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Gators’ fans continue to search for their next great quarterback

There is one question that dominates the Univesity of Florida football team. It isn’t about linebackers.

It isn’t about receivers or runners or defensive backs. It isn’t about opponents or guards or defenders.

At Florida, the question is always about quarterbacks.

This spring, with a shoulder injury to incumbent Luke Del Rio, the Gators have been turned over to redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. The Gators haven’t had an impact quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2009.

That has led to a Franks vs. Trask discussion on campus that has not paused. It seems to be a friendly competition.

“We haven’t had any tension,” Trask told the Orlando Sentinel. “Because we both early enrolled we’ve gotten close ever since.”

“Like they say, iron sharpens iron,” Franks said. “It’s a cool opportunity, a very cool opportunity. I’m working my butt off every day for that opportunity.”

A year ago, however, Franks was still wrestling with an “overwhelming” playbook.

“I think it was a case of me just not coming in and getting comfortable with everybody,” he said. “Being here a season, redshirting, it was really good for me, getting to know the players, getting to know the offense, knowing how things operate around here at Florida.

“It’s been really good for me.”

Franks is known for his strong arm. Trask is known for his accuracy.

“I’ve made a big focus on just being more vocal at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “After one year, coming in as an early enrollee to now I feel 100 percent more confident at the line of scrimmage.

“You gotta be confident. Your energy reflects on everybody.”

Franks has the confidence part down. Too much so at times.

“He’s got great belief in his arm strength,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “At times, we’ve got to teach him that you can’t make every throw and sometimes you can’t throw it through three guys.”

For the Gators, the players give Florida two chances at their next great quarterback.

And a discussion that will not stop.

Florida running back Mark Thompson isn’t making predictions

This time, Mark Thompson will run silently.

Thompson, the senior running back for the University of Florida, entered talking last year. He was going to have 1,000 yards by the Georgia game, remember? He was going to kick the doors open in the SEC.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Thompson, a second-team junior college All-American at Dodge City Community College, finished the regular season with only 299 yards rushing a year ago.

“I would say last year did motivate me and humble me,” Thompson said. “I made some predictions, I said some things. I was saying a lot before even stepping on the field. Yes, it humbled me a lot. And this year I’m just looking forward to my progress from year one to year two and I will have a lot of focus.”

Thompson said he is better prepared this season.

“Hey, just get on the field, make some film for the NFL guys to look at and get some stock to my name,” he said. “I’m headed in the right direction. I’m not heading backward, I’m not taking any steps back. I’m very, very ready to see what’s in store for me these next few months.”

“I had some hiccups learning, not only football, but things off the field as well. I could have had a way better first year in all aspects of being at the University of Florida. But, you make the biggest transition from year one to year two, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Thompson said the low point last season was being suspended from the Georgia game after being cited for possession of marijuana the Thursday before the game.

“Definitely, missing that Georgia game. It hurt,” he said. “Growing up, that was the main game. I was always like, ‘Florida-Georgia, I got to watch this’. So not being able to play in that game really hurt, and it really made me realize, ‘Hey, I’m not doing the right thing, let me step back and really re-evaluate everything I’m doing, and stay on the right track’.”

Eight more spots open Sunday for Sweet 16

A look at some interesting things as we head into Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament will finalize its Sweet 16:

SOMETIMES …

Southern Cal‘s De’Anthony Melton got as philosophical as a basketball player can get. When asked about the Trojans’ second-round game with Baylor, he answered: “It doesn’t matter who’s better because sometimes the better team wins, the better team loses. So it just depends on who can play harder and who can get stops at the end of the game.”

CATCHING UP

The Trojans lead the nation in winning games in which they trailed by at least 10 points, including the Trojans’ two wins in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Andy Enfield has started to approach big deficits differently as the season has gone along.

“Early in the season we used to get really mad at our players for falling behind, especially with teams we thought we were equally talented or had more talent than,” he said. “But now, at halftime the other night, we said, ‘Hey, this is great, we’re only down 8. We were down 15 the other night. This is great.’ And our players started laughing.”

OVERRATED SLEEP

With quick turnarounds between games and long travel, sleep becomes a rarity especially for coaches and their staff.

“Sleep is overrated this time of year and this is what you work so hard for,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “So to get to this point, college coaches, we’re all – we were all the kind of guys that probably had to cram anyway back in our college days. We probably weren’t the best, most prepared students. So cramming is something I think we probably practice.”

STRANGE COINCIDENCE?

