Tuesday, December 30, 2014

UF Basketball: UF Loses to FSU in the Most Unconventional Way

In my 20 years on this earth I thought I had seen it all. I knew that Florida basketball would not be the same this season after its Final Four run just a year ago and this was evidenced by heartbreaking late game losses to Miami and Georgetown. I thought for sure that the FSU game would be an easy win for the Gators as they prepared for UConn on January 3rd. I was wrong.

In the most unfathomable way, the Florida Gators lost on an essential buzzer beater to the Florida State Seminoles when the ball was accidentally tipped in by senior Jacob Kurtz. Let me begin by saying I love Kurtz to death. He was a former team manager who walked on to the team and saw some sporadic playing time last year. He has played a significant amount this year and in my opinion nobody on the team shows more heart and hustle than him. It is a shame this had to happen to him.

Let me break down the play. With three seconds on the clock and the game tied at 63, FSU guard Devon Bookert chucked up a three that was going to brick off the basket. Kurtz was in the paint and knew it was going to be short. However, he could not just stand there and let the seven foot FSU center, Michael Ojo, collect the rebound and lay it up to win the game. He did what every player in his position would do. He went up for the ball. Unfortunately the ball tipped off his fingers and went in the basket.

It was a freak play and gave FSU a 65-63 victory over Florida. However, I can't blame this loss on one player or play. In fact, it would be foolish for any Gator fan to blame this loss on Jacob Kurtz. Instead, I'll blame turnovers and missed opportunities. The Gators were sloppy the entire game as they turned the ball over 17 times! It was only close because FSU nearly turned it over just as much with 15 Seminole turnovers.

In regards to missed opportunities, Florida shot 42.6% from the field on 26 of 61 shooting and 21.1% from three-point land with 4 makes on 19 shots. As bad as this is, there is some good I can take away from this heartbreaking and straight up puzzling loss.

Sophomore guard Kasey Hill really upped his game tonight as he went seven of nine from the field for a game-high 17 points. He made all of his three free throws, which included some clutch ones down the stretch when the Gators were down by five in the last minute. He also totaled three assists on the night.

The other two Gators in double digits were Eli Carter and Michael Frazier II. Carter had 14 points on 55% shooting with seven rebounds while Frazier II had 11 points on 33% shooting with four rebounds. Frazier II made just two of his six three-point shots.

Apart from these three, I have really no one else to highlight because it was such a sloppy, poorly executed game. Kurtz had a game-high eight rebounds, but that eighth one came just nanoseconds before the infamous tip-in. That tip-in will be #1 on ESPN's Worst of the Worst for months to come. It will be the second time the Florida Gators are featured on Worst of the Worst as Quinton Dunbar's block on his own teammate during last year's loss against Georgia Southern stole the show. Like the latter, Kurtz's tip-in will be retired before any other play surpasses it.

After yet another agonizing late game loss, the Florida Gators (7-5) will have to find a way to move on and get ready for the UConn Huskies (6-4) in the O-Dome on January 3rd. Tipoff is at 2:00 p.m. I honestly cannot even tell you the last time that Florida lost to both in-state rivals FSU and Miami in the same season. All I know is that is has not happened in a while.

On the other side, FSU (8-5) has taken a page out of its football team's book and won on one of the luckiest breaks in the history of sports. Their five-game losing streak against Florida has ended and now they will face one more SEC opponent in Mississippi State (6-6) at home before heading into the gauntlet of ACC conference play. This game is on January 2nd and tipoff is at 8:00 p.m.

*All stats accredited to ESPN.com

My Improbable Fantasy Football Run

I have immersed myself in the world of fantasy sports ever since I was a middle schooler. I primarily focused on baseball with a few stints at football in the mix. In all my baseball leagues I have won just one championship and in fantasy football the best I ever did was a semifinal appearance my first year.

From then on, I would tend to quit on the fantasy football season once the going got tough and my team began to underperform. After playing in a baseball league with my friends (where I finished fourth) I thought it would be very enjoyable to start up a fantasy football league with them.

