Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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Seven Gators named to 2012 AP All-SEC teams

Seven members of the Florida Gators football team were voted onto to the 2012 All-SEC Teams on Monday, as chosen by Associated Press voters.

Florida had six players selected to the first team: redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed, senior running back Mike Gillislee, redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis, junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, junior safety Matt Elam and sophomore punter Kyle Christy.

Gators sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson was placed on the All-SEC second team.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp finished second to Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin in SEC Coach of the Year voting. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel won SEC Offensive Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year, while Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

The Gators had the second-most total All-SEC selections with seven, one behind Alabama’s eight. However, Florida’s six first-team nods were the most in the conference.

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FOUR BITS: Tennessee, Parker, Sumlin, NFL

1 » As any team should heading into a big game, the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers are planning on defeating the No. 17/18 Florida Gators on Saturday. However, after hearing through the grapevine that fans are considering rushing the field should Tennessee break its seven-year losing streak against Florida, Knoxville, TN police have issued a pre-emptive warning. According to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, which had a conversation with KPD spokesman Darrel DeBusk, fans caught rushing the field will be arrested and charged with aggravated criminical trespassing. Additionally, the school’s judicial affairs office will be notified of all arrests in a move “which could impact [students’] future with UT and their ability to attend any future special events and sporting events at the university.” What the school has decided to do in the event of a celebration – again, this is all being planned in advance – is to “bring the players to the fans” in the stands.

2 » Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan is not done with his 2013 recruiting class despite already receiving commitments from three players including two five-star recruits (and top-10 ranked players nationally). As I first reported on the InsidetheGators.com message board a few weeks ago, Donovan has his sights set on a handful of top players in the country and the Gators feel like they are in position to nab another big name. According to ESPNChicago.com, Donovan took the next step towards that goal on Tuesday when he met with five-star small forward Jabari Parker (Chicago, IL), the unanimous top-ranked player in the nation. UF is in Parker’s top 10 but is not necessarily considered a favorite for his services at this time.

3 » While Florida is getting prepared a new opponent this week, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin took what could be considered a shot at his opponent from last weekend. Looking ahead to his next game, Sumlin was asked during a press conference how he thought his team held up condition-wise against the Gators. “It wasn’t our team flopping around on the field in the second half,” he replied. Houston Chronicle beat writer Brent Zwerneman then asked Sumlin if Florida was “flopping around” due to poor conditioning or another reason to which he replied with an ambiguous “You were there.” The Gators saw 10 players go down throughout the course of the game with injures. While a few were serious and resulted in players leaving the game and not returning, the majority appeared to be cramps, which was odd considering the team practices in high heat and humidity in Gainesville, FL. Some (not necessarily Sumlin) have accused UF players of going to the ground to slow down A&M’s offense.

4 » In the first of two quick NFL notes, the Baltimore Ravens decided Tuesday following their stellar season-opening performance on Monday night to award undrafted free agent wide receiver Deonte Thomspon the starting kick returner job going forward. Thompson will be the second former Gators player to take over that job this season (Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey) and will be the third overall (Minnesota Vikings WR Percy Harvin) who will be heavily relied on his team to find some success in the return game. Additionally, the Steelers announced Tuesday that right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who went down with an injury on Sunday and did not return to the game, hyperextended his left knee but is expected to be able to return to the gridiron for this week’s contest.

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Gameday: No. 23 Florida Gators at Texas A&M

Location: Kyle Field – College Station, TX [Capacity: 82,589]
Weather Forecast: 89°F, partly cloudy, winds N at 21 mph
Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT / 2:30 p.m. CDT

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD (Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Heather Cox)
SiriusXM: 94/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network (affiliates)
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

(23) FLORIDA GATORS TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin
Record: 1-0 (0-0 SEC) Record: 0-0 (0-0 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -1; O/U 49.5

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on what happened with the Gators over the last week? No problem. OGGOA has been here the whole time posting a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam on Saturday.