Kentucky and Wichita State face each other Sunday for the first time since they met in the NCAA Tournament since 2014. In that game Wichita State was the unbeaten No. 1 seed while the Wildcats were a No. 8 seed, a placing many said was well under what they should have been.

On Sunday, the 10th-seeded Shockers, a team many feel is underseeded, face third-seeded Kentucky, a team with national championship consideration.

“The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game, other than you media people, are Coach Cal and I. Everyone else is new,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of Kentucky’s John Calipari. “What I thought was really ironic that year is we were such a polarizing team. We deserve a 1 seed. We don’t deserve a 1 seed. And you’re either on one side of the fence or the other. Then we get the 1 seed, but we get Kentucky as an 8. I think they hedged their bet a little bit.

“But in the end, it took a loss to validate our team, which I think is really ironic and sad.”

30/30

Sunday’s game will be only the second time in NCAA Tournament history that 30-win teams have played against one another in the second round. Wichita State is 31-4, Kentucky is 30-5.

In 2008, No. 2 Tennessee (30-4) beat No. 7 Butler (30-3) in overtime, 76-71.

FAN FAVORITES

Few teams receive negative reaction from fans as Duke does. The old bumper sticker says: “My favorite team is Carolina. My second-favorite team is whoever’s playing Duke.”

On Sunday, when the Blue Devils play South Carolina, not only is the arena in Greenville, South Carolina, but there will also be a strong contingent of North Carolina faithful.

“We were playing in the ACC Tournament where we were playing a game and not only are the opposing fans there but Carolina’s fans are also there waiting to boo us, too. So we’ve played in games that are supposed to be neutral where it felt like an away game. There’s not much difference,” Duke’s Grayson Allen said.

NO No. 1

It isn’t easy being the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the latest to find out, losing 65-62 to eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the second round.

For the 11th time in the past 14 years, the No. 1 overall seed won’t win the NCAA title and yet another reigning national champion fails to get past the Sweet 16. Florida was the last to do so when it repeated in 2007.

Besides this year, the No. 1 seeds to lose in the round of 32 are Kansas in 2010, Pittsburgh in 2011, Gonzaga in 2013, Wichita State in 2014 and Villanova in 2015.

“There should be nothing negative about this tournament. This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Just being in it … we can’t take it for granted. It’s so special to be a part of it. Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You’re playing the best teams in the country. You’re going to come down to games like this. We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out of the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State two years ago, and we had a shot to win it and we missed it.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Florida’s economy still growing, but budget cuts loom

Florida’s economy is continuing to grow according to new preliminary estimates from state economists.

State officials are meeting Friday to draw up new forecasts to predict how much the state will collect in taxes.

The forecasts will be used by state legislators when writing this year’s budget.

Preliminary forecasts prepared by economists predict the state’s main budget account will grow by as much as 4.5 percent during the fiscal year that ends in June. Those forecasts estimate growth of around 4 percent for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

If the forecasts hold, legislators could have nearly $180 million more to spend.

But it probably won’t be enough to stop legislators from considering budget cuts. Citing a potential shortfall over the next few years, House Republicans are planning to cut $1.4 billion.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

CBS experts say Florida, Florida State ripe for first-round upsets in NCAA Tournament

When the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced on Sunday, the CBS crew of Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis analyzed the 68 teams and picked an upset or two. Davis, as usual, was the most outspoken, calling out two teams of interest to Florida viewers.

Looking toward Thursday’s games in Orlando, Davis emphatically predicted that 14-seed Florida Gulf Coast will knock Florida State out of the West region. In one of the earlier games to be played at the Amway Center, he also feels that 13th-seeded East Tennessee State will crush the hopes of the Florida Gators in the East region.

Davis is not alone. CBS’s bracket wiz Jerry Palm and colleagues Matt Norlander and Dennis Dodd believe the Buccaneers will send the Gators back to Gainesville for good on Thursday afternoon.

In addition to Davis and Dodd, Florida Gulf Coast has fans among CBS experts Chip Patterson, Kyle Boone and Howard Megdahl. The Eagles made their mark with a captivating run to the Sweet 16 in 2013 as a 15 seed.

It is not that such an upset is impossible. Florida Gulf Coast can take comfort in the fact that a 14 seed has defeated a three seed five times over the last four years.

Gator fans can worry about the ability of the 13 seed to wreak havoc. From 2008 through 2013, a four seed lost to a 13 seed at least once each year. Last year, Hawaii knocked out California.

