernandez is optimistic he’ll be back on the field sooner than later. “I just take it day by day, and work with the trainers, and try to get back as soon as possible,” he said according to ESPNBoston.com. “We’ll just try to take it day by day and see how it feels.”

5 » A feature from The Wall Street Journal this week – discussing nutrition in college football as the “last frontier” for which teams can gain an advantage – featured (in part) the Florida program and a thought from one of the Gators’ nutritionists. “It’s the last remaining edge,” Chelsea Zenner said. “Every team at the top has a coach who deserves to be there and every team has great weight rooms and strength programs. The last edge is nutrition.” According to the article, Florida’s nutrition program (which began in 2003) spends $58,000 each year “just on pre- and post-practice snacks for the football team,” which include “five types of smoothies on demand.” There are “two full-time dietitians, a pair of interns and up to a dozen volunteers, with some staffers texting the players to remind them to eat lunch.”

6 » The Florida basketball team will be holding walk-on tryouts on Oct. 5 at 5 p.m., which Gainesville Sun reporter Kevin Brockway notes are being held to fill a spot vacated in the offseason. Apparently walk-on guard Kyle McClanahan left the team after spending three years on the Gators’ bench. OGGOA learned Thursday afternoon that McClanahan left the team with no ill will and simply “had enough” of being a walk-on for three years.

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FOUR BITS: Elam, Harvin, Noah, Hernandez

1 » According to the Associated Press, Florida Gators sophomore safety Matt Elam has settled the misdemeanor alcohol possession charge he was served an arrest for over the summer. Elam, who was caught by a police officer with a plastic cup containing alcohol, entered a plea of no contest on Monday. He will do 12 hours of community service, serve six months of supervised probation and pay a total of $331 in fees to settle the charge. Elam did not miss any playing time and has started all three games of the 2011 season for Florida at strong safety.

2 » Even though Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin had a dynamic kickoff return in the first game of the season and has proven to be the team’s second-most explosive weapon behind running back Adrian Peterson, he is not being used as much offensively has in the past. Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN Radio in Minneapolis pointed out on Monday that Harvin was only used in 44.1 percent (30-of-68) of the team’s offensive snaps in their second game of the season, which is more than 20 percent less playing time than just one week prior. The Vikings’ best receiver and deep threat, Harvin not being in the game has seriously stalled their offense, which is 31st (out of 32 teams) in the league in passing and has only scored 37 combined points in two games this season. His migraine and injury concerns are apparently a thing of the past, leaving many fans of the team to wonder why he is not being utilized more often.

3 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, aside from participating in international competitions, has been relatively quiet since his team was eliminated from the NBA Playoffs last year. Though you may not see him endorsing too many products west of the Atlantic Ocean, apparently Noah’s name is big enough in France to sell some shoes and clothing for the French sporting goods company Le Coq Sportif. Below is a video of the commercial Noah is currently appearing in for the brand.

4 » There may be some more bad news coming for New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who reportedly tore his MCL in the team’s week two contest against San Diego. Though the Boston Globe initially reported that Hernandez would be out 1-2 weeks with the sprain, Comcast SportsNet New England believes he may be out more than a month and up to six weeks due to the injury. The loss of Hernandez would be a big blow for the Patriots, who have found success recently with two pass-catching tight ends and perhaps even bigger for fantasy football owners who were counting on him to continue his dominant 2011 campaign.

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Florida basketball’s complete 2011-12 schedule

Florida Gators basketball on Monday announced the times for all of the team’s non-conference games this season, officially completing the 2011-12 schedule. In non-conference action, Florida will face six opponents who took part in the 2011 NCAA Tournament; it will also participate in four events scattered throughout the country – the Global Sports Shootout, Florida Citrus Sports Shootout, BIG EAST/SEC Challenge and Orange Bowl Basketball Classic.

During non-conference and Southeastern Conference competition combined, the Gators will play 18 games on national television including the conference’s season finale.

Below is the team’s complete 2011-12 schedule:

Date/TimeGator BaitResult
11/6 at 7:00 pm (SECN+)vs. Barry (Exh.)EXH.
11/14 at 6:00 pm (SECN)vs. William & MaryW 68-45
11/17 at 7:00 pm (ESPNU)vs. MiamiL 67-69
11/21 at 8:00 pm (SECN)vs. La.-MonroeW(OT) 61-56
11/26 at 9:30 pm (AXS)vs. GeorgetownB4A
11/27 at TBD (TBD)Wisconsin or UABB4A
11/28 at TBD (TBD)vs. TBDB4A
12/5 at 9:00 pm (ESPN)at KansasSEC-Big 12
12/8 at 7:00 pm (SECN)vs. Yale
12/12 at 7:00 pm (SECN)vs. Texas So.
12/14 at 4:00 pm (FSN)vs. Jacksonville
12/20 at 5:00 pm (FSN)vs. Wake ForestOBBC
12/30 at 7:00 pm (ESPN2)at Florida State
1/3 at 2:00 pm (CBS)vs. UConn
1/7 at 7:00 pm (SECN)at So. CarolinaSEC
1/10 at 7:00 pm (FSN)vs. Miss. StateSEC
1/15 at 7:00 pm (ESPN/2)vs. AuburnSEC
1/17 at 2:00 pm (CBS)at GeorgiaSEC
1/20 at 7:00 pm (ESPN)vs. LSUSEC
1/24 at 8:00 pm (SECN)at Ole MissSEC
1/27 at 9:00 pm (ESPN)at AlabamaSEC
1/31 at 1:00 pm (CBS)vs. ArkansasSEC
2/3 at 9:00 pm (ESPN)at VanderbiltSEC
2/7 at 9:00 pm (ESPN)vs. KentuckySEC
2/12 at 7:00 pm (ESPN/2)vs. Ole MissSEC
2/14 at 6:30 pm (SECN)at Texas A&MSEC
2/18 at 7:00 pm (SECN)vs. VanderbiltSEC
2/21 at 1:00 pm (CBS)at LSUSEC
2/24 at 9:00 pm (ESPN)at MissouriSEC
2/28 at TBD (ESPN/2)vs. TennesseeSEC
3/3 at 9:00 pm (ESPNU)vs. Texas A&MSEC
3/7 at 2:00 pm (CBS)at KentuckySEC

SCHEDULE NOTES

» Donovan’s son, Billy Donovan, Jr., is a guard for Catholic University.
» Ohio State won the Big Ten Championship in 2010-11.
» Florida will play four games in the state of Florida but not in Gainesville.
» As OGGOA first reported on April 28, the Gators’ participation in the GSS is part of a five-team “tournament” featuring a collection of games played at different arenas.
» Florida will play in the FCSS for the second-straight season; UF lost to Central Florida in the series’ inaugural game at the Amway Arena last season.
» Twelve teams each from the Big East and SEC will each compete in the BIG EAST/SEC Challenge from Dec. 1-3.
» Transfer guard Mike Rosario will square-off against the team he left, Rutgers.
» It is the fourth-straight year the Gators will play a non-conference opponent on Jan. 3 (3-0) and second-straight year they will play one on New Years Eve day.
» Florida will face two pairs of SEC opponents in three-day spans. The Gators will go to Ole Miss on Jan. 26 before playing Mississippi State at home on Jan. 28 and will host South Carolina on Feb. 2 before Vanderbilt comes to town on Feb. 4.
» UF will play nine games in February (28 days) but compete just seven times in January (31 days). The Gators usually play seven games in February and have not played more than eight since at least the 1998-99 season.
» Florida’s will face Kentucky on Senior Day, a game that is also the SEC’s final regular season contest of the season.
» This will be the first SEC regular season without the conference utilizing divisions. Nevertheless, the Gators will play their traditional SEC East opponents twice (home-and-home) and SEC West opponents once.
» Florida has a three-game conference home stretch from Jan. 28 to Feb. 4 and never plays more two consecutive games on the road (Feb. 14 and 18, Feb. 25 and 28).
» The 2011 SEC Tournament will take place from March 8-11 in New Orleans, LA.

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