No. 3 Florida Gators set to face No. 21 Louisville Cardinals in 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl

Coming off an 11-1 regular season, a five-game improvement from a year ago, the No. 3 Florida Gators have been awarded a spot in the 2013 Sugar Bowl where the team will take on the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (10-2) on Jan. 2 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA. The game will air live at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Florida and Louisville will be participating in the 79th annual version of the game. It is the ninth time the Gators will play in the Sugar Bowl but the first for the Cardinals.

UF holds a 3-5 all-time record in the Sugar Bowl, last playing against and defeating Cincinnati 51-24 on Jan. 1, 2010. Florida is also 2-0 all-time against Louisville; the teams have not met since 1992.

The Gators were originally expected to face the Oklahoma Sooners in the game. However, a strong finish to the season by Northern Illinois Huskies moved them up to No. 15 in the final BCS standings and into a game. The Huskies earned a guaranteed berth because they finished in the top 16 of the BCS standings and ahead of at least one automatic qualifying conference champion, thus knocking the Sooners out of an at-large bid and moving the Cardinals into the Sugar Bowl.

The game has an additional level of intrigue as Louisville is currently led by former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who took over as head coach in 2010. Also on Strong’s staff are former UF defensive backs coach Vance Bedford (defensive coordinator), running backs coach Kenny Carter (same position) and defensive graduate assistant Tommy Restivo (DB coach).

The Cardinals’ roster also includes Gators transfers wide receiver Robert Clark, tight end Gerald Christian and cornerback Adrian Bushell.

Florida will be appearing in its 22nd consecutive bowl game, a mark that ranks first in the Southeastern Conference and second nationally. The Gators are 20-19 all-time in bowls; UF has won four straight and six of its last seven.

Sugar Bowl Committee President Jack Laborde: “We’re very excited to be welcoming the University of Florida and the University of Louisville to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Each year, we have the pleasure of welcoming thousands of fans to this great city and showing off all it has to offer – world-class cuisine, trend-setting music, outstanding gridiron competition and more. We look forward to introducing our unique flavor of hospitality to all of the players, coaches, administrators and fans from these two great schools.”

Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan: “We’re very pleased to have the opportunity to host these two outstanding teams in this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl Committee has worked hard over the years to present outstanding match-ups that produce thrilling games. In Will Muschamp and Charlie Strong, we have two of the country’s top young coaches and we know both will have their teams ready to play on January 2nd. We have little doubt that this game will produce another memorable chapter in the great history of the Sugar Bowl.”

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TWO BITS: Senior Bowl, transfer destinations

1 » A pair of Florida Gators – redshirt seniors running back Chris Rainey and defensive tackle Jaye Howard – have officially accepted invitations to participate in the 2012 Senior Bowl, the organization announced on Wednesday. The duo will play on the South roster and are the only Florida players currently invited/committed to the event. “It feels good. I know a lot of great players have come to this game and I’m glad I’m invited and hope to do the best that I can to compete with the other greats,” Rainey said in the event’s official release. “The first thing I’m going to tell the scouts and coaches is that I want to be on special teams. They are going to have to set up some scheme for me to block a punt or do whatever they want me to do on special teams, because I love special teams and that’s the number one thing that wins games.”

Howard said he is playing in the game because he wants to “prove that I’m one of the elite defenders in this class this year and it’s a business trip for me.” He continued, “I’m quick, I can run all over the field and chase plays down. I want to prove that I can play several positions on the defensive line, not just d-tackle. I can play the end, nose guard—everything on the d-line, so I can bring that to a system.” The Senior Bowl will be played on Jan. 28 and air live on NFL Network beginning at 4 p.m. Practices will also be televised during the week leading up to the game on the same network.

2 » Four former Gators who decided to transfer this season have already chosen their new destinations, according to various reports. Defensive back Joshua Shaw has chosen to head closer to home (Palmdale, CA) and picked UCLA where he will sit out a season per NCAA transfer rules, while linebacker Dee Finley announced that he will play for Tuskegee, a HBCU, beginning next year. Two Florida players are expected to be heading to Louisville to play for former UF defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Tight end Gerald Christian told the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday that he will be going to Louisville, while multiple reports over the last two weeks have wide receiver Robert Clark planning to join him. Like Shaw, each will have to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer regulations and will be eligible to play beginning in 2013.