However, I did not want this to be an ordinary fantasy football league. I wanted this league to have long lasting impact where the draft and player acquisitions mattered. Then it hit me! I would set up a fantasy football keeper league!

How the keeper league works is that at the end of the year, all 10 teams in the league would select three players to keep and build around for next season. I was excited at this prospect and began recruiting people for the league. I was able to find 10 people with the most unique being my female friend Christy, who had a very limited knowledge of football. I enticed her by saying I would help her with her team.

With the league set up via ESPN, it was time to wait for draft day. After changing some scoring settings that I would eventually come across and come to dislike in another league run by Yahoo, it was time to draft. I thought I had a solid draft as I picked the following players:

  1. Eddie Lacy
  2. Zac Stacy
  3. Andre Johnson
  4. Vincent Jackson
  5. Desean Jackson
  6. Bishop Sankey
  7. Greg Olsen
  8. Sammy Watkins
  9. Mike Evans
  10. Kelvin Benjamin
  11. Matt Ryan
  12. Steve Smith Sr.
  13. Shonn Greene
  14. Chiefs Defense/Special Teams
  15. Phil Dawson
  16. Brandin Cooks
I would end the season with just 6 of the original 16 I drafted. I 'd say my biggest draft bust was Zac Stacy, who eventually lost his starting job in St. Louis. Out of this list, I ended up keeping Eddie Lacy and Kelvin Benjamin. I'll get to my third keeper in just a bit.

With the teams now set, the season began! I had a bad start as I went 0-3 to start the year. My first win came against one of my best friends, Will, who was also struggling out of the gate. After losing another game, the team Mike's Squad offered me Jimmy Graham and Brandon Marshall for Knowshon Moreno, Martellus Bennett, and Steve Smith Sr. After contemplating the trade, I decided to take it and decided to make Jimmy Graham my third keeper.

Despite the trade, I still struggled and at 1-5, I was on the brink of playoff elimination as I was facing the eventual third place winner of the league. On Monday night, with the Steelers facing Houston, it looked like Antonio Brown scored a fourth quarter touchdown that would have beat me. 

I was irate and upset that my season in the league's inaugural year had gone so bad! I was the commissioner for goodness sakes and I had one of the worst teams in the league! I renamed my team Pinhead Larry in honor of my mediocrity.

In the midst of my pouting, I saw on the TV screen that the touchdown was under review. I looked at the TV hopefully praying for a reversal... and I got it. The touchdown was overturned and the six points were taken off the board. I would win this game by one point to stave off elimination from playoff contention.

After this night, I would lose just one more game before winning four out of my last five games of the year! I rode the hot hand of Ben Roethlisberger who was somehow available in the league after his six touchdown performance against Indianapolis. 

As I continued to win each week, I slowly began to believe that I had a shot at the playoffs. On the last day of the season, in my rivalry game known as the Panda Express Bowl against my best friend Will, I was blown out of the water by 50 points! Will was able to pick up both Tre Mason and Jordan Matthews, who I also tried to add that week. Waivers had given Will preference to both these players who combined for 44 points against me! Ironically, both these players would underperform the first week of the playoffs and cost Will a victory. 

I thought that after all of this, my season was done. However, there was a glimpse of hope. Mike's Squad had the same record as me and just had to win to get in. Fortunately for me, Mike's Squad lost and I got in the playoffs as a #6 seed because I scored more points. At 6-7, I knew my odds of winning were slim. Still, anything can happen in December.

I faced my friend RJ in the first round. He should have been the #1 overall seed but fell apart down the stretch. Instead the #1 overall seed went to my friend Jack, who was a first-time fantasy player and the winer of his division. I somehow beat RJ 101-78 to get to the semifinals against my division's winner Christy. I was so proud of how far she had come and knew she was a legitimate threat with Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Marshawn Lynch, and Rob Gronkowski.

As it turned out, Aaron Rodgers had one of the worst weeks of the season that year. Rodgers doing bad meant Jordy Nelson did bad and I was able to pull out a 97-67 victory. