Friday Final: Florida focused impressing in opener, running backs primed for breakout

A number of Florida Gators football players spoke at length this week ahead of Saturday’s season-opening contest against the Idaho Vandals, which is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, and air live on ESPNU.

Below are some of the week’s top stories along with notes and quotes that either fell through the cracks or did not make it into one of the six posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links below).

Tuesday: Depth chart for Idaho game | Notebook – Will Muschamp evaluates team, previews first game | Story – Treon Harris named backup quarterback

Thursday: Notebook – Kurt Roper addresses hot topics, D.J. Durkin evaluates unit

Friday: 54 Florida football facts, stats and tidbits

DYNAMIC DUO

No designations have been made as to which player will assume the role of Batman (and the other Robin) but the Gators certainly have a pair of running backs looking to wipe the floor with defenses like they are criminals roaming the streets of Gotham.

Junior Matt Jones was primed for a breakout campaign in 2013 after exploding during the end of his freshman season, but a serious viral infection seriously affected his health and kept him out of the season opener. Weeks later, a season-ending knee injury derailed the progress he made.

Florida looked prepared to redshirt freshman Kelvin Taylor, preserving his eligibility while using Jones and now-redshirt senior Mack Brown last season. But Jones’s injury thrust Taylor into the spotlight, and he responded with 508 yards and four touchdowns.

Rather than worrying about competing with each other, Jones and Taylor hope to bring UF’s running game to new heights. Neither is at all concerned with their touches but rather making the most of each carry and reception while pushing the Gators offense forward.

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Florida football preview: 54 facts, stats and tidbits

In an attempt to preview the 108th season of Florida Gators football, OnlyGators.com decided to find 108 interesting facts, important statistics and relevant historical tidbits about the team. The process proved to be more daunting than initially expected.

Below you will find 54 different notes to prime you for the 2014 campaign, which kicks off against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, Aug. 30 live from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, at 7 p.m.

1. Florida finished 2013 with a 4-8 record, putting together its first losing season since it went winless (0-10-1) in 1979. UF rebounded to finish 8-4 in 1980, setting an NCAA record for best turnaround in major college football history at the time. The Gators were also the first team ever to play in a bowl game after failing to win a game the season prior.

2. Will Muschamp (43) is the second-youngest coach in the SEC behind Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen (42).

3. Muschamp’s 22-16 record through three seasons (2011-13) is the worst for a Florida head coach in that span since Charley Pell went 15-19-1 from 1979-81.

4. Kurt Roper is Muschamp’s third offensive coordinator in four seasons and UF’s fifth in the last seven years, while Mike Summers is Muschamp’s third offensive line coach in four seasons.

5…starters played in all 12 games for Florida in 2013.

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Florida coordinators Kurt Roper, D.J. Durkin evaluate units ahead of opener vs. Idaho

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media this week to provide some thoughts on the Gators and their first opponent of 2014, the Idaho Vandals ahead of Saturday evening’s showdown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

PLANNING TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

Do not worry, fans, Roper is well-aware of what you expect to see out of his offense on Saturday. In his first year at the helm of Florida’s offense, Roper has every intention on lighting the scoreboard up and winning games with his up-tempo system, though it will be up to the players on the field to execute his vision.

In fact, he not only senses the pressure but embraces it and hopes that Gators fans will have smiles on their faces by the time they leave The Swamp late Saturday evening.

“I hope they’re excited. I want them to be excited. I hope we meet the expectations,” he said on Thursday. “Whenever you are coaching at the University of Florida, the expectations are to win football games. I think that’s really the bottom line.

“I hope we can do it with exciting offense and a lot of points. Obviously, I don’t want to let anybody down, much less the guys that we’re working with all the time. We want to go out and play well. I hope, at the end of the day, they’re happy I’m here.”

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Cooper, Hammond, Sturgis

1 » Perhaps one of the most overlooked stories entering the 2014 NFL season is the health of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin. One of the best playmakers in the league over the last five seasons, Harvin has only played in 12 games over the last two years including just three in 2013. But Harvin made an impact in Super Bowl XLVIII when he returned the returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown, and he almost won the game’s Most Valuable Player honor for it. Now, the defending Super Bowl champions get a healthy Harvin for presumably the entire season.

“He’s a tremendous threat,” head coach Pete Carroll told the media on Monday. “You can feel his speed and that burst that he has, really challenges you. You don’t know if he’s going to go all the way so just the opportunity to give them that problem makes them stay up a little later, trying to figure out how to stop him.” Added Harvin: “My body is feeling tremendously good. I’ve actually reached some gears that I didn’t know I had. I’m feeling very, very fast right now.”

