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A closer look at next steps of Antonio Callaway’s football career

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Florida Gators football is the No. 1 topic in Good Morning, Gators every day — but we cover news, notes and analysis from across the Gators sports world. Join us each morning to get caught up on everything you missed in the world of Florida football, recruiting, basketball and more.

Where Antonio Callaway goes from here

The news came out Thursday that wide receiver Antonio Callaway ended his Florida football career by signing with an agent and will now prepare for the NFL draft. On Sunday, his agent, Mel Bratton, talked with SEC Country about the immediate next steps of Callaway’s future and said he is optimistic about Callaway’s pro potential. In summary:

“This is no BS. I’m very close with a lot of my guys in the league and I called them before I took the kid and said, ‘Listen, where do you have this kid?’” Bratton said. “One particular scout, he’s hard, he’s a tough [evaluator]. He basically said, ‘This kid is a top 15 pick. We’ve got a top 15 grade on him.’ And the other two teams, nobody said less than [Round] 1. Nobody. So, where all these articles are coming out [that] he’s a late-round, free agent, fifth-round, whatever like that, they’re doing it on the character deal. He’s a real reserved kid. He’s very quiet and that’s the thing I have to work on because he has to speak up.”

Recruiting roundup

A lot of Florida recruiting news came out over the weekend. The highlights:

In other Florida football news

Basketball ends losing streak

The fifth-ranked Gators men’s basketball team ended its three-game losing streak with a 66-60 win against Cincinnati on Saturday as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic. Egor Koulechov led Florida with 21 points, while Jalen Hudson added 17 points and Chris Chiozza chipped in 15. The Gators next play against Clemson on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla., as part of the Orange Bowl Classic.

Volleyball heading to Final Four

For the first time since 2003, the Gators volleyball team is back in the Final Four. No. 2 seed Florida advanced after defeating No. 15 seed UCLA 3-1 in the regional semifinals on Friday and then taking a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over No. 10 seed USC in the regional finals on Saturday. The Gators will face No. 3 Stanford in the national semifinals on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo. First serve is set for 9 p.m. ET.

Women’s basketball rebounds with win

Senior Dyandria Anderson scored a team-high 18 points and led a group of four Gators players scoring in double figures as the Florida women’s basketball team defeated Marshall 74-69 on Sunday. Florida is now 6-4 on the season heading into an 11-day break from competition.

Let’s keep talking

Want to keep the conversation going? Hop over to our free Florida message board. Sign up now and join the discussion here.

What they’re saying on Twitter

Wide receiver Kadarius Toney:

Defensive back Chauncey Gardner:

An up-close look at Florida volleyball’s celebration after clinching its spot in the Final Four:

Miss a previous edition of Good Morning, Gators? Get caught up here.

The post A closer look at next steps of Antonio Callaway’s football career appeared first on SEC Country.

Jordan McPherson – SEC Country

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Mississippi State football: Bulldogs running game could be even better in 2017

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Historically, and over the last two decades especially, Mississippi State football maintained a proud tradition at running back. Workhorses Anthony Dixon, Jerious Norwood, Josh Robinson and Vick Ballard, all of whom made it to the NFL, pepper the program record books.

Mississippi State’s typically productive ground game took new shape in 2015-16, as quarterbacks Dak Prescott and then Nick Fitzgerald led the team in rushing. Prescott accounted for 10 rushing touchdowns as a senior, and Fitzgerald ran for 1,375 yards and 16 scores last fall as a sophomore.

We can in part attribute that lack of balance to inconsistent offensive line play; since 2014, only one former Bulldogs lineman was drafted into the NFL (Justin Senior). But tailbacks Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert were found wanting as seniors at times in 2016, hence the emergence of Aeris Williams last November.

The return of Williams, who ran for 720 yards as a sophomore and has receiving skills, gives Mississippi State a potential do-it-all back in 2017. More important, the running backs room should be stronger, deeper and more competitive this fall.

