Florida Gators football’s tumultuous offseason

The 2013 offseason started out relatively calm and normal for the Florida Gators football program with some players deciding to leave school early to play professionally and others choosing to try their luck at another university. Suddenly, starting on Jan. 10, a string of arrests, poor decisions, injuries and negative headlines began taking over the spring and summer for the Gators. Below is a timeline* of one of the most bizarre and controversial offseasons in Florida football history.

* While all of the news below was sour for Florida or its players in one way or another, obviously some of the occurrences (arrests, suspensions) are significantly more egregious than others (players transferring, coaches leaving). The standout, headline-making stories that either painted the program in a negative light or were exceptionally newsworthy during the summer are highlighted in red.

Luckily for Gators fans, with fall practice officially opening on Friday and the 2013 college season exactly one month away, the offseason is now over.

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Chris Johnson chooses to transfer from Gators

Four contributing players have now left the Florida Gators football team in the last 11 days as head coach Will Muschamp announced Sunday that sophomore running back Chris Johnson has also decided to transfer.

“Both Jacoby [Brissett] and Chris expressed an interest in transferring and getting a fresh start,” the coach said in a school release. “We are very thankful for their contributions to the University of Florida and wish them the best of luck.

Johnson, an undersized yet talented player, originally committed to the Gators as a safety but has also played linebacker and running back over the last two seasons. He has primarily made his mark as a special teams standout, racking up 11 tackles and a forced fumble while also carrying the ball five times for 35 yards in 2012.

He has appeared in all 26 games over two years at Florida and registered eight tackles as a freshman in 2011.

A local product who played for Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, FL, Johnson originally chose UF over Louisville, Memphis, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

He recently made headlines by being thrown out of the 2013 Sugar Bowl after throwing a punch following an onside kick on the opening play of the second half.

Johnson joins Brissett, redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan and sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders as players that have left the Gators over the last two weeks.

Eight total players from Muschamp’s first recruiting class in 2011 have transferred including two (Brissett, linebacker Graham Stewart) that committed to the program after he was hired as Urban Meyer’s replacement.

OGGOA Related: Brissett to transfer | Patchan, Saunders leaving Florida

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FOUR BITS: Brissett, Johnson, HS All-Americans

1 » Will quarterback Jacoby Brissett be spending his junior season with the Florida Gators? That is one of many unanswered questions lingering in the wake of Florida’s 33-23 loss to Louisville in the 2013 Sugar Bowl on Tuesday. Brissett addressed his future after the game when questioned by the Palm Beach Post. “I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “It depends on how I feel when I get back to Gainesville and have a talk with Coach [Will] Muschamp. You grow relationships for two years with some of these people you’re around every day, and it’s hard to leave them. It depends on how I feel.” With sophomore Jeff Driskel entranced as the Gators’ starter, Brissett would likely be returning in a back-up role. He has yet to use a redshirt season and Driskel is an unlikely candidate to leave as a junior meaning Brissett, should he stay, would run the risk of either never being a full-time starter or doing so for just one year elsewhere if he transferred following the 2013 season. Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels said last week that he has suggested that Brissett leave even though he thinks he will stay for at least one more year.

2 » The Post also caught up with Florida sophomore running back Chris Johnson after the game and asked him how he felt about being ejected from the game after he threw a punch following the team’s onside kick attempt to start the second half. “Bad discipline on my part, but you learn from your mistakes and move on,” he said. “It was frustration. The guy was riding me a little bit. If I could do it differently, I’d walk away from it. It sucks. In my mind, I feel like I cost us the Sugar Bowl.” Johnson’s personal foul was one of two on the play, and the Cardinals started at the Gators’ 19-yard line as a result. One play later, Louisville took a 30-10 lead and all but put the game away.

