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To be a complete team, Gators need to find a quarterback

Two years in, two championship games, and the Help Wanted sign remains out.

Now, more than ever, the University of Florida needs a quarterback.

With the Gators playing in the SEC Championship game Saturday afternoon, the Gators’ weakest position stands out the most. Who is there to guide the Gators toward the end zone? Who is there to have a breakout game to lead an upset?

Look around. Alabama has a great defensive line, but Florida’s good, too. If linebacker Jarrad Davis plays, the Gators can play some linebacker. Cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor are potential first round picks. Jordan Scarlett is a good running back. Receivers Antonio Callaway and Reggie Cleveland have speed.

But what about the quarterback?

Still?

Coach Jim McElwain has been at Florida for two seasons, and that’s the team’s biggest shortcoming. It simply hasn’t found a quarterback in the tradition of the great Florida quarterbacks. You know: Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Those guys. The Statue Guys.

Of course, Will Grier’s suspension and departure left a big hole for the Gators. It was bad enough when he tested positive for PEDs, but his jumping ship created a hole.

Can freshman Feleipe Franks grow into a solid quarterback? Can Kyle Trask? Is there a recruit in the distance?

Regardless, this much is clear. Florida will never be the team it needs to be until it has the quarterback it wants.

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Questioning the Florida-Alabama game for the SEC Championship

Five things to ponder about Florida’s SEC title game against Alabama on Saturday.

Can the Gators give Alabama a better game than last year?

Unless Florida forces a lot of turnovers, it’s hard to see how. Most agree this Alabama team might be the school’s best, and might be as good as any team who has ever played. Florida, meanwhile, has played almost an identical season as to last year, from the sluggish offense to the spotty quarterbacking. Jordan Scarlett is an admirable back, but can he stand up against the Tide’s defense? Doubtful.

Will Florida be healthier this week?

Maybe. Both linebacker Jarrad Davis and guard Martez Ivey have returned to practice and should play.

Any truth to the rumors about coach Jim McElwain going to Oregon?

Mac says there isn’t. He says flatly that he hasn’t heard from the school (no word on whether his agent has) and that “it must be a slow news day.”

Said McElwain: “Look, I’ve got a heck of a job. In case anybody checked this is the University of Florida. We’re playing in what they call the SEC Championship Game. It really hasn’t crossed my mind.”

Which group of fans should be most disappointed to see the Gators play for the SEC title?

Oh, it’s fairly widespread. Tennessee, in particular, should be crestfallen. This should have been the Vols’ year, especially considering their victory over the Gators. All LSU had to do was move another yard to knock the Gators out. Georgia was one of the most underachieving teams in the league. It wasn’t the perfect season for the Gators, but leaving their opponents’ disappointed is something.

Where must the Gators improve from last year’s game?

Everywhere. For one thing, the Gators rushed for only 15 yards on the afternoon, and this Alabama defense is better. Then-quarterback Treon Harris had a rating of only 6.7 for the day.

Florida needs to start fast. It took a 7-2 lead a year ago, but Alabama is a team that wears its opponents down. The Tide doesn’t run as well as it did last year behind Derrick Henry (Damien Harris is only 72nd in rushing). The Tide’s defense was the only one in America to give up less than 3,000 yards this season. The Tide was first in total defense, first in rushing defense and 11th against the pass. It’ll be hard for the Gators to drive very far.

Alabama is a 24-point favorite. The game is at 4 p.m. in Atlanta.

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Joe Henderson: What Democrats missed about Donald Trump, Rick Scott — it’s about jobs

We probably will never know what happened inside Trump Tower recently when Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with the president-elect.

It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if they talked about jobs the entire time.

I mention this because Donald Trump gave a preview this week of what he hopes are coming attractions. He announced that Carrier, the giant air conditioning manufacturer, had agreed to keep about 1,000 jobs in Indiana instead of shipping them to Mexico.

That is straight out of the playbook Scott used to run for governor in 2011, and then to be re-elected to a second term in 2015.

Neither Trump nor Carrier have disclosed details of the deal, but my guess is that none of the affected workers care. That’s where Trump — and Scott — have outfoxed the experts.

Scott has boasted of bringing 1 million jobs to Florida, a claim backed up by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Critics say, with some justification, that Scott and Florida benefited from an improving economy throughout the United States.

I’m a big one for giving credit (or blame) when something significant occurs on a governor’s watch. That’s what happened with Scott.

While his campaign had considerably more bombast than Florida’s taciturn governor, Donald Trump campaigned hard on the issue of jobs. He smartly targeted key Midwestern states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and, of course, Indiana.