“We’ve got three backs capable of being really, really good SEC backs,” running backs coach Greg Knox said last month, referring to Williams, redshirt sophomore Nick Gibson and redshirt junior Dontavian Lee.

Gibson rushed for 108 yards on 17 carries during Mississippi State’s spring game and had a handful of impressive runs, including a 25-yarder in the first half. It was only a glorified scrimmage, of course, but the tough running Gibson displayed had to be promising for Dan Mullen and his coaching staff.

“We kept it really simple for [Gibson],” Mullen said after the game. “And you saw he has some ability running the football. Now what we got to see is the other things from him.

“And that’s always been the case for him. Route running, pass protections, blocking, some of those things. The consistency of performance. He’s got the running part down. We want to see the complete game.”

A former 4-star recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings, Gibson said he gained 10 pounds this offseason so that he “could take more punishment” in the fall. He was 5-foot-11, 211 pounds on the spring roster.

“He got smarter as well,” Williams said. “Just being around Coach Knox, he’s going to get smarter anyways, man. His pad level got better over the spring. He’s been running the ball pretty good.”

Then there’s Lee, a rising junior from Hattiesburg listed at 6-1 and 235 pounds. He ran for 49 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in the spring game and, according to coaches, is a lot healthier than he was last season.

“That ankle injury held him back,” Knox said. “And then mentally, he’s making better decisions.”

Four-star signee Kylin Hill deepens Mississippi State’s running back options. (247Sports)

The Mississippi State running backs room will add talent once Kylin Hill, a prized 4-star signee out of Columbus (Miss.) High School, begins participating in fall camp. Without committing to anything, Knox made it clear he expects his newest blue-chip standout to compete for early playing time.

“We’ll get him here, give him every opportunity and see how he does,” Knox said. “We’ll go from there with it. But he’s going to get every shot.”

If any combination of Gibson, Lee and Hill can establish themselves as reliable options in the running game, that would not only ease the workload for Williams but also Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald ran the ball 195 times last season — more than Alabama’s Jalen Hurts did — and while it’s obvious the junior quarterback can handle the beating he takes on those inside option runs, Mississippi State might consider managing his workload a little more carefully this year. For a Mississippi State rushing attack that finished fourth in the SEC as The Nick Fitzgerald Show, throwing more bodies into the mix should give the unit a boost.

The X-factor, of course, again will be the offensive line. Tackle Senior and center Jamaal Clayborn graduated, and two of the projected starters missed all of spring practice while injured (Elgton Jenkins and Deion Calhoun). The result was a first-team line that looked like this: Greg Eiland at left tackle, Dareuan Parker at left guard, Martinas Rankin at center, Darryl Williams at right guard and Stewart Reese at right tackle. Of those players, only Rankin started last season, and that was at left tackle.

When Jenkins and Calhoun return to the fold, there will be more shuffling up front and adjustments from there. It’s a tricky situation for position coach John Hevesy.

If Williams’ opinion counts for anything, though, Mississippi State fans can expect more performances reminiscent of what they saw during the spring game, in which Williams and Gibson each averaged more than 6 yards per carry.

“It is going to be a lot of days like this in the fall,” Williams said. “I promise you that.”

The post Mississippi State football: Bulldogs running game could be even better in 2017 appeared first on SEC Country.

Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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Florida football: A closer look at Brian Johnson’s success as a QB coach

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Brian Johnson knows what it’s like to be a successful college football quarterback because he was one during his time at Utah from 2004-2008.

Johnson passed for 7,853 yards, 57 touchdowns and 27 interceptions with 848 rushing yards and 12 scores during his career at Utah’s starting quarterback. He finished his playing career with the most wins by a Utes starting QB, going 26-7. The biggest of those wins came at the close of the 2008 season and the close of Johnson’s playing career when his sixth-ranked Utes defeated fourth-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to cap an undefeated season. Johnson threw for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 65.9 percent of his passes against the Crimson Tide.

After a year playing professionally with the New York Sentinels of the United Football League in 2009, Johnson is now making a name for himself as a college football quarterbacks coach, helping groom the up-and-comers of the game at a position where he excelled.

His next stop: The Florida Gators, where he will be reunited with coach Dan Mullen, who recruited him to Utah. The Gators are a team that desperately needs consistency and continuity at the quarterback position after going through 11 starters the past eight seasons.

Here’s a closer look at Johnson’s resume and how he has fared with developing quarterbacks and passing games at his previous three stops.

Houston (2017)

Johnson most recently served as Houston’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during the 2017 season under first-year coach Major Applewhite. The Cougars went 7-4 on the season, but Johnson’s offense ranked 35th overall in yardage (436.1 per game) and 38th in passing offense (260.6 yards per game). Houston sustained its success in the passing game despite using three different quarterbacks throughout the season.

Junior Kyle Allen, a Texas A&M transfer and former top-ranked pro-style quarterback recruit according to the 247Sports composite, opened the season as the starter and threw for 751 yards, 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in three games before being benched in favor of senior Kyle Postma. Postma started the next four games of the year and led Houston to a 2-2 record while throwing for 975 yards, 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

Postma was benched early in his fifth start against USF in favor of sophomore D’Eriq King, who led the Cougars to a 28-24 come-from-behind victory and afterward was named the starter for the remainder of the year. In the final three games of the regular season, King completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception while averaging 11.2 yards per pass attempt.

Mississippi State (2014-2016)

Johnson served as Mississippi State’s quarterbacks coach during the final two years of the Dak Prescott era (2014-2015) and, with Mullen, helped morph Prescott into an eventual NFL talent. Prescott threw for 7,242 yards, 56 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in those two seasons while leading Mississippi State to a 19-7 record overall in that time span. Prescott also rushed for 1,574 and 24 touchdowns in those two seasons.

In Johnson’s final year at Mississippi State and lone year without Prescott behind center, redshirt sophomore Nick Fitzgerald completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 2,423 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for a team-best 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns that season, joining Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and South Florida’s Quinton Flowers as the only quarterbacks with at least 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards that season.

Utah (2010-2013)

Johnson’s coaching career started at his alma mater after his playing career ended. He served solely as the quarterbacks coach from 2010-2011 before assuming offensive coordinator duties for the final two years.

In his coaching debut, Johnson helped the Utes finish 47th in passing offense, averaging 236.1 yards per game through the air to go along with 24 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions as the Utes finished 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the Mountain West Conference.

Utah transitioned to the Pac-12 at the start of the 2011 season and the offensive numbers took a hit as a result over Johnson’s final three years. After two seasons ranked in the bottom 20 in total offense, the Utes finished 76th nationally in 2013 (397 yards per game) and 62nd in passing offense (236.3 yards per game).

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Jordan McPherson – SEC Country

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Mississippi State football: Nick Fitzgerald explains his ‘hate’ for new DC Todd Grantham

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s first season as starter was no joke. In the span of two months, he faced defenses run by Will Muschamp, Dave Aranda, Kevin Steele, John Chavis and Nick Saban — some of the finest minds in the country.

This spring, Fitzgerald added another respected name to that list: new Bulldogs hire Todd Grantham. Knowing who he already played against, Fitzgerald’s comments about the Mississippi State defensive coordinator should hold weight.

“I hate that man,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s one of the craziest defenses I think I’ve ever gone against. You think they’re bringing a blitz from one side, then all of a sudden they’re sending four guys off the other edge. They’re very good at disguising it.”

The hatred surely continued during the Maroon and White spring game, where Fitzgerald threw 4 interceptions during a 14 of 27 passing performance last month. Granted, the first-team offense was missing several key players, including top receivers Donald Gray (held out) and Malik Dear (ACL). But that doesn’t diminish the clear progress Grantham’s unit displayed that afternoon in Davis Wade Stadium.