3 » Seven of Florida’s 2013 commitments will compete in the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game on Friday at 5 p.m. (ESPN). Four-star wide receiver Alvin Bailey (Seffner, FL), five-star defensive back Vernon Hargreaves (Tampa, FL), four-star DB Marcell Harris (Orlando, FL), three-star offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (Delray Beach, FL), four-star DB Keanu Neal (Bushnell, FL) and four-star RB Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL) will play for the black team, while four-star linebacker Matt Rolin (Ashburn, VA) suit up for the white team. The Gators also have three targets in the game with four-star defensive tackle Caleb Brantley (Crescent City, FL), four-star defensive end DeMarcus Walker (Jacksonville, FL) and four-star DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, IN) suiting up for the black team. Walker, an early enrollee, is reportedly set to visit UF following the game and may flip from his commitment to Alabama.

4 » The 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, set to air live on NBC on Saturday at 1 p.m., features four Florida commitments as four-star WR Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, FL), four-star LB Daniel McMillian (Jacksonville, FL), four-star DE Jordan Sherit (Tampa, FL) and four-star DB Nick Washington (Jacksonville, FL) are members of the East Team. The Gators also have a number of targets in the game including four-star WR Demarcus Robinson (Fort Valley, GA), who plans to enroll early at the school of his choice on Monday.

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No. 21 Louisville stuns No. 3 Florida in Sugar Bowl

Despite being overwhelming favorites and the team with the BCS pedigree, the No. 3 Florida Gators (11-2) were blasted on Wednesday evening by the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (11-2), which pulled off a 33-23 upset victory at the 2013 Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

Louisville scored on the first play from scrimmage of each half, overwhelmed Florida’s defense throughout the game and capitalized on each one of its opponent’s miscues to pull off the greatest victory in program history and biggest upset in BCS bowl game history. The Gators also snapped their streak of four-straight bowl wins and fell in a BCS game for the first time since 2000.

Florida put itself in an early hole on the very first play from scrimmage as sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel’s pass was tipped off the hands of redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose only to be intercepted by Louisville cornerback Terrell Floyd and returned for a touchdown just 15 seconds into the game. The defensive score was the Cardinals’ first of the season.

The Gators then went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and allowed UL QB Teddy Bridgewater to convert three third downs before running back Jeremy Wright carried the ball in for a one-yard touchdown. The 12-play, 83-yard drive ended with 6:47 left in the first quarter and gave UF its largest deficit of the season.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, November 1

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden has been a fan favorite in his short time as a superstar in Cleveland, OH but not only because of what he does on the field. Haden shows up to a ton of local sporting events (especially Cleveland Cavaliers games), attended prom as a high school student’s date, sponsored a kid’s baseball team and even invites fans to meet him out at random places in Cleveland for free food and drinks. Haden’s latest gesture of good will occurred this week when he bumped into a fan looking at NFL jerseys at Finish Line. Noticing that the fan, Bradley Morrison, was specifically looking at his jersey, Haden took it off the rack, paid for it and then signed it on the spot without being asked. It is rare for an athlete to embrace a city he never previously lived in as much as Haden has Cleveland, but he has proven to be completely authentic in his love for the town which he now calls home.

» Though it is not yet official, it appears as if Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal will soon be signing a multi-year deal with Nike. Beal’s agent Mark Bartelstein told The Washington Post last week that they are “excited” about the relationship and opportunity. “Obviously Nike does terrific things and I think he’s going to be a big part of their plans going forward,” Bartelstein told the paper.

» Does New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow have a celebrity girlfriend? The rumors and tabloid gossip appear to be real this time as TMZ recently spotted Tebow out bowling with actress Camilla Belle. Reports the website:

Tim and Camilla Belle showed up at Latitude 30 in Jacksonville, Florida Tuesday night, where they bowled and partied. Camilla has a history with other putatively pure celebs. She dated Joe Jonas for awhile, but they split up in 2009. People who were at Latitude 30 last night tell us … Tim and Camilla were overly affectionate throughout the evening, holding hands and touching. Camilla’s rep didn’t get back to us, but sources connected with Camilla tell us they are definitely an item.

Check out SIX more Gator Bites…after the break!
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10/22: Muschamp on injuries, awards, turnovers

No. 2 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review the team’s big 44-11 win over the then-No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks and preview Saturday’s game against the No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp said that junior cornerback Cody Riggs (foot) and redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (pectoral) are once again out for Saturday’s game. Freshman wide receiver Latroy Pittman (ankle) will return to practice Monday before being evaluated again, and junior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (hamstring) will sit on Monday but return to practice on Tuesday (probable for Saturday).