Florida’s other tournament team, Miami, earned much more respect. Of all the CBS experts, only Boone picked the ninth-seeded Michigan State Spartans over the eighth-seeded Hurricanes in the Midwest on Friday in Tulsa.

Despite having a higher seed, perhaps picking Miami is a daring choice. Playing Michigan State in March is always a dicey proposition. Further, Megdahl predicts Miami will dump top-seeded Kansas in the second round on Sunday.

The Gators are 10-point favorites over East Tennessee State, while the Seminoles are a 12-point choice over Florida Gulf Coast. Miami is a two-point pick over Michigan State.

The Florida vs. ETSU game is the second game of the day in Orlando starting at 3:10 p.m. while Florida State vs. FGCU is the final game of the day slated for 9:20.

 

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio to undergo surgery on his shoulder

Did Luke Del Rio just give his competition the edge they need to take his job?

Del Rio, a quarterback for the Florida Gators, announced Tuesday that he will undergo surgery on his throwing shoulder. Del Rio had already been announced as out for spring practice.

That leaves the Gators’ job, at least temporarily, in the hands of Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. Freshman Jake Allen is expected to join the race in the summer.

Del Rio was 5-1 for the Gators last fall.

CDC: Don’t donate sperm in 3 Florida counties due to Zika

Men from three Florida counties shouldn’t donate sperm because of a small risk of spreading Zika, U.S. health officials said Monday.

The guidance had previously applied to Miami-Dade County, the only place in Florida where there’s evidence mosquitoes spread the virus. But infections were reported in people in South Florida who couldn’t clearly be linked to Miami-Dade.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the advice should extend to two counties north of Miami — Broward and Palm Beach. The recommendation applies to men who lived or traveled in those counties since June 15.

Zika is mainly spread by mosquito bites, but it can also be spread through sex. People can be infected without getting sick, and the virus can remain in semen for months.

There is no evidence of a pregnant woman being infected by Zika through a sperm donation, and such a risk is considered low, CDC officials said. Infection during pregnancy can lead to severe brain-related birth defects.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates sperm donations, and previously advised sperm banks they shouldn’t accept donors if they had been diagnosed with Zika or had been to an area with widespread Zika within the past six months. Sperm banks should consider the CDC’s new advice discouraging donations from men in the three counties, an FDA spokeswoman said.

There are 12 sperm donor banks in the three South Florida counties, CDC officials said. While blood donations can be tested for Zika, there’s not a good test for semen, according to the FDA.

The last case of mosquito transmission of Zika in Florida was in December. But officials think it’s possible the bugs will start spreading it again this summer. Some 221 people got Zika from mosquitoes in the continental U.S. last year, most in the Miami area. There were six cases in Texas.

There’s no evidence that mosquitoes in Broward or Palm Beach were spreading it, said Dr. Denise Jamieson, who is leading CDC’s Zika emergency efforts. She said officials suspect the local infections occurred in Miami-Dade.

“A lot of times people may not realize when they crossed the county line,” she said.

Since a large outbreak in Brazil, would-be moms and their sex partners have been told to avoid travel to Zika areas, use condoms or abstain from sex.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida, Florida State falling in final day “Bracketology”

When the field of 68 NCAA tournament teams is announced on Sunday there is certain to be a surprise and a snub or two. What does the “Bracketology,” say about which bubble teams will make it and who will remain at home?

We know the names of the four Florida teams that will be called, but where will they go to open the tournament and what seed will they receive? If Joe Lunardi, the foremost expert in tournament projections is right, conference tournament performances have hurt some of them.

According to Lunardi, the swami of Bracketology, Florida will earn a fifth seed, but quite possibly a six. Florida State has fallen to a four, but the committee could take them down another spot.

Miami played well down the stretch to earn a No. 7 seed. Florida Gulf Coast, winners of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament will likely enter the tournament as a 14 seed.

Two weeks ago the Gators had a legitimate shot at a three seed. Unfortunately, they finished the season on a three-game losing streak.

Florida can blame their plunge on Vanderbilt. They lost to the Commodores twice in the span of seven days, who wound up beating the Gators three times this season.

Despite having a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking of 10th, the selection committee looks at different factors, including how well your team played over the final month. Losing three times to a team (Vandy) with 15 losses does not help your case.

Florida State had a luckluster February and never regained the magic that saw them in the top 10 before five double-digit road losses in the ACC. The Seminoles are still rated 13th in the RPI, but their finish keeps them from earning anything higher than a four seed.

Miami brings in an RPI rating of 42 and played well in the season’s second half. They are perfectly suited to the No. 7 seed Lunardi projects.

Florida Gulf Coast carries an RPI rating of 85, meaning they would be nowhere near the Big Dance without winning their conference title.

For those not aware of Lunardi, he has a sterling track record. Last year he picked 64 of the 68 teams in the field and either the spot-on seeding or within one spot of 60 teams. In 2015 he predicted 66 of the 68 teams with 61 of the 68 seedings being perfect or within one spot.

The bottom line is that fans of Florida’s four tournament teams can pretty much bank on their seed. It is tough to project where teams will open up, but Lunardi makes the case for Florida State playing their first and second games (if they win) at the Amway Center in Orlando. He has the Gators heading to Milwaukee, with the Hurricanes and Florida Gulf Coast off to Indianapolis.

All of the Bracketology becomes official Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m.

Lightning overcomes two-goal deficit to take big win over Florida

The Tampa Bay Lightning is treating this playoff race like something real.

The Lightning won a memorable game against the Florida Panthers Saturday night, coming from a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 victory. The Bolts are now 10-2-3 in their last 15 games.

After falling behind 2-0, the Bolts came back on a power-play by Nikita Kucherov, a short-handed goal by Yanni Gourde (his first in the NHL) and a tiebreaking goal off a deflection by Ondrej Palat. It was Kucherov’s 31st goal, and it tied him for the league lead in power-play goals.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper didn’t seem concerned that his team was down two goals in a hurry.

“To be honest, we were in the room thinking that there’s no way we should be down 2-0 in that game,” Cooper said. “I think the scoring chances were pretty even, shots were pretty even. Coby’s untimely break of his stick keeps the puck in the zone, and that was a tough break. The first one, I guess you realize why Jagr’s got 700-plus goals, to score a goal like that from that angle.

“So we thought, OK, maybe a couple of these weren’t getting the breaks, but we thought we were earning ours. We could’ve easily been up 2-0 in that period going into the break, but there was a lot of fight in the boys we had left. We felt we were playing well enough. It was keep working the way we were, and things will pay off, and they eventually did.”

For the Bolts, it was one of the team’s more impressive home stands of the season.

“Sometimes a little youthful exuberance injected in there, and guys don’t really care,” Cooper said. “They just want to go and try their hardest and try and win. Everybody knows where we are right now and it is desperation mode. The guys are playing with it.

“I don’t know how many kids we had that started the year in the minors that were in the lineup tonight. We talked earlier in the year. It’s not the 22 guys or the 23 guys at the start of the year that make this team. It’s 30-plus that are a part of our team. You need everybody to win.”

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevski is 5-0-1 in his last six games.

The Bolts travel to New York to face the Rangers on Monday and then on  to Ottawa on Tuesday.

2017 Legislative Session preview: Alimony rears its head

Get ready for a rumble: Lawmakers will again tackle the sticky issue of alimony in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Companion bills filed in the House and Senate aim to overhaul state alimony law to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

Neither bill had a hearing in the committee weeks leading up to this year’s session, which begins Tuesday.

Given its history, the effort promises to be one of the most contentious the Legislature will deal with this year, and both sides are primed for the fight. Last year, a hollering battle sparked outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office as reform advocates shouted down opponents of the bill.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

The First Wives Advocacy Group calls this year’s legislation “one-sided, inequitable, and harmful to Florida families, especially women and children.” Proponents say the measures won’t be retroactive; these ex-spouse advocates disagree.

“As written, the legislation will retroactively tamper with thousands of prior divorces, giving payors a virtual do-over at the expense of the recipient,” the group said in a statement. “During their divorces, many women sacrificed equitable distribution for the security of permanent alimony.  

“This legislation would result in (those paying alimony) filing for modification upon retirement, regardless of prior agreement, need, and ability to pay,” the group adds. “This is clearly not equitable.”

But Alan Frisher, chair of the National Parents Organization of Florida, called “the concept of permanent alimony … outdated in today’s society.”

“Alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn a living after divorce in this day and age,” he said.

The 2017 bills “would provide predictability and consistency for all, plus, divorcing spouses could settle their financial differences out of court versus spending countless dollars on wasteful litigation,” Frisher added.

This year’s measures (HB 283, SB 412) don’t address the child custody provisions that garnered Scott‘s disfavor in 2016.

He nixed that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.” He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, is carrying the House bill and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, is sponsoring its Senate counterpart.

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