“You know the defense I want to play here — guys flying to the football as hard as they can,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “Trying to go make plays and playing an aggressive style of defense.”

The Bulldogs have the talent to field a stout front seven in 2017. Blue-chip sophomores Leo Lewis, Marquiss Spencer, Jeffery Simmons and Fletcher Adams anchor a group that could thrive in Grantham’s blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme. Newcomers including 4-star Starkville linebacker Willie Gay and junior college signee Chauncey Rivers could contribute early, as well.

Behind them, fans saw a surprisingly deep second-team defense hold its own during the spring game, highlighted by plays from linemen Kobe Jones and Deion Pope along with linebacker Erroll Thompson. And that’s without even mentioning experienced upperclassmen Cory Thomas and Braxton Hoyett, who are also competing for reps this fall.

“We have a lot of depth,” Hoyett said. “We’ve still got some guys learning, which is expected because it’s the spring. But after this transition from May, June, July, we’ll get to fall camp, and we’re going to be better. We’re going to be a good unit.”

Depth behind defensive line

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise to come out of the spring game for Mississippi State, however, was the play of its secondary. Even as projected starting cornerback Tolando Cleveland sat out with injury, teammates Jamal Peters, Cameron Dantzler, Brian Cole and Lashard Durr combined for 17 tackles, 4 interceptions and 5 pass break-ups.

The tackling in the secondary looked particularly improved, considering it was a major problem for Mississippi State last season. That defense allowed an SEC-worst 59 passing plays of 20-plus yards.

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has 10 years’ experience between the NFL and college ranks. (Credit: NFL Photos)

“With the new scheme [Grantham] runs, we blitz a lot. So we’re going to put pressure on the quarterback to force a bad throw. And the coverage, we play a lot of man,” Dantzler said. “So we should always be there to make a play.”

The development of Cole and Johnathan Abram, both junior college additions, will be especially interesting to follow when fall camp begins. Mississippi State struggled at safety in 2016, as the ultra-athletic Brandon Bryant didn’t have the breakout season many predicted. Fellow starter Kivon Coman graduated this spring.

Abram signed with Georgia out of high school and started four games as a true freshman under then-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. In addition, Abram was recruited by Louisville, which had Grantham and Bulldogs safety coach Terrell Buckley on staff at the time.

Fans caught a glimpse of the edge Abram plays with during the spring game, when he laid a brutal hit on Bennie Braswell that ended the scrimmage early.

In addition to the change at defensive coordinator — Grantham will be Mississippi State’s fourth in four seasons — Mullen hired defensive line coach Brian Baker and safeties coach Ron English this offseason. So, without question, this spring was one of transition.

But the biggest question for every defensive player entering the summer is a simple one: How well can they learn the playbook? Grantham’s scheme is notoriously complex. Those who know it the best will have a leg up on their competition in the fall.

“He’s really hard on us about learning the playbook,” Dantzler said. “You don’t always know when to blitz, or when not to blitz. Sometimes we do corner blitzes. It’s kind of hard to adjust to the new playbook.”

Todd Grantham by the numbers

  • Grantham’s defenses ranked top-20 nationally in all three of his seasons at Louisville.
  • Those same Louisville teams all ranked top-15 in run defense, as well.
  • The Cardinals forced at least 25 takeaways in each of Grantham’s three seasons with the program.
  • Two of his three Louisville defenses finished top-15 nationally in sacks.
  • At Georgia, Grantham coached future NFL standouts Justin Houston, Alec Ogletree and Shawn Williams, along with college star Jarvis Jones.

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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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Mississippi State football: Donald Gray demanding ‘nothing but greatness’ from teammates, young WRs

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s breakout season made life after Dak Prescott a little easier for Mississippi State. Whether the Bulldogs can withstand the losses of Fred Ross, the program’s all-time leading receiver, and promising junior Malik Dear will be the big question on offense this fall.

Dear will miss most of the season while recovering from a torn ACL. A former 4-star recruit, Dear was expected to earn a bigger role in the absence of Ross, who accounted for more than 30 percent of Mississippi State’s receiving production in 2016. Without Dear and Ross, the program suddenly finds itself thin at wideout.

That means coach Dan Mullen’s offense will rely even more heavily on senior wide receiver Donald Gray, who established himself as Fitzgerald’s second-favorite target last season.

The receivers on the depth chart behind Gray have talent, but their lack of game experience could result in early hiccups this fall. Fans can rest a little easier, however, knowing that Gray feels personally responsible for the performance of his position group.

Gray wants to “make sure everybody’s ready,” he said.

“My personal goals, I don’t like spreading them among everybody, but they’re big. There’s never a time when they’re not big,” Gray said. “I just focus on becoming a great leader, not only for the receivers but for the team. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Gray caught 41 passes for 709 yards in 2016, so clearly he can walk the walk. As far as the talking part goes, Gray is confident that what he preaches to the other receivers will resonate, even if he doesn’t speak up too often.

“I won’t ask them to do something I won’t. My attitude is, if I ask you to do something, that means I did it 10 times before I asked you,” Gray said. “Therefore, I know I’m capable of doing it, so I know you can do it. So I demand nothing but greatness, just as I do myself. I want the same for you.

“Lead by example. I don’t try to talk a lot. I try to be the hardest worker on the team so when I do speak, they’re going to listen.”

The Maroon and White spring scrimmage gave a glimpse of who could emerge alongside Gray in 2017. Former 4-star prospect Reggie Todd, who has added “15 or 16” pounds since arriving on campus, led the White squad with 4 catches for 51 yards. Todd is a redshirt freshman. Jamal Couch, a 6-foot-4, 223-pound redshirt freshman, made two receptions for the Maroon team and impressed Gray with his work in practice.

“He’s using his size a lot more. We’re trying to get him to work on some more technique,” Gray said of Couch. “Little things like stance. He’s got a perfect body for a receiver. He’s going to be hard to deal with once he puts everything together.”

The other player fans should watch, if only because of his experience, is Gabe Myles. A senior, Myles struggled with untimely drops last season, but he says he tried to “stop thinking so much” this spring and enjoy the game more.

“I let a lot of outside influences come into how I play my game,” said Myles, who caught 4 passes for 50 yards in the spring game. “It wasn’t fun. I was just going out there trying to mess up. You can’t go out there trying not to mess up. That’s how you’ll mess up.”

At the end of Myles’ interview, Fitzgerald — a former receiver — jokingly asked his teammate how he would respond to allegations that “his quarterback has better hands” than him, and then pressed him about his confidence. Myles smiled and played it cool, but also answered affirmatively: “I just say let’s take it to the JUGS machine … let’s go out there and prove it.”

The exchange was humorous, but it also underscores maybe the most important storyline for Mississippi State’s offense this summer: Fitzgerald and his receivers are continuing to build chemistry. By now, the college football world knows Fitzgerald can run the ball; an improved passing game could be the difference between a solid season and an excellent one for the Bulldogs.

With new players likely seeing time at receiver this fall, getting better could prove challenging. But spring practice at least seemed a positive first step for Fitzgerald and his young targets.

“We all just got so many reps together. We really built timing,” Fitzgerald said. “Working against our defense, which is a really good defense, how we’re going to run certain routes, the timing of it all. That way we can go into the summer, try to duplicate that and just try to get better.”

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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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Mississippi State football: Dan Mullen not ‘comfortable’ with kicking situation after spring

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Mississippi State knew it had a void to fill on special teams when kicker Westin Graves retired from football last January. What little fans saw of the team’s remaining field goal specialists this spring, however, was enough to raise concerns about the position entering summer workouts.

Sophomore Brad Wall and redshirt freshman Jace Christmann, both walk-ons, combined to go 0-for-3 on field goal attempts during the Maroon and White scrimmage. Wall made a 26-yarder but missed from 41 yards out, while Christmann missed from 26 yards.

Because Mississippi State closed its other spring practice sessions, our only public glimpse of the position came during that scrimmage. But MSU coach Dan Mullen also expressed some uneasiness about his kickers Monday during the SEC spring football teleconference.

“Coming out of spring, it’s not a position we’re comfortable in right now,” Mullen said. “But we still have a ways to go to get to our first game to get comfortable and see where we’re at.”

The apparent kicking struggles open the door even wider for incoming freshman Tucker Day to be the Bulldogs’ starting kicker this fall. Day, the No. 9-ranked punter in the Class of 2017 according to the 247Sports Composite, is set to enroll this summer.

“You look at it, there’s going to be some great opportunity for guys to get on the field and play right away,” Mullen said. “There’s going to be opportunities for them to earn a spot. They’ll play right away. It’ll be a wide-open race.”

Kicking woes hampered MSU last season, when Graves went just 11 of 19 on field goal tries. He also missed two attempts during the Week 1 upset loss to South Alabama.

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SEC coaches agree: Proposed redshirt rule change would be slam-dunk for college football

May is rule-discussion season around the SEC, culminating with the conference’s annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., later this month. The proposal receiving the brightest media spotlight in recent days happens to be one that coaches love.

Last week, news broke that the American Football Coaches Association was sending a proposal to the NCAA that would change college football’s long-standing redshirt rule in a significant way: Players could appear in up to four games and still retain redshirt status for that season.

For instance, if this rule change had been adopted last season, Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson would enter 2017 as a redshirt freshman, despite playing in three games last November. Schools dealing with significant depth issues — such as Kentucky, which lost starting quarterback Drew Barker early in the year — could have played backup Gunnar Hoak late in the season without needing to fret over his redshirt status. And players who perhaps had their redshirts pulled too early, including South Carolina’s Brandon McIlwain, would not have lost an entire season despite receiving minimal playing time.

The rule change also would allow fans to see more future stars play in bowl games than ever before. Imagine Alabama being able to unleash 5-star LB Ben Davis against Clemson in the national championship game?

At the very least, the prospect of early playing time would be a useful motivational tool for someone like coach Nick Saban, whose talent-hoarding abilities annually force the Crimson Tide to redshirt blue-chip players.

On Monday, several SEC coaches addressed the redshirt rule on the spring football teleconference, and all of them expressed varying degrees of support for the proposed change.

Here is what 10 of the conference’s program-leaders had to say:

  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: “I’m definitely in favor of that. You look at some of the restrictions with academic redshirts, with injuries, number of scholarships, length of season. We’re looking at health and safety of players. There might be a guy that you might like to play, but he’s not quite developed. He’s not quite ready, for whatever reason. But as the season goes on, at the end of his freshman year, say ‘Hey, this guy could be ready. He could take some reps off another guy.’ You should be able to do that. The other tragedy is a guy that maybe starts playing midway through the season thinking he might not play, midway through the season he plays two games, he gets hurt. That counts as a whole year even though he played less than the four games that would be allowed at the beginning of the year. I think that would be very advantageous to the players and for the game, and for the development of these young men as they go forward.”
  • Ed Orgeron, LSU: “Love it. I think that’d be great. You can take those guys, invest in your roster, invest in the development of your team, invest in your rotation. This is basketball on grass these days. You got some offenses out there trying to run 100 plays [per game]. The game has doubled in the sense of what we play. The more guys you can play without burning a year would be great.”
  • Jim McElwain, Florida: “Why not just let them play? Give them the five years of eligibility and call it the way it is. As you get later in the season, now you’ve got those guys you’d like to get in there that played in whatever, 20 percent of the first — I’m not real good at math anyway, so trying to figure out when to use them and not to use them. But I do think that’s a good rule.”
  • Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: “I think the old rule is an antiquated rule. If this rule comes into effect, what we’re looking at is the ability to bolster your roster a little bit and give yourself a chance. If you’re acclimated and they can play, you let them play. Now, when that is, that’s really on you. Last year, when you look at [Leonard] Fournette, [Christian] McCaffrey and those guys not playing in bowl games — those guys affect games. Is that going to be a future trend? I don’t know. As we move forward, coaches have to prepare for guys who may be draft-worthy possibly not playing in postseason games. And what does that do to you in terms of your numbers and/or players who are readily available to you? I look at it and say it’s a good rule.”
  • Nick Saban, Alabama: “I absolutely would be in favor of that. One of the most difficult things for players is they can’t play at all when they’re freshmen to be able to gain a redshirt year. They all want to play. This would give them an opportunity to play some and would actually enhance their development to some degree. With the numbers we have right now and the number of games we’re playing, you might be able to play a few more players in some of those games. That would help other players on your team as well. The No. 1 thing: It would tremendously help the development of some young players on your team to be able to look forward to playing some games but not lose the year. You eliminate some of these things where a guy plays for five plays in a game, and you got to appeal to get his year back because you either made a mistake putting him in the game or you thought he was going to play more and he didn’t.”
  • Bret Bielema, Arkansas: “I actually sit on the American Football Coaches Association panel … I’ve had a while to process the one we just discussed. Allowing four games as a first-year player without counting against you would be pretty significant.”
  • Barry Odom, Missouri: “Moving forward, when you get the depth a little bit more like it needs to be, it could be a luxury not only for your program but for the development of your kids. To the point that you think he’s ready to go play, at whatever point it is during the season, then you’ve got the decision to make … I think there’s some merit to that.”
  • Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: “I love the new proposal out there. I think it’s needed with everything that’s going on in college athletics. The season’s getting longer. The more physical play, the year-round the toll that’s on [players’] bodies. It’s a great option if you can play freshmen or a kid that’s going through a redshirt year in four games or less. I think it’s a very positive and needed change we need to make. [Pulling Patterson’s redshirt] would’ve been an easy decision to make at that point. I think it’s also going to be beneficial in bowl games.”
  • Mark Stoops, Kentucky: “I think that rule change would make a lot of sense. We were in that situation last year when we had a quarterback hurt early in the year, Drew Barker. We played most of the year with our backup quarterback being a redshirt guy. We decided to keep that redshirt on Gunnar Hoak in Game 11. Played our third-team quarterback, who did some good things. But it was a situation that could’ve benefited us a year ago. It can protect the player in a redshirt year, it can help gain experience for the following year. Good rule.”
  • Will Muschamp, South Carolina: “Absolutely. I think that’d be a great rule. When an injury happens or you’re sitting in a position when a young man may not be totally ready, you may not know until he plays on game day. A lot of time you say, ‘This guy’s ready to go,’ and then he gets to game day and he doesn’t play very well. … From an experience standpoint, I think it just helps overall.”

Read more:

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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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Florida football: Recruiting a priority with early signing period closing in

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Florida Gators football is the No. 1 topic in Good Morning, Gators every day — but we cover news, notes and analysis from across the Gators sports world. Join us each morning to get caught up on everything you missed in the world of Florida football, recruiting, basketball and more.

Recruiting whirlwind continues

With the early signing period now just eight days away, Florida is continuing its strong push on the recruiting trail. In summary:

Taven Bryan going pro

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Taven Bryan on Monday declared for the 2018 NFL Draft. A budding star on the defensive line, Bryan has the potential to be a late first-round pick.

In other Florida football news

Basketball tumbles in the polls

After two losses last week, the Gators men’s basketball team dropped 15 spots to No. 22 in the AP poll, which was released Monday afternoon.

Gymnastics getting early recognition

The Florida gymnastics team will open the season as the No. 2 team in the country. The Gators are coming off a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships last season.