PLAYER AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Game: junior running back Trey Burton
“Trey does a lot of things for our football team offensively, special teams, really a lot of things go through him. We have a package for him in every game, and we certainly were able to use it Saturday and it was very efficient.”

Big Plays: redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed, redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar, junior WR Solomon Patton

Scrap Iron: redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green

Defensive Player of the Game: junior defensive end Dominique Easley

Ball Hawks: Burton (two), Patton, sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy (two), redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray, junior DT Sharrif Floyd, sophomore CB Jabari Gorman, sophomore RB Chris Johnson

Special Teams Player of the Game: Purifoy and sophomore punter Kyle Christy
* Christy was also named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Big Plays: Burton, Patton and Johnson

Scout Team Players of the Week: Special Teams – freshman LB Jeremi Powell, Defense – freshmen DL Alex McCalister and Quinteze Williams, Offense – freshman walk-on RB Mark Herndon

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
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No. 2 Florida chomps No. 7 South Carolina 44-11

A hard-fought Southeastern Conference battled turned into a one-sided blowout on Saturday when the No. 2 Florida Gators, led by a career-high four touchdown pass performance by sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, trampled the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks 44-11 in Gainesville, FL.

On a day in which ESPN’s College GameDay emanated live from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida (7-0, 6-0 SEC) proved that it is a new team in year two under head coach Will Muschamp, preventing head coach Steve Spurrier and South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC) from winning a third-straight game in the annual series.

The Gators turned three fumble recoveries into 21 first-half points and went five-for-five in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on every trip as they put the SEC East crown within their grasp pending the outcome of next week’s game against Georgia.

Florida started the game on fire as sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy forced a fumble that was recovered on the South Carolina two-yard line by redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray on the first play from scrimmage. Faced with a third down, Driskel hit redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed for a short touchdown to give UF a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game.

Read the rest of the game story and watch video highlights…after the break!
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10/15: Muschamp on injuries, winning, Clowney

No. 2 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review the team’s big 31-17 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores and preview Saturday’s home game against the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb, hamstring) missed Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury after returning one week prior with a cast on his hand. Though a “modified” version of the cast will remain on Jenkins’s hand, he is now back to full speed and will be active against South Carolina.

Florida’s offensive line wound up playing without three starters on Saturday as redshirt senior guard James Wilson (eye) did not travel with the team and both senior left tackle Xavier Nixon (concussion) and redshirt junior center Jonotthan Harrison (elbow) went down with injuries during the game.

Muschamp said Monday that Harrison “should be ready to go” and both Wilson and Nixon “should be fine” for Saturday. We’re really hopeful to get all those guys back,” he said. “They are all definitely going to be fine – or at least ‘probable’ at the worst.” Included in that group is junior defensive end Dominique Easley, who traveled to Vanderbilt but experienced some swelling around his knee and did not play.

The news is not as positive for three other players. Freshman WR Latroy Pittman hurt his ankle on Saturday and is questionable for this week’s game. Additionally, junior CB Cody Riggs (foot) and redshirt junior T Matt Patchan (pectoral) will both miss the game. Muschamp said that Riggs may try to run this week but that both players have an outside chance of returning in two weeks.

PLAYER AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Game: sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel

Scrap Iron: redshirt junior guard Jon Halapio
* Halapio was also named SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week.

Defensive Player of the Game: senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic
“He played extremely well. Very productive, active in the middle, made a lot of plays, playing blocks extremely well. Jon’s really progressed this year as far as his physicality of playing in the core of the formation and playing blocks and disengaging, getting off people. Real proud of him.”

Ball Hawks: Bostic, redshirt sophomore Sam LB Neiron Ball, redshirt senior defensive lineman Earl Okine, sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy

Special Teams Player of the Game: sophomore running back Chris Johnson
“He had three tackles inside the 20 on kickoff. They were doubling him and he ran through every one of him. He’s a guy who I’m real proud of his efforts.”

Big Play: junior wide receiver Solomon Patton

Read the rest of this post…after the break!
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