Jeff Driskel named starting QB | LS Drew Ferris out | CB Jaylen Watkins steps up | CB Jeremy Brown returns | Sumlin gives edge to UF | Quinn talks defense

EXTRA CREDIT: Four things Florida must do to top Texas A&M on Saturday

HISTORY / STREAKS

» Saturday’s contest between Florida and Texas A&M is not only TAMU’s season opener but also the school’s first-ever SEC game. The Gators are 1-1 historically against the Aggies with their last meeting coming in the 1977 Sun Bowl.
» Florida, however, is 1-7-2 all-time playing in the state of Texas and 10-11-2 all-time against seven total teams from the state. TAMU is 25-2 in home openers.
» Saturday’s game will be featured as a host site for ESPN’s College GameDay. It is the 21st time (14-7) that the Gators will be on the road for College GameDay. The Aggies will be hosting College GameDay for the third time (0-2).
» Florida is 8-1 against unranked opponents and 0-5 against ranked opponents since Muschamp took over the program in 2011.
» Sumlin is coaching his first game at Texas A&M after the team had its season opener postponed due to Hurricane Issac. He coached Houston to a 13-1 record in 2011.
» The Gators had eight true freshmen play in their season opener including three on defense, four on offense and one on special teams.
» Florida is not scheduled to face Tennessee to open their conference slate for the first time since 1996. (UF-UT was slated for the third week of the 2011 season but was postponed because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.)
» The Gators were scheduled to face Louisiana-Lafayette in week two but are instead playing an SEC game in the second week of the season for the first time since 1995.
» The Aggies are playing a conference opponent in their season opener for the first time since 1967 and just the third time in program history.
» Florida sophomore Jeff Driskel and Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will both start the first games of their respective college careers at quarterback on Saturday. Driskel played as a reserve in 2011 and saw plenty of action last week; for Manziel it will also be the first college football game in which he has ever played.
» The Gators rushed for 220 yards (5.2 yards per carry) last week in an effort to prove that the team has a power running game worth respecting. UF is now 8-2 under Muschamp when eclipsing the 100-yard rushing benchmark and 0-4 otherwise.
» Florida’s offense converted just 5-of-16 third-downs (31 percent) against Bowling Green last Saturday.
» The Gators held the Falcons to 4-of-17 on third down (23.5 percent), continuing a trend from 2011 in which UF was second nationally in third-down defense (27.3 percent).
» Florida has forced eight turnovers in its last five games dating back to last season.
» The Gators are 8-1 under Muschamp when leading at the half but 0-5 when tied or trailing at that point in the game.
» Florida has at least two kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of the last two seasons after never having more than one in a single season before 2010.
» Texas A&M set school records in 2011 in passing, scoring and total offense (seventh nationally). TAMU is returning eight starters from that offense but neither their starting quarterback nor primary running back.
» TAMU’s offensive line allowed just nine sacks in 13 games in 2011 and was only flagged for holding twice (the last time in the second game of that season).
» The Aggies led the country in 2011 with 51 total sacks and are returning their top two pass rushers from last season.
» Some college football rule changes for 2012: kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard line, touchbacks moved up to the 25-yard line, player losing his helmet in action results in halting participation immediately and sitting out one full play.

LAST TIME OUT

Florida and Texas A&M have only met on the gridiron twice before with their last showdown occurring in El Paso, TX in the 1977 Sun Bowl. The Aggies stomped the Gators 37-14 that day, forcing five turnovers and enveloping their opponents with a hard-hitting defense. Then-Florida head coach Doug Dickey lost starting quarterback Jimmy Fisher to a dislocated ring finger in the first quarter and was irked at the end of the game when Texas A&M went for a two-point conversion on their final touchdown. The teams’ only other meeting was in Gainesville, FL back in 1962 when the Gators routed the Aggies 42-6 by winning the battle on the ground 206-72.

ESPN: KEYS TO THE GAME

Read the rest of the Florida-Texas A&M preview including injuries and absences and which players to look out for from both sides of the field.
Continue Reading » Gameday: No. 23 Florida Gators at Texas A&M

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Sumlin praises Pease, thinks Florida has edge

Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin appears to be a young guy in the industry but his history coaching across the nation is storied and filled with plenty of great success. So it is no surprise that Sumlin has a prior relationship with Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease, especially considering the two love spreading the field and making defenses work extra hard in games.

“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Sumlin reminisced during the weekly Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference on Wednesday.

Sumlin first met Pease at the One-Back Clinic, an exclusive event that has been held for 14-straight years amongst coaches from conferences across the country. Only one staff per conference is invited as the goal is for the coaches in attendance to be open about their philosophies and free to share their thoughts with each other.

“The first time I met Brent was at one that Mike Price hosted at Washington State and Brent was at Montana,” Sumlin said Wednesday. “And we’ve stayed in touch this whole time. He’s a guy that I’ve talked to quite a bit on-and-off in the offseason. He’s a guy that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, and I know that there’s a reason why he was a highly sought after coordinator last year.”

Pease was actually a candidate to replace Sumlin at Houston though the door to that opportunity shut in mid-December. He then basically had his choice of coordinator jobs with both Florida and Alabama offering him the position. Pease chose the Gators in the end though he would have been in the position to give Sumlin and his defensive coordinator fits this season no matter which team he decided to join.

“He’s a guy that I think does an excellent job, makes you defend the whole field, makes you gap-conscious, hides a lot of things with shifts and motions, unbalanced, gives you all the looks but will also do all of that with window dressing and give you power football, and then do a play action and double moves and things like that,” Sumlin said when summarizing what Pease brings to the table.

“He makes you defend the whole field. I think he’s had a good career; his career is only going to get better. And he’s also going to be an excellent head coach one day.”

Sumlin was also asked Wednesday if his team has an advantage heading into Saturday’s showdown considering the fact that Florida will not have any film to go on and will have to prepare for the game relatively blind. He dismissed that fact, noting that it is the Gators that are in the favored position heading into the contest.

“I think it’s an advantage for Florida to be able to play [last week]. There’s the old adage that you make your most improvement between the first and second game. Obviously that comes from experience. I think it’s an advantage to play and get to know your team,” he said.

“The real difference is we’re a new staff and haven’t been around these guys in a real game situation, pressure situation. We try to create that type of environment at practice with loud music, the tempo and all that stuff but there’s no way to really duplicate game speed, which we’ve got to get adjusted to, the game pressure, just the intensity level that goes on during a game. And the consequences of real mistakes during a game.

“Us being a new staff and not being around our guys in those pressure situations, that’s something that we’re going to have to get a feel for as we get going. I think Coach [Will] Muschamp being around his team a year before but also a game…we would have liked to have played last week, I’ll put it that way.”

The back-and-forth about which team may have an advantage will probably continue through ESPN’s College GameDay program on Saturday morning. In the end the only thing that matters is which team prevails that afternoon.

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2012 SEC Media Days – Slive, Spurrier, highlights

The 2012 Southeastern Conference Media Days began on Tuesday in Birmingham, AL and will last for three days concluding on Thursday. Though the Florida Gators contingent will meet the media on Wednesday morning, below are some highlights from the first day of the event, which featured SEC commissioner Mike Slive and representatives of South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE

» On improved minority hiring in the league: “Today we have three minority head football coaches, eight minority head basketball coaches and five minority women’s basketball coaches, all bucking a national trend as outlined in a recent [Associated Press] article. I am very grateful that the hiring of minority coaches in the Southeastern Conference is no longer a story; it is simply part of who we are.”

» On providing student-athletes with a true “full ride” scholarship: “It remains important for us to continue to focus on increasing the amount of a full scholarship to provide student-athletes with financial resources to meet the full cost of attendance. And we also need to eliminate rules, for example, that are hurdles for former student-athletes to come back after their eligibility is exhausted. And if they’re committed to getting their degrees, we need to have financial aid rules that allow us to do that.”

» On avoiding a situation like what recently occurred at Penn State: “We must maintain an honest and open dialogue across all levels of university administration. There must be an effective system of checks and balances within the administrative structure to protect all who come in contact with it, especially those who cannot protect themselves. No one program, no one person – no matter how popular, no matter how successful – can be allowed to derail the soul of an institution.”

» On the current SEC Network and plans for a national network: “The SEC Network syndicated package that now reaches 80 million homes and includes such markets as New York, Chicago, Boston and LA, amongst others. On a Saturday afternoon, it’s ESPN’s third most widely distributed platform behind only ESPN and ESPN2. [...] There has been a whole lot of speculation about ‘Project X.’ Is it still a secret? I don’t think so. But we now call it ‘Project SEC.’ Our objective long term to work with our television partner to provide fans with greater access to favored teams, more opportunities to watch rivals and more insight into who we are: a conference of 14 great universities. I’d love to say more. I know you want me to say more. I won’t say more. I will, though, before I get too much older and before you get too much older.”

