Make us your home page
Instagram

Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Where Tampa's national championship ranks among the greatest games ever

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

If you needed any more convincing that Tampa's national championship at Raymond James Stadium was one of the best games in college football history, let me direct you to Sports on Earth.

The website ambitiously ranked its top 100 games ever and put Clemson's 35-31 win over Alabama at No. 3. The top two, in order: Vince Young's heroics for Texas against USC and Miami's 31-30 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl of January 1984.

Other notables on the list, which includes everything from the Iron Bowl to Chicago 2, Michigan 0...Miami's title game loss to Ohio State (sixth), the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl (seventh), Florida State's BCS title game win over Auburn (15th), Miami's 26-25 win over FSU in 1987 (21st), the Gators' 32-29 win over FSU in 1997 (37th) and Florida's 36-33 upset loss to Auburn in 1994 (83rd).

The list is comprehensive (who among us can forget Notre Dame's 14-13 thriller against Iowa Pre-Flight during World War II?) with several other state games. I encourage you to check it out, in its entirety.

Full Story

Want elite college football athletes? Recruit Tampa Bay

Robinson High produuct Byron Pringle has gone from this performance in a high school all-star game to all-Big 12 at Kansas State.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Robinson High produuct Byron Pringle has gone from this performance in a high school all-star game to all-Big 12 at Kansas State.

Now that college football watch list season is over (I think), here's one takeaway you probably already knew: Tampa Bay produces a lot of great athletes.

Not just football players. Pure, raw athletes.

Just check out the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the "most versatile player in major college football." State colleges were represented (Florida receiver Antonio Callaway, Florida State safety Derwin James, Miami receiver Braxton Berrios, USF running back D'Ernest Johnson). But so was the Tampa Bay area.

There was Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant. The former Pasco High star needs only one more return touchdown to break the NCAA career record.

And South Alabama running back Xavier Johnson, a Chamberlain High product who has scored by rushing, receiving and kickoff returns.

And Kansas State receiver Byron Pringle, a Robinson High alumnus who was an all-Big 12 returner and the Wildcats' leading receiver.

And Boston College's Jeff Smith, an ex-Clearwater Central Catholic standout who has successfully switched from quarterback to receiver. …

Full Story

Ex-Buc Booger McFarland becomes ABC college football analyst

Former Bucs lineman Booger McFarland (No. 92) will become an ABC studio analyst this college football season.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Former Bucs lineman Booger McFarland (No. 92) will become an ABC studio analyst this college football season.

Former Bucs defensive lineman Booger McFarland is continuing his broadcasting rise by joining ABC's studio coverage for the upcoming college football season, ESPN announced Tuesday.

McFarland has spent the past three years with ESPN, including time as a SEC Network analyst and work on SportsCenter and Mike & Mike, among other programs.

"Very excited, man," McFarland told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. "I've worked on the SEC Network the last three years. Although it's under the ESPN umbrella, it's kind of covering 14 teams. I've done that while paying attention to the rest of the country. This is an opportunity to not only talk about SEC football but to expand and talk about football all across the country on a bigger platform with more viewers. I couldn't be more excited."

McFarland starred at LSU before the Bucs chose him with the No. 15 overall pick of the 1999 NFL draft. He started 84 games for Tampa Bay and was a part of the Bucs' Super Bowl team. He won another championship with the Colts. …

Full Story

Florida Gators want a White Out in home opener

At least the Florida Gators are trying to do something to spice up this season's home opener.

UF is asking fans to wear white for the program's first White Out on Sept. 9 against Northern Colorado.

The game will kick off at 7:30 on the SEC Network, the league announced Tuesday morning.

Not surprisingly, I ranked the game against the Division I-AA Bears 77th out of the 79 games involving Florida schools.

Full Story

Florida Gators' 2018 recruiting class cracks top 10

While I was out on vacation, the Florida Gators apparently picked up their recruiting.

By a lot.

UF's 2018 recruiting class is up to No. 10 nationally in the latest 247Sports rankings thanks to a flurry of oral commitments. Seven of them (in the next class) since July 18, to be exact.
The headliner is five-star quarterback Matt Corral, but four-star receiver JaMarr Chase is among the other notable pickups.

I'll pause here for some routine caveats. Oral commitments are non-binding until recruits sign letters of intent during their senior year. This year will include the first December signing period for high school players, so that adds another to-be-determined wrinkle in the always shifting world of recruiting.

But consider where Jim McElwain was six months ago, when his Gators were on track for their worst signing class of the Rivals era. McElwain closed well (even if there are still eligibility issues, apparently, with one of his top two recruits, receiver James Robinson), and UF finished 11th in 247Sports' rankings. …

Full Story

Gators pick up commitment from 5-star QB Matt Corral

Florida has picked up a major commitment toward its 2018 recruiting class, getting a pledge Saturday night from quarterback Matt Corral, rated a five-star recruit by Rivals and Scout.

Corral, from Ventura, Calif., was in Gainesville this weekend for the Gators' "Friday Night Lights" recruiting event, and his commitment continues a big week for Florida and Jim McElwain, who have picked up five commitments in the last four days.

