The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend of way too much couch time and the first of many Christmas celebrations. This is my first one without parents and it really feels a little empty.
- Is it me or did you wake up this morning not thinking about Florida being in game week? That’s what happens when you have a Dec. 23 bowl game. Florida has only played two bowl games prior to Christmas in its history and both were Tangerine Bowls in 1973 (actually played in Gainesville) and 1980. So, you are forgiven if you forgot Florida plays on Thursday of this week. You know what is more bizarre? When Florida doesn’t play in a bowl game. In the modern era, that’s never supposed to happen, but it did for a variety of reasons.
- The 1979 team went winless and even as the bowls were expanding there was no room for 0-10-1. Florida had its biggest stretch of modern day down absences from 1984-86, twice because of probation and once because the Gators were 6-5. Steve Spurrier’s first Florida team didn’t go bowling because of probation incurred by the previous staff and then it was expected every year as Florida had a bowl streak of 22 straight season before Will Muschamp messed it up in 2013. And three years later, another coach was fired and Florida didn’t make a bowl game. It was close this season, but maybe one of the Gator standards employed by Billy Napier should be “ABB” – Always Be Bowling.
- That one year when Muschamp didn’t make it with his 4-8 team, I was crestfallen not to have a bowl game to go to. I love those weeks with all of this, that and the other (mostly the great hospitality rooms) and often getting to know some of the writers who cover the other team that we normally wouldn’t see. So, the one season Muschamp breaks the streak, I talked SEC commissioner Mike Slive into tagging along as he went to three bowl games in Florida on one day. It was one of the best days ever. Mike was such a good guy. I’ll never forget our last game (the Outback) and LSU clinched a win and he came over to me with a hand in the air wanting a high-five. It was awkward for the sportswriter in me at the time, but I delivered one. And after the game I received a ride in a police car to the hotel where I was staying. It was pretty cool.
- We heard from Napier preaching patience to the Gator Nation at his first press conference and kind of giggled because this isn’t a patient bunch. But we are seeing it in the way Florida is leaking one staff hire a day. Some of these people being hired have jobs that are probably important, but I have no idea what they will be doing. Still, the army is coming together.
- One reason you should be patient is because of the schedule next season. The SEC did Florida no favors in sending them to College Station twice in three years (and who knows with the new-look SEC when Florida will get a return visit?) It’s difficult to see a path to a great record because again, the conference is giving Florida a rough back end of the schedule with one out of its last five games at home (it was two of the last six this year). The front end is loaded with home games, six of the first seven, but it also includes Utah in the opener, Kentucky, Missouri and LSU, the last three teams beating the Gators last year. In theory, this will be Napier’s worst team only because everybody will be getting to know each other and the recruiting chops won’t kick in fully for another year. So …. Be patient. Right.
- This Florida basketball team is another story, the definition of consistently inconsistent. On Saturday, there were 17 turnovers and Florida still scored more points against South Florida than anyone has this season. Florida is 59th in the NET Rankings with one more non-conference game before SEC play begins and there will be plenty of opportunities to score some brownie points. However, while the league has six teams in the top 50 of the NET, there are six teams that are 91 or lower and two – Georgia and Missouri – that are below 200. The NET Rankings tend to be a little screwy early, but that loss to Texas Southern isn’t going away. By the way, that team that b\came to Gainesville and beat Florida the first week of December has only played once since (beating Rio Grande) and doesn’t play again until Dec. 29.
- It was high entertainment watching Charlie Woods play golf with his old man this weekend. That Tiger guy hit some great shots, too. But you can see that he is a long way from being comfortable. That kid is going to have some life if he listens to everything his Pop says, unless it gets into a discussion about behavior off the course. What a contrast to see the button-downed Woods team going toe-to-toe with John Daly and his son and their fancy britches and Big John’s Santa Claus look.
- Everyone says you should stay away from betting on bowl games, but Dr. Football knows the answer: Bet on the early bowl games when there is less opting out and the game means something to the players. Which is why The Picks went 4-0 last week and are now 49-40-3 against the spread. Yes, we will take the suites and they will be comped. On to this week, where it starts to get tougher:
* Florida has maintained a six-point spread in its game against UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl and this is the most difficult game to call for Dr. Football. I just don’t have a feel for how important this game is to the players and coaches who won’t be around in 2022. Never bet with your heart and take the Knights and the six.
* Missouri is a 4-point underdog against Army and I’m sure that the Tigers don’t want to go play against that option. On the other hand, Mizzou was almost left out of the bowls with a 6-6 record, but they found a way to fit them in. So, maybe they are fired up. This is hard, but it’s not supposed to be easy. I’m taking Army. No, Missouri and the points.
* We are going to get a few midweek NFL games because of the pandemic protocols, so let’s pick a couple. The Rams are giving 6.5 at home on a Tuesday night against Seattle. Give me the Rams and hope for a lot of scoring. I have a lot of fantasy points riding on this game.
* And give me Minnesota tonight, giving six points to the Bears.
- This week’s playlist will be the obvious one – my favorite Christmas songs. I promise not to sing:
* “River” by Joni Mitchell, although I do love Sister Hazel’s version.
* ”Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
* ”Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney.
* ”Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses (great bass line).