SOUTH CAROLINA HEAD COACH STEVE SPURRIER

» On how things have changed at USC: “A lot has changed at South Carolina in seven years. Yeah, I got a couple good friends that have been there for 30, 40 years and so forth. One of the guys said, ‘We used to come to the ballpark hoping for a good game. If we’re playing Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, we were just hoping for a good game, not get blown out. Now we sort of come to the ballpark thinking we’re going to beat those guys. We’re sort of mad if we don’t.’ I said, ‘That’s the way you’re supposed to feel, mad or a little upset if you don’t beat them.’”

Read the rest of this post (including more from Spurrier)…after the break!
Continue Reading » 2012 SEC Media Days – Slive, Spurrier, highlights

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FOUR BITS: Muschamp, Allen, Pitchford, Hill

1 » Despite the lack of actual conflict between Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies top man Kevin Sumlin, the city of College Station, TX took the barbs as an opportunity to create the following video promoting their city while simultaneously making some light-hearted jokes at Muschamp.

2 » Former Gators forward Adam Allen, who never truly played for Florida again after injuring his knee as a true freshman, left the team for good after seeing 25 seconds on Senior Night in his redshirt junior season. Allen was graduating from the University of Florida and saw no further reason to remain on the team considering he would be unable to play for head coach Billy Donovan. Now over a year removed from the game, Allen has decided to attend Rollins College in Winter Park, FL for graduate school and announced this week that he will also have the opportunity to play basketball while enrolled. Allen, whose knee injury still limits him, told OGGOA (he served as a columnist here during the 2011-12 basketball season) that will not be able to play full-time at Rollins but will do whatever he can to help the team.

3 » Speaking of former Gators basketball players, Florida freshman transfer Walter Pitchford has officially committed to Nebraska after visiting the school over the weekend. “I just thought it was the right decision,” Pitchford told Rivals.com. “I’m comfortable with everyone on the staff and the players. I just felt like I really got along with everyone and this was the right fit for more.” A former three-star recruit, Pitchford was a late UF commitment during the 2011 cycle but played very limited minutes last season. He decided following the season to leave the program and move closer to home and chose a school that is a two-hour flight from Michigan. Pitchford will apply for a hardship waiver (citing family reasons for his transfer) that would allow him to be eligible immediately at Nebraska but chances are he will have to sit out the 2012-13 season.

4 » A future Gators basketball star also got some good news on Saturday when ESPN released its latest top-100 players list for the 2013 season. Florida five-star point guard commitment Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL) has been turning heads this entire offseason and jumped 12 spots on the list up to No. 6 overall. Already ranked No. 8 by Rivals, Hill is now a consensus top-10 player and has the opportunity to vault even higher with a stellar senior campaign. The Gators’ primary remaining target for 2013, five-star forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL), is listed as the seventh-best player by ESPN and sixth-best by Rivals. He has plenty of offers but will likely choose between UF and Kansas. Working in Florida’s favor is the fact that Walker and Hill are close and have discussed playing together at the next level.

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Sumlin cracks back at Muschamp’s barb

For two guys who have not been head coaches in the Southeastern Conference for long, Florida’s Will Muschamp (one year, five months) and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (five months) may be forming the beginnings of a rivalry that the Gators’ head coach sparked last week with a relatively innocent jab.

“You ever been to College Station?” he asked rhetorically to a group of Florida fans at a Gator Gathering in Lakeland FL. “It’ll be the only time you go.”

Sumlin was apparently none-too-pleased when he heard about Muschamp’s barb, responding Wednesday with a very simple comment in a mind-your-own-business vein.

“He needs to worry about his own team,” said Sumlin, who has coached in the state of Texas since 2008, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Muschamp is plenty worried about the Gators, which after a 7-6 season in his first go-around with the team are looking to make a big jump in year two.

Sumlin is in the first year of his rebuilding project after being hired to replace head coach Mike Sherman in December.

Florida will have an opportunity to get off to a hot start when they open up the 2012 SEC slate against, you guessed it, Texas A&M at Kyle Field on Sept. 8. The game will be the Aggies’ first in their new conference and, as the Chronicle notes, “might be the most hyped game in history between two programs coming off 7-6 seasons.”

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