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Spikes, Garcia, Easley

1 » Though playing in the NFL again remains his top priority, former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow is doing whatever he can to be the best television analyst possible in his new role with the SEC Network. According to SI.com’s Richard Deitsch, Tebow is heavily involved in his new position and going so far as to pester SEC Nation host Joe Tessitore with questions both in and out of work. “I know when Tim states a goal he stays the course, so I understand why he firmly expresses fulfilling his NFL dreams,” Tessitore told Deitsch. “It’s who Tim is. I also know that he loves this SEC Nation job with us. I know he considers us his team. I know that he has told our producers that he wants constant feedback, he wants to be coached, and he wants to be great at TV. He calls and texts me non-stop to discuss every detail of everything we’re doing. Just last week I fielded one of his pressing concerns about a potential 90 second telestration piece he was going to voice over and explain for a broadcast — a broadcast that is still 10 days away. That’s commitment to preparation.” The first SEC Nation show will air on Thursday from 4-6 p.m. on SEC Network ahead of the channel’s first-ever live college football game – Texas A&M at South Carolina.

2 » CBSSports.com senior editor Tony Moss ranked all 128 FBS head coaches by how successful they were as football players. As it turns out, two coaches tied to Florida were placed in the top 20 of the rankings. Checking in at No. 20 is current Gators head football coach Will Muschamp, a walk-on strong safety at Georgia who became a team captain as a senior. No. 1 overall, of course, was former Florida Heisman Trophy-winning QB Steve Spurrier.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Tebow, Spikes, Garcia, Easley

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The Silver Lining for Wednesday, August 27

Florida basketball staff reloads

Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan knew for a while that he would have two staffers leaving the program this offseason, and it all became a reality last week when assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault and video coordinator Oliver Winterbone both departed to join the Oklahoma City Thunder organization.

Daigneault was hired as the head coach of the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the 66ers, while Winterbone accepted a basketball information analyst position with Oklahoma City’s front office. (The 66ers are moving from Tulsa to Oklahoma City this season.)

Donovan did not wait long to fill the staffing holes and keep his machine running.

On Tuesday, ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reported that Donovan will hire veteran assistant coach Billy Schmidt to fill the off-court assistant position vacated by Daigneault.

Schmidt has spent the last 11 seasons coaching under Brian Gregory including eight at Dayton and the last three at Georgia Tech. He was Gregory’s first hire, joining the Flyers after spending nine seasons coaching in major conferences. Schmidt’s journey began as a manager with Wake Forest (1988-92) but continued with stops at Tennessee (1994-97), Northwestern (1997-2000) and under Tommy Amaker both at Seton Hall (2000) and Michigan (2001-03).

OnlyGators.com learned Monday evening that Donovan has also desired to hire Peter Gash to replace Winterbone as video coordinator.

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FOUR BITS: Prather, Gillislee, Bonner, Wuerffel

1 » Former Florida Gators forward Casey Prather has been given a second chance at latching on with an NBA team after agreeing to join the Phoenix Suns in training camp on a non-guaranteed contract. Phoenix currently has 13 guaranteed contracts on its roster as well as one open roster spot. Prather will be competing with veteran center Earl Barron for that job. After spending the month of July playing for the Atlanta Hawks during NBA Summer League games in Las Vegas, Nevada, Prather was not retained or signed by another team. He averaged 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.

Both of Prather’s fellow undrafted teammates out of Florida, C Patric Young and point guard Scottie Wilbekin, have landed professional contracts. Young signed a two-year, $1.35 million contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, while Wilbekin inked a deal with the Cairns Taipans of the Australian Basketball League.

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Treon Harris named Florida’s backup quarterback, but Will Muschamp says battle will continue

With just four days until the season opener and plenty of roster issues yet to be completely ironed out, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp released a depth chart for the first time in nine months on Tuesday, announcing before it was published that freshman quarterback Treon Harris would be the second-string signal caller during his team’s season-opening game against the Idaho Vandals.

It will be Harris, who enrolled this summer, and not classmate Will Grier, who joined the program four months earlier for spring practice, taking snaps behind redshirt junior starter Jeff Driskel on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Yet while that was Muschamp’s decision on Tuesday, he made sure to point out on multiple occasions during his weekly press conference that it will not necessarily carry over for the duration of the 2014 campaign.

“The backup quarterback will be Treon Harris going into this game. There was really no separation from the backup standpoint. We met through the weekend and talked moving forward. I felt like Treon has some things he can provide for us offensively. That’s nothing that’s been made for the long-term,” he said.

“Going into the first game, we plan on playing Treon. That could change in game two, could change in game three. It’s a long season.”

Unfortunately, it may not be that easy for Muschamp and the Gators.

Continue Reading » Treon Harris named Florida’s backup quarterback, but Will Muschamp says battle will continue

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