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Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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FOUR BITS: Sturgis, Tebow, transfers, Humphrey

1 » Though he has been garnered similar honors by other outlets, Florida Gators redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis was awarded a spot on the 2011 Associated Press All-American Team on Wednesday. Sturgis was placed on the second team while Texas A&M K Randy Bullock earned the first-team nomination. He was similarly given a second-team nod on the 2011 Walter Camp All-American list and recently was a finalist (but did not win) the 2011 Lou Groza Award, as announced last Thursday. Named unanimously to the All-SEC first-team by coaches and AP voters, Sturgis accounted for 91 points this season, going 21-for-25 on field goals and 28-for-28 on extra points.

2 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow appears to be going head-to-head with a former teammate every week. After taking on Minnesota (with wide receiver Percy Harvin) two weeks ago and Chicago (with safety Major Wright) last week, Tebow will play the New England Patriots on Sunday, where he will square off with linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez. The latter told the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport on Thursday that he still supports and believe in his former teammate. “He keeps plays alive, and he’s winning,” Hernandez said. “[He was] a leader. I’m sure he still is. He brought a lot of energy to the game. When someone has energy, you take from it.” Tebow shared his admiration for Hernandez as well. “He makes any quarterback he’s with look at lot better,” he said. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of those guys when you need competitive excellence and you need someone to step up and make a big play, he’s always ready and willing. I’m just proud of him for what he’s done as an NFL player and what he did with me at Florida.”

3 » Two former Gators are on their way to Louisville, KY and could be one step closer to playing with former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, now head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. According to a number of reports, transfers tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark will be visiting the school beginning Friday as they search for a spot to spend their final two years of eligibility. Each will have to redshirt the 2012 season and will be eligible to resume playing college football in 2013.

4 » Back in the United States, former Gators guard Lee Humphrey is now playing for the Rio Grande Vipers of the NBA Development League. The official minor league team of the NBA’s Houston Rockets (which drafted forward Chandler Parsons this year), the Vipers are nine games into the season and have Humphrey playing 29.1 minutes per game, second-most on the team. Though he’s had some big moments already this year, Humphrey is averaging just 11.8 points and 3.1 assists per game. He is shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from downtown.

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S Shaw, DE Trail to transfer from Florida Gators

Two more Florida Gators football players – redshirt freshmen safety Joshua Shaw and defensive end Lynden Trail have decided to leave the program, The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley confirmed Tuesday.

Both four-star recruits from Florida’s heralded 2010 recruiting class, Shaw and Trail are the 10th and 11 players to depart since head coach Will Muschamp took over.

“We wish Lynden and Josh the best of luck in the future and we certainly appreciate their contributions to the football program,” Muschamp said in a school release.

Shaw registered 22 tackles (one for loss) and a pass breakup in 10 games this year, while Trail never saw the field and did not even dress for the vast majority of contests.

“I have enjoyed my time at Florida but I feel like I need to be closer to my family right now,” Shaw said in the same school release. “This is not a football decision, this is a family decision. I need to be with my family.”

Each player came into the program with a previous relationship. Shaw (Palmdale, CA) was close to and from the same state as sophomore defensive end Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, CA), and Trail attended the same high school as redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (Booker T. Washington).

“I have decided that I would like to pursue opportunities elsewhere,” Trail said. “I want to thank the fans and Gator Nation for their support. I’ll always be a Gator at heart.”

Trail also wrote about his decision on his Twitter account Tuesday.

GATORNATION I LOVE YALL AND LOVED ALL YALL SUPPORT I LOVED THE COACHES MY TEAMMATES AND THE STUDENTS HERE ONCE A GATOR ALWAYS A GATOR <3

[and]

I have nothing negative to say about UF I LOVE THE PROGRAM THE STUDENTS THE FRIENDS I MADE AND OVERALL THE FANS #GATORNATION

The duo join DE Chris Martin, WR Chris Dunkley, WR Javares McRoy, running back Mike Blakely, tight end Michael McFarland, linebacker Dee Finely, TE Gerald Christian and WR Robert Clark as players who transferred this season. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was dismissed from the team following two marijuana arrests in less than 90 days.

Additionally, redshirt junior offensive lineman Daivd Young announced that he plans to graduate and will not participate in his final year of eligibility. Young saw action in all 12 games so far this season.

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TWO BITS: Easley’s allegations, Christian & Clark

1 » Allegations against Florida Gators sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley for supposedly committing battery on Oct. 1 are not being thrown out by the University Police Department and instead have been sent to State Attorney Bill Cervone to rule on, The Gainesville Sun reported Wednesday. Cervone has officially received sworn complaints against Easley (for battery) and alleged victim Reggie Myles (for disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and theft) from the UPD. He will decide whether or not to file charges against either or both of the men in the coming days after reviewing the documents. Myles, a former Alabama football player, accused Easley of attacking him on the Gate 2 walkway outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

2 » Since officially leaving the team Tuesday, former Gators sophomores tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark have each spoken with the Palm Beach Post about their decision to transfer. Christian said Wednesday that he “wasn’t fitting into the program” and was not “very happy with my role” as a blocking tight end as opposed to a pass-catcher. Clark indicated that he made a mistake leaving in the middle of the season, calling it a “bad choice” but said “it’s done now” and that he has no hard feelings with the coaching staff. “I just thought it would be better for me to try somewhere else and get a fresh start,” he said. The Post reports that Christian has already spoken with Louisville, South Florida and Central Florida as potential future destinations.

Extra BIT » Former Florida soccer star Heather Mitts, a member of the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team that competed in the 2011 World Cup, has been practicing with the boys’ soccer team at Chaminade High School in St. Louis, MO. Below is a video from ESPN of Mitts talking about the decision and how it benefits her professionally.

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10/26: Will Muschamp’s SEC teleconference

With the Florida Gators coming off a bye week and set to face the Georgia Bulldogs in a rivalry game on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., head coach Will Muschamp spoke during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference to provide some insight about where his team is at heading into the contest.

BRANTLEY REMAINS ON TRACK TO START SATURDAY

Muschamp addressed his potential starting quarterback’s health in his opening statement, noting that, “John Brantley has continued to progress well through the week. He’s expected to play on Saturday unless something shocking comes up through the latter part of the week.” He went on to say that, “He’s throwing it well, throwing it well here in practice. We’ll progress through today and Thursday and then have the walk-through on Friday to see how he continues to improve.”

He also said that Brantley’s return will help the team not only from a physical standpoint but also in improving confidence that may have been lost after dropping three-straight games. “There’s no question psychologically as a senior quarterback and how well he was playing and how well we were playing offensively when he was in the game, it was a psychological advantage for our entire team,” Muschamp noted.

“The quarterback position is just such a critical position on your football team – different than any other from the standpoint of having that guy that’s been there, done that, that’s had success, that gives confidence on both sides of the ball and special teams and creates some good momentum for your team.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the health of senior running back Jeff Demps: “Jeff has practiced well. We feel like the off week obviously helped. We feel like he’ll be at top speed.”

» On the transfer of sophomores tight end Gerald Christian and Robert Clark: “The discussions were private. Let’s talk about the players that are on our football team right now. Those two young men are not a part of our football team anymore.”

» On if he’s building up rivalry week with the team: “I don’t think I have to stand in our team meeting room and explain to them how important this rivalry is to the University of Florida and to our players and with what’s at stake to go to Atlanta for us. We need to win the game. They understand that, and they see all of that and what’s at stake.”

» On playing in a rivalry game: “There’s no question that there’s a little more juice involved in the game as far as a game like this when it is one of the great rivalries in all of sports. There’s certainly a little extra juice involved. If you’re a competitor, you go out and compete regardless of the situation. Whether it’s practice, whether it’s a game, whatever is. That’s just kind of the way I try to approach it.”

» On Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s talent and ability: “He throws the ball very well. He’s completing over 60 percent of his passes. You don’t really look at their passing game as an underneath passing game; they’ve got a lot of vertical throws. So when you look at a vertical passing game and the guy’s competing 60 percent, that’s impressive number one. Number two is mobility. He runs well, and I think he’s got a great presence in the pocket as far as feeling rushes, getting away from rushes and getting rid of the ball on time.”

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10/25: Weis on transfers, bye week, rivalry

As the Florida Gators prepare for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against the No. 22 Georgia Bulldogs on Oct. 29 at a neutral site in Jacksonville, FL, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the bye week and his team’s upcoming contest.

TRANSFERS WERE A SURPRISE

When he learned this week that sophomores tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark have officially decided to transfer, Weis said that he was quite surprised not only with their decision but the timing of it as well.

“We didn’t lose them. They decided to go,” he said of the duo. “You wish them well and you move on. I think that you can’t ever look at that with young men that are making decisions, that’s the decision they make. You wish them well. You don’t wish bad on anyone. You move on.

“Both of them surprised me, to tell you the truth. They practiced last week every day. You think if you’re going to quit, you quit last week. Why would you go through bye week practice? I know one thing, if I’m bagging it, I’m not going through practice in the bye week. That caught me off guard, let me just say.”

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE BYE WEEK

Weis said the bye week came at a good time for the Gators because the loss at Auburn was relatively unexpected and psychologically deflating. Unlike the previous two weeks, Florida had an opportunity to win the game and simply could not come through.

“Alabama and LSU, they whooped us pretty good. I’m a very straightforward person. Those games really turned out fairly lopsided at the end of the game. That wasn’t the case at Auburn,” he said. “Psychologically it was a good time for a bye. It’s always a good time for a bye physically because you have the walking wounded and then a week later everybody but one guy is listed as a go. Physically a bye is always good, but psychologically I thought it couldn’t come at a better time.”

The Gators should be rolling into Jacksonville with a new motivation this week, something Weis said the coaching staff tried to instill in the team over the last few days.

“In the big picture, you can’t play like you’re a team that is floundering around .500. You got to play like you’re a team that’s looking to run the table. That’s how you got to play,” he said. “Running the table starts with one at a time. The bye week gives you a chance to regroup and to set that mentality along those wavelengths. That’s the way they’re thinking, ‘Let’s just go beat Georgia.’”

OPENING UP THE OFFENSE…IF POSSIBLE

Assuming redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley returns this week, Weis said that he will be able to open the offense back up, which will in turn give the running game a better opportunity to be more consistent. “They’re complimentary. If all of a sudden you’re making some more throws, if they have to start worrying about that more, obviously what you get in return is a lot less guys up front in the running game,” he explained.

Even though Brantley was out of action against Auburn, Weis noted he was pleased with the run-pass distribution even if it seemed like the team did not toss the ball much.

“Actually we threw the ball 30 times the last game. It was about 50-50. The breakdown in the game against Auburn was about 50-50 run-pass. I like to play games about 50-50. At the end of the day, that’s where I’d prefer to be,” he said.

“Usually when you run the ball a whole bunch of times more than you throw it in the game, it means you won by a lot. I think that the last game was about that margin. I would just like to run more plays and make more plays. Making more plays is really what it’s all about because we just haven’t been making enough plays.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the Florida-Georgia rivalry and 2007 incident: “I just remember watching that game a few years ago when the 9,000 guys were partying in the end zone. That caught me off guard. I wasn’t here, but I’m sure there’s a lot of people that might remember that. I think I might have seen it once or twice.”

» On winning the Super Bowl at what is now known as EverBank Field: “I can’t go into recruiting stories, but I was on the road I was at a high school that’s looking at that stadium – looking across the river at that stadium. I’m sitting there looking at it and, as I was waiting my hour and 15 minutes for practice to start, I was actually doing a little reminiscing to that time where I thought about that stadium. That was a good day. I would like to have another good day though. That day is history, and I don’t like to live in the past.”

» On his friend and New Orleans head coach Sean Payton’s sideline injury: “What a whimp. [Laughing] Sean’s a friend of mine. I watched his [hit]. In my case, it was on a special teams play and I never would be anywhere near the sideline until after the gunners were past me. The gunners were past me about 10 yards before I stepped up. One of my guys was getting handled pretty handily, and I got hit by guys that were 20 yards behind the play. Usually you have enough common sense to keep your eyes on where the action is so you can avoid most issues. What he did was what we all do…once we call a play, the play is in place. When we see what the outcome of the play is going to be, you’re immediately getting ready to dial up your next play. He was just getting ready to make his next call. He wasn’t expecting to all of a sudden get rolled up on the sideline. It’s dangerous for everyone because there’s not a lot of room on those sidelines. Anyone who is getting ready to make a call is zeroed in on what’s happening next. A play hasn’t even finished yet and you’re getting the next play ready.”

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