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What they’re saying on Twitter

Wide receiver Dre Massey:

Tight end Kemore Gamble:

Quarterback commit Matt Corral:

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Jordan McPherson – SEC Country

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Florida football: A closer look at Dan Mullen’s track record in key games

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — During Dan Mullen’s nine-year tenure at Mississippi State, he compiled a 69-46 record and reached the eight-win mark five times.

But not all wins are created equal.

Here’s a closer look at how Mullen fared in key situational games during his tenure at Mississippi State.

Season openers

Mullen was 7-2 in season openers during his stint in Starkville. The two losses came against No. 13 Oklahoma State in Houston as part of the Texas kickoff in 2013 (21-3), and there was a surprising 21-20 loss to South Alabama to open the 2016 season. The seven wins came by an average of 40.7 points.

However, take note that those seven wins came against the likes of Jackson State (twice), Memphis (twice), Southern Miss (twice) and Charleston Southern.

Ranked opponents

Mullen and Mississippi State went 7-34 against ranked opponents. No matter how you shake it, that’s a rough number. However, there are a few caveats to point out with this one:

  • Nine of those losses were to Alabama.
  • Eight of those losses came during his first two seasons while Mullen was still rebuilding the program.
  • Ten of those losses were decided by eight points or fewer.
  • Mississippi State was the lower-ranked team in all but five of those 41 matchups.

While Mullen struggled against premier competition at Mississippi State, that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be able to turn around that number at Florida. During his four years as the Gators offensive coordinator from 2005-08, Florida boasted a 17-5 record against ranked opponents, including five top-5 wins.

Rivalry games

Mullen went 5-4 in the Egg Bowl, Mississippi State’s annual regular-season rivalry game against Ole Miss. The Bulldogs’ 55-20 win in 2016 was Mississippi State’s largest margin of victory in the rivalry since 1916.

Bowl games

After inheriting a team in 2009 that had made just two bowl games since the turn of the century, Mullen had Mississippi State bowl eligible in each of his final eight seasons. The Bulldogs went 5-2 in the first seven bowls in that stretch (the Mullen-less Bulldogs play in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 30). The two losses came against No. 20 Northwestern in the Gator Bowl following the 2012 season and to No. 9 Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl following the breakout 2014 season.

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Jordan McPherson – SEC Country

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Alabama football: Minkah Fitzpatrick picked No. 11 by Miami Dolphins

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Minkah Fitzpatrick became the 15th player drafted in the first round since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama when the Miami Dolphins selected him No. 11 overall Thursday.

Fitzpatrick was one of five Alabama underclassmen to leave school early for the draft.

Heading into this draft, Alabama had 28 players leave early for the NFL under coach Nick Saban, 14 of the previous 23 were first round picks while four were second-round selections.

“I think it was a pretty clear decision with my family and my coaches,” Fitzpatrick said during his final interview at Alabama. “I feel I played well enough to go high as I wanted to. I got a good grade from my coaches and the NFL. So it wasn’t a difficult decision. It was a little bittersweet.  I love The University of Alabama, made a lot of great friends, a lot of great relationships here inside the team and outside the team. It’s going to be hard to leave. It’s definitely been a whole lot of fan. I’m really happy I was given the opportunity to play here.”

Fitzpatrick won the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik awards in 2017. The Old Bridge, N.J., native ends his career as the Alabama career leader in interception returns for touchdowns with four, including a school-record two in one game against Texas A&M in 2015. This season he finished as the Tide’s fourth-leading tackler with 60 stops and added 8 tackles for loss (-31 yards), 1½ sacks (-15 yards), 8 pass breakups, 3 quarterback hurries, 1 interception, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

“I’m just going to do my job,” Fitzpatrick said during his exit interview at Alabama. “Wherever I go I’m going to do my job, I’m going to work hard. I’m a competitor and I’m going to go out there and compete with whoever is in front of me, whether it’s an All-Pro player or whether it’s somebody the same age as me, I’m going to go out there and outwork them and compete. I’m just going out there and do my job.”

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Marq Burnett – SEC Country