Pat Dooley’s Front Nine: January 29

The Front Nine comes at you as we get ready for another big weekend of sports in for the Florida Gators. It’s only going to get better when baseball and softball join in and soccer cranks back up.

1. I’ve received dozens of questions about how much the football team is going to miss Brian Johnson (we know the media will) now that he is flying off to the Eagles of Philadelphia. You knew Dan Mullen couldn’t hold onto him forever, although many of us thought he would seek a different route to add to his resume. He will be missed by Mullen because of his relationship with the players and his ability to bounce ideas off Mullen in the heat of battle. And he recruited much more than a lot of quarterbacks coach do, especially in Miami. So Florida, according to reports, elevated Garrick McGee, which was the plan all along if Johnson left. It’s hardly a sexy hire (like, say, Kerwin Bell would have been) but we’ll see how it goes.

2. There was nothing really surprising in the schedule reveal for the 2021 football season. We had already told you what September was going to look like and predicted Kentucky would be the first SEC road game. Perhaps getting Missouri the week before the FSU game instead of a non-conference game is less than desirable, especially on the road. But after that conference-only schedule of 2020, I don’t think anybody is going to be complaining. Right now, I see Florida as somewhere between 8-4 and 10-2. I don’t think this team will challenge for the College Football Playoff. Now if the Gators beat Alabama in the third game of the year ….

3. Yes, it is about to get crazy around here. For example, just today (Friday), Florida will be competing in volleyball, which is making its return after taking off for more than two months to have split seasons. Mary Wise’s team plays back-to-back games at Ole Miss (3 p.m. today). And then we have men’s tennis and women’s tennis on the road and, of course, the No. 1 ranked gymnastics team. The tumblers take on Missouri over at the O-Dome. It’s crazy to think how taxed the people at the UAA will be in terms of marketing and finding enough workers and making sure there are EMTs at every sight once we get the middle of February. With limited seating, you almost have to pick your sport and stick with it.

4. And, of course, we will get to see whether Florida’s improved play is a mirage of whether these Gators are truly starting to get it. It’s a big opportunity for the Gators at West Virginia, which is No. 21 in the NET Rankings (Florida is No. 27). The Mountaineers are a rugged bunch that is third in the Big 12 in rebounding and second in three-point shooting. So Florida is going to have to do two things is has been working so hard to get better at – hitting the boards and defending the perimeter. Look, this isn’t a make it or break it game because there is a long way to go and the Gators are going to get plenty of opportunities down the road for Quad 1 wins. But a win in a game like this would open some eyes on that selection committee.

5. That’s one thing about the SEC-Big 12 Challenge – it all comes down to who matches up with who. This year, I like the SEC’s matchups in part because there are some really bad teams in the other conference. Auburn’s not beating Baylor but I can see any of the other nine teams winning. That’s what makes Saturday such a big deal – there aren’t a lot of examples of teams winning or losing in out of conference games. So this is it, a last chance for the SEC to show what it has and make strides towards getting as many teams as possible into the NCAA tournament. The consensus now is six. Seven would be better.

6. OK, as the great Elaine Benes once said, “I have a confession to make. I have Super Bowl Fever”. Of course, she never made it to that Super Bowl because Tim Whatley let her down and Newman went, but I digress. The Chiefs opened as a 3.5-point favorite and the number has sat right about there, maybe just losing the hook to knock it down to 3. It’s been a long time since we had a double-digit favorite in the Supie Bowl (New England +12 in 2008) and I was curious how all those big favorites did because, well, you know me and numbers. There have been 13 Super Bowls with double digit spreads and the faves have gone 8-5. The last big favorite to win, however, was Green May in 1987 over New England. There is no relevancy to this segment, I just thought it was interesting.

7. I used to have these awesome Super Bowl parties (raise your hand if you ever attended one) that included TVs in every bathroom and some great games like guessing the four songs the halftime guest would play. I miss those. Heck, I miss just watching games with friends. Maybe when we hit the new normal, we’ll all remember how much we appreciated being around human beings. This weekend, I will think a lot about my friend Sekou Smith, the NBA writer and TV personality who died from COVID-19 complications. I know this would have been the kind of weekend where he’d have been working his butt off and still find time to laugh and make other people laugh. I miss you already Sekou.

8. OK, it’s time for more trivia as you get ready for the weekend and I hope you enjoy it while knowing that there is only one more football game left in the season. Unless you are really into Southern Conference football. So here is the question – Since 1963, Steve Spurrier’s first varsity season, only three running backs have led Florida in pass receptions in a season. Can you name them?

9. Before we give you the answer, here’s the movie suggestion for this week – “One Night in Miami …” which is on Prime Video. The four actors who played Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jim Brown are spectacular. OK, so here is the answer – Emmitt Smith (1987 and ’89), John L. Williams (1984 and ’85) and Nat Moore (1972).

Be safe.

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