There, he promised workers who lost manufacturing jobs that he had heard their cry and would do something to help them. The Carrier deal is no doubt an encouraging sign.

There is a long way to go, of course. The Washington Post reported that since 1969, Indiana has lost more than 235,000 manufacturing jobs. More pain may on the way, as several companies have announced intentions to migrate jobs to Mexico.

Reality says that even should Trump be successful in offering incentives for those companies to keep jobs here, they likely won’t pay as well as before. Once again, though, Trump can look at what Scott did.

Critics complained that many of those million-plus jobs the governor claimed credit for creating paid subsistence wages at best. They said his tax and incentives policies created wealth for corporate owners while barely paying workers enough to get by.

What all that missed, though, became the central point of the election — both in Florida and this year in the Rust Belt states. When a person doesn’t have a job, particularly someone in middle-age with kids and mortgage, they solely focus on being employed again.

Democrats missed that.

They missed it in Florida against Scott. They missed again with Trump. So, while Trump’s ridiculous tweet about jailing and stripping the citizenship of anyone who protests by burning the U.S. flag got headlines, his deal with Carrier resonated loudly with the people most responsible for putting him office.

As Rick Scott once said, let’s get to work.

 

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Could the bowl season include a Jimbo Fisher-Jim Harbaugh match-up?

Would you be interested in seeing FSU’s Jimbo Fisher coach against LSU? It’s possible.

Or how about Fisher going head-to-head with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh? That’s possible, too.

Those are two of the possible scenarios for upcoming bowl season, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Brent McMurphy. Schlabach sees the Seminoles playing LSU in the Cirtrus Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 31. McMurphy sees them playing Michigan in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

This is the last week such speculation will be necessary. Bowl pairings will be announced Sunday.

Other match-ups that ESPN predicts include the Outback Bowl, where both writers see Florida playing Nebraska on Jan. 2. Both agree that USC will play in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29. Schlabach thinks the Bulls will play Vanderbilt, while McMurphy says it will be South Carolina.

The two agree that Miami will play West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28.

Schlabach has UCF playing against Toledo in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 19. McMurphy sees UCF playing against Louisiana Lafayette in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 17.

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Once again, FSU ranks the near top in high school recruiting

At this point, the names are not written in ink. Still, it’s easy to see why Jimbo Fisher chose to remain at Florida State.

Once again, FSU is near the top of the rankings for high school recruits.

According to the recruiting website 247sports.com, FSU is second in America (to Alabama) when it comes to this season’s recruits. The Seminoles have one five-star recruing and 17 four-stars.

Other recruiting classes included Florida, who is 13th, and Miami, who is 21st. UCF is 61st and USF is 64th. Also in the state is Florida Atlantic (99th) and FIU (100th). The website included Bethune-Cookman (142nd) and FAMU (146th).

Last year, FSU was second and Florida 14th.

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Donald Trump drama rolls on: Disputes, falsehoods hit transition

The drama, disputes and falsehoods that permeated Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign are now roiling his transition to the White House, forcing aides to defend his baseless assertions of illegal voting and sending internal fights spilling into public.

On Monday, a recount effort, led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton‘s campaign also marched on in three states, based partly on the Stein campaign’s unsubstantiated assertion that cyberhacking could have interfered with electronic voting machines. Wisconsin officials approved plans to begin a recount as early as Thursday. Stein also asked for a recount in Pennsylvania and was expected to do the same in Michigan, where officials certified Trump’s victory Monday.

Trump has angrily denounced the recounts and now claims without evidence that he, not Clinton, would have won the popular vote if it hadn’t been for “millions of people who voted illegally.” On Twitter, he singled out Virginia, California and New Hampshire.

There has been no indication of widespread election tampering or voter fraud in those states or any others, and Trump aides struggled Monday to back up their boss’ claim.

Spokesman Jason Miller said illegal voting was “an issue of concern.” But the only evidence he raised was a 2014 news report and a study on voting irregularities conducted before the 2016 election.

Trump met Monday with candidates for top Cabinet posts, including retired Gen. David Petraeus, a new contender for secretary of state. Trump is to meet Tuesday with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is also being considered more seriously for the diplomatic post, and Mitt Romney, who has become a symbol of the internal divisions agitating the transition team.

Petraeus said he spent about an hour with Trump, and he praised the president-elect for showing a “great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there.”

“Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said. A former CIA chief, Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information relating to documents he had provided to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort, teased “a number of very important announcements tomorrow” as he exited Trump Tower Monday night.

Pence is said to be among those backing Romney for State. Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign but is interested in the Cabinet position, and they discussed it during a lengthy meeting earlier this month.

Other top Trump allies, notably campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign to warn the president-elect that nominating Romney would be seen as a betrayal by his supporters. Conway’s comments stirred speculation that she is seeking to either force Trump’s hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.

Three people close to the transition team said Trump had been aware that Conway planned to voice her opinion, both on Twitter and in television interviews. They disputed reports that Trump was furious at her and suggested his decision to consider additional candidates instead highlighted her influence.

Conway served as Trump’s third campaign manager and largely succeeded in navigating the minefield of rivalries that ensnared other officials. Trump is said to have offered her a choice of White House jobs — either press secretary or communications director. But people with knowledge of Conway’s plans say she is more interested in serving as an outside political adviser, akin to the role President Barack Obama‘s campaign manager David Plouffe played following the 2008 election.

The wrangling over the State Department post appears to have slowed the announcements of other top jobs. Retired Gen. James Mattis, who impressed Trump during a pre-Thanksgiving meeting, was at the top of the list for Defense secretary, but a final decision had not been made.

Trump was also considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Homeland Security secretary, according to those close to the transition process. Giuliani was initially the front-runner for State and is still in the mix. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as the mayor’s public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.

Those close to the transition insisted on anonymity in commenting because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the private process.

Even as Trump weighs major decisions that will shape his presidency, he’s been unable to avoid being distracted by the recount effort. He spent Sunday on a 12-hour Twitter offensive that included quoting Clinton’s concession speech, in which she said the public owed Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead.”

His final tweets challenging the integrity of an election he won were reminiscent of his repeated, unsubstantiated assertions during the campaign that the contest might be rigged. Those previous comments sparked an outcry from both Clinton and some Republicans.

Clinton lawyer Marc Elias said the campaign has seen “no actionable evidence” of voting anomalies. But the campaign still plans to be involved in Stein’s recount to ensure its interests are legally represented.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. All three would need to flip to Clinton to upend the Republican’s victory, and Clinton’s team says Trump has a larger edge in all three states than has ever been overcome in a presidential recount.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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As Florida entered another SEC title game, have the Gators improved?

If the Florida Gators are the same-old football team, can this season’s SEC title game be any different?

Once again, the Gators are a heavy underdog to Alabama, which once again has a national title in its grasp. Once again, it’s easy to wonder if Florida has enough sizzle on offense to pull off an offense over over one of the Tide’s best defensive teams.

In some ways, this season was just a sequel to Jim McElwain’s first season with the Gators. He broke in one quarterback, then finished with another. The Gators were 10-3 and ranked 18th going into the game; this year, they’re 8-3 and ranked 15th.

Last year, the Gators were 111th in the nation in total offense; this year, they’re 114th. Last year, they were eighth in America on defense; this year, they’re sixth. Last year, they were 100th in scoring offense; this year, they’re 104th.

In other words, not much has changed for the Gators in a year. They still have a stubborn defense; they still have a sluggish offense.

Maybe that’s why Florida is an underdog by as many as 24 points.

“I don’t look at it as a mismatch at all,” McElwain said. “I look at it as an opportunity.”

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USF crashes AP Top 25; Seminoles 12th, Gators 15th

For the first time in several weeks, three Florida teams are in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Florida and Florida State have been included every week, but now the South Florida Bulls have joined the club.

USF is the 24th ranked team in the country according to AP. With Saturday’s victory over Central Florida, the Bulls finished the season at 10-2.

The 10 wins are the most in a season in USF history and the Bulls are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since week six of the 2011 season. Their only losses came against Temple and Florida State.

The Seminoles improved from 15th to 12th this week following Saturday’s 31-13 win over the Florida Gators. Florida State was ranked as high as second this season before the huge loss to Louisville. Following their shocking loss to Kentucky, the Cardinals are now ranked behind FSU at No. 16.

Florida fell only two spots to 15th with the loss to FSU. The Gators were ranked as high as tenth earlier this season.

Florida State and South Florida have only their bowl games remaining while Florida must play top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, followed by their bowl game.

The Crimson Tide is again a unanimous selection at number one, earning all 61 first place votes. Ohio State, Clemson, Washington and Michigan round out the top five.

In addition to USF, the American Conference has Navy in the top 25, who is ranked 20th. The Bulls beat the Midshipmen on October 29, but the voters were apparently impressed by Navy scoring 75 and 66 points the past two weeks.

While Alabama is clearly the top team, the SEC is falling on hard times. The league once had eight teams in the top 25, but only four this week. LSU and Auburn are the other two.

The ACC, who argues they are equal to the SEC from top to bottom, placed five teams in the top 25. The Big 10 placed the most teams with six, followed by the Pac 12 with four, the Big 12 with three, the American with two and the Mid-American with one.

Western Michigan of the Mid-American is the only other unbeaten FBS/Division I team. The 12-0 Broncos are ranked 13th.

The four College Football Playoff teams will be selected next Sunday. Two of those four will be in Tampa on January 9 for the national championship game.

The Top 25 poll is here.

 

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One more time: Dalvin Cook leads FSU past Florida in rivalry

The replay board at Doak-Campbell Stadium summed it up perfectly.

“Thank you, Dalvin.”

Behind Dalvin Cook, again, the FSU Seminoles beat the Florida Gators, again. This time, it was 30-14, and once again, Cook led the way.

In three games, Cook has rushed for 480 yards against the Gators who, presumably, are all in favor of Cook jumping to the NFL.

“You’re blessed to coach certain guys in your career,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “What a dad gum great football player.”

This time, Cook had 153 yards to lead FSU, but the Seminoles much-maligned defense made its mark, too. FSU had six sacks, gave up only 207 yards of total offense and held the Gators to zero-for-12 on third down situations. Four of FSU’s six sacks were in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know if they will come back (for next week’s SEC title game) or not,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of his Gators.  It’ll be a heck of a test.

“These guys have been through a ton. They played their tails off today, and it hurts. You know as a competitor you tear off the rear view mirror and go forward.”

The win made FSU’s senior class the first one to go 4-0 against Florida and Miami during their time with the Seminoles.

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Despite Gators’ shortcomings, it’s still the FSU-Florida rivalry

Even though the Gators are missing seven defensive starters, it’s FSU-Florida.

Even though the Gators are ranked only 102nd in the nation, it’s FSU-Florida.

Even though FSU has won three straight, and five of the last six, it’s FSU-Florida.

There are a lot of reasons to believe this won’t be a close game. Despite a disappointing season, FSU has Dalvin Cook and Deondre Francois. Demarcus Walker is second in the nation in sacks. Tavaris McFadden is first in interceptions.

But Florida has had an over-achieving season, and they’re coming off an overachieving afternoon. So, yeah, it’ll probably be closer than it has a right to be. In the end, however, FSU can still score on any play. Florida can’t.

Prediction: FSU 23, Florida 16

All season long, the question has been that if someone finally stops the potent USF offense, what are the Bulls’ going to do. That sums up the hope of UCF, whose 35th-best defense will be the second-best that USF has faced all season.

SMU did a decent job with quarterback Quinton Flowers last week, but Flowers still rushed for 149 yards. UCF won’t be able to run up and down the field the way the Bulls are capable, but they can slow USF down. If they pen up Flowers, and if they can stop that pesky jet sweep, it could be a closer game than you’d think

Prediction: USF 27, UCF 20

Duke at Miami

The Hurricanes have had a solid first season under coach Mark Richt. They can get to their eighth win by beating the Blue Devils.

Miami has won three straight games. Mark Walton and Joe Yearby give the ‘Canes a solid running game, and Brad Kaaya is always dangerous.

Prediction: Miami 29, Duke 14

FIU at Old Dominion

ODU didn’t ease up against FAU last week, and they probably won’t this week against FIU. ODU is 8-3 on the season and still have a chance in the Conference USA East Division. Last week, ODU quarterback David Washington threw for 416 yards and five touchdowns.

Can FIU slow down the ODU attack? Some, but probably not enough.

Prediction: ODU 34, FIU 16

FAU-Middle Tennessee

FAU is 3-8, and will be a solid underdog against the Blue Raiders. FAU is giving up almost 500 yards per game.

Prediction: Middle Tennessee 35, FAU 10

The Pros

Jags at Bills

You keep waiting for Jacksonville to prove it’s better than its record. But is it? The Jags keep finding ways to lose, and quarterback Blake Bortles has been unable to do anything about it.

Prediction: Buffalo 27, Jacksonville 14

49ers at Dolphins

San Francisco is a mess, while Miami has quietly righted the ship and snuck back into playoff contention. The Dolphins’ defense won’t give up a lot to San Francisco, and Jay Ajayi should have a good day.

Prediction: Miami 31, San Francisco 9

Seattle at Tampa Bay

The Seahawks are playing solid football behind quarterback Russell Wilson, who has a chance at a huge day against a depleted Bucs’ secondary.

Prediction: Seattle 24, Tampa Bay 14

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