Corral, 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds, threw for 22 touchdowns with only three interceptions as a junior, this after throwing 36 touchdowns with six interceptions as a sophomore. He's a four-star prospect by ESPN and 247 Sports, and is ranked by Rivals as the No. 7 recruit overall in the upcoming class. He chose the Gators over other SEC offers including Alabama and Georgia, as well as Michigan and USC nationally.

Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier happened to write "805 GUNSLINGER!!" on Twitter -- a nod to Corral's home area code -- just minutes after news broke of his commitment, and Corral retweeted that in affirmation soon after.

Full Story

Gators lose safety Marcell Harris to season-ending injury

University of Florida senior safety Marcell Harris (left) has been lost for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

AP photo

University of Florida senior safety Marcell Harris (left) has been lost for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

You know the time-tested adage that says only bad things occur in the offseason? Gators veteran SS Marcell Harris has emerged as the latest case in point.

A redshirt senior who has appeared in 37 career games and started eight last year, Harris has been lost for the year with a torn right Achilles tendon suffered during workouts Wednesday.

"As a coach this is one of the hardest things you are faced with," Coach Jim McElwain said in a statement released by UF. "Here is a kid who has made great personal growth during his time here and has really matured both on and off the field."

Harris, among only two healthy safeties available this past spring, had 73 tackles, a sack and two interceptions in 2016. He was the only strong safety listed on Florida's post-spring depth chart.

Sophomore Jeawon Taylor, who missed all of spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery, could emerge as Harris' replacement if healthy. Incoming three-star freshman Donovan Stiner also could become an option.

Full Story

FSU football picked by media to win ACC title over Miami

FSU football and QB Deondre Francois, shown before last year's game against Florida, have been picked by the media as preseason favorites to win the ACC. FSU was picked over Clemson to win the Atlantic Division, with Miami picked to win the Coastal.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

FSU football and QB Deondre Francois, shown before last year's game against Florida, have been picked by the media as preseason favorites to win the ACC. FSU was picked over Clemson to win the Atlantic Division, with Miami picked to win the Coastal.

With Clemson losing key parts of last year's national championship team, FSU has been picked by media members as preseason ACC football champion, the league announced Monday.

The Seminoles were picked to win the Atlantic Division, getting 121 first-place votes to Clemson's 37, and Miami was picked to win the Coastal Division, getting 103 of 167 first-place votes, well ahead of Virginia Tech (40). In the championship voting, FSU got 118 of 167 votes, with Clemson (35) next.

Those expectations put all eyes on FSU's Nov. 11 game at Clemson -- the winner of that game has won the ACC in each of the last six years, with Clemson taking the last two and FSU the three before that. If Miami were to win its division, it would be the Coastal's fifth different champion in five years, following Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Duke in the last four. Miami has yet to win a division title since the league went to divisions in 2005.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the media's preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year, getting 113 of 167 votes, with FSU quarterback Deondre Francois next with 23.

Full media balloting results:

Coastal Division (first-place in parentheses) …

Full Story

Pot case resolved for Florida Gators' Antonio Callaway

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia Monday morning.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia Monday morning.

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia Monday morning. His misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession was dropped, which is typical for cases like this. He will also pay a $301 fine. 

Monday's court proceedings resolve a case dating back to May, when UF's top offensive playmaker admitted to having marijuana in an early-morning traffic stop.

The next question is: What does this mean for Callaway's status for the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan? Coach Jim McElwain hasn't said, and I don't expect him to say anything until the week of the game.

UF's policy calls for a suspension for a second positive marijuana test. Callaway hasn't had one (to our knowledge), but he does have two public incidents. During the school's investigation of a sexual assault allegation, he admitted to being high during the encounter. He was cleared of the sexual assault accusation in that case. 

Full Story

The one way Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney want the ACC to copy SEC

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Somewhere in all the chatter and clichés that come with last week's ACC Kickoff, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Clemson's Dabo Swinney proposed an interesting idea.

The ACC should keep their rivalry games on the same weekend every year.

"That's what makes them a rivalry," Fisher said.

Fisher and Swinney both spent time in the SEC, where fans know the big weekends before the schedules come out. Florida plays Georgia around Halloween. The Iron Bowl is on Thanksgiving weekend. Alabama-Tennessee is the third Saturday in October.

"That's one thing that we like about the SEC..." Swinney said. "You know when you're playing some of these bigger games."

Not so in his league. Check out the dates of the last five FSU-Clemson games: Sept. 22, Oct. 19, Sept. 20, Nov. 7 and Oct. 29. No consistency.

Same with UNC-NC State. Same with the fierce FSU-Miami rivalry.

"We play them in the third game," Fisher said. "We've played them at the end. We've played them in the middle. I'd like to see that the same."

But when should that game be annually? Fisher isn't picky.

"I'll tell you when I want it," Fisher said. "Whenever gives us the best chance to win the daggum game."

Full Story

Miami Hurricanes still searching for Brad Kaaya's replacement

Jefferson High product Cade Weldon is still in the mix to start for the Miami Hurricanes this fall.

Jefferson High product Cade Weldon is still in the mix to start for the Miami Hurricanes this fall.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Miami is still searching for its replacement for the school's all-time leading passer, and it doesn't sound like the Hurricanes will make a decision on who will replace Brad Kaaya anytime soon.

"I want to find the guy," coach Mark Richt said Friday during the ACC Kickoff. "I'm not ready to do that yet."

Richt pointed to four players in the mix (Jesuit High alum Vincent Testaverde wasn't among them). Veterans Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs have had a year and a half to impress Richt, and he said he's comfortable with both of them.

The two wildcards are freshmen Cade Weldon and N'Kosi Perry. Weldon, a Jefferson High product, enrolled early, but Perry remains a relatively unknown commodity heading into fall camp.

"They can throw well," Richt said of the two freshmen. "They're smart. They're tough - at least they were in high school. We'll find out what they can do when we start practicing."

Richt said he hopes to identify this season's starter shortly after his team's second fall scrimmage.

Full Story

Jimbo Fisher: I scheduled Alabama, so I'd better be ready

Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher, shown here after the game the Seminoles beat the USF 55-35 in Tampa, likes the prospects of starting the season against Alabama.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher, shown here after the game the Seminoles beat the USF 55-35 in Tampa, likes the prospects of starting the season against Alabama.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With kickoff still almost two full months away, the buzz is continuing to build for the mammoth Florida State-Alabama game in Atlanta.

"I scheduled it, so I'd better be ready for it," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday during the ACC Kickoff.

Fisher said many of the expected things about the Crimson Tide. He praised their physicality, size and strength. He called his former boss, Nick Saban, "one of the great football coaches in this country and one of the greatest of all time." 

But Fisher isn't backing down from ‘Bama, either. The reason this game might be the biggest season opener ever isn't just because Alabama has become the best program of the modern era. It's because the best program of the modern era is playing another powerhouse, one with three national championships and three Heismans over the last quarter-century.

"You know, we've got pretty good tradition and history, too," Fisher said. "Since 1980, we're the winningest team in college football. You've got great history, great tradition. If you're a competitor, it's what you look forward to."

Only seven weeks and one day. But who's counting?

Full Story

Alabama picked to win the SEC, Florida Gators second in East

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough (9) makes a 22 yard run during the second quarter of the SEC championship against the Florida Gators at the Georgia Dome on Saturday Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta.

Monica Herndon | Times

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough (9) makes a 22 yard run during the second quarter of the SEC championship against the Florida Gators at the Georgia Dome on Saturday Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta.

Alabama remains the favorite to win the SEC, and the Florida Gators are picked to finish second in the East.

Those are two highlights from the SEC media predictions, which came out Friday morning. Georgia was narrowly picked to win the East, followed by the Gators, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Missouri.

The Crimson Tide is favored in the West, ahead of Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

You can see my predictions here. 

Here are the preseason all-SEC teams, with voting points in parentheses: …

Full Story

Why I'm picking FSU over Miami for the ACC championship

I posted my SEC predictions yesterday, so now it's the ACC's turn. Without further ado...

Atlantic Division
1. Florida State. Clemson should be great again, too, but I'm giving the edge to the team with the experienced quarterback (Deondre Francois), as I touched on in today's Tampa Bay Times.

2. Clemson. Teams rarely lose transcendent quarterbacks and stay at the very top. I think the Tigers regress slightly but still finish in the top 10, and maybe the top five.

3. Louisville. I still can't believe all of the Twitter backlash and nitpicking of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. He accounted for 51 touchdowns last year and put up 63 on FSU. He's really, really good. Period.

4. North Carolina State. The Wolfpack is the most experienced team in the ACC with one of the country's top defensive ends, Bradley Chubb. It'll mess up somebody's season.

5. Syracuse. I'm higher than the Orange than most, because I think Dino Babers' offense will click in its second season. That schedule, though, is brutal (at LSU in non-conference, at Louisville in November and Pitt and at Miami in the Coastal). …

Full Story

Dabo Swinney: Tampa's Deon Cain is 'one of the best receivers in the country'

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When Clemson took its turn at the ACC Kickoff on Thursday, the topic of conversation focused on the players who helped win the national title in January at Raymond James Stadium - not necessarily the ones who will be around this fall.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney didn't appreciate that.

"Nobody is asking me about Deon Cain yet," Swinney said of the former Tampa Bay Tech quarterback. "This is one of the best receivers in the country. He's had unbelievable moments. Not one word. We're talking about a guy that's gone, and I'm focused on the guys that are here."

Cain was one of Sports Illustrated's top players in the country. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior has 14 touchdowns on 72 career catches. His 18.1 yards per catch are the third-most among active ACC players, and he's among the players featured on the back cover of Clemson's media guide. 

With Mike Williams and former East Lake High standout Artavis Scott both off to the NFL, the Tigers need receivers to fill the void as they break in a new starting quarterback (probably junior Kelly Bryant). Cain, Swinney said, is ready.

"It's kind of his time," Swinney said. "So it's just next man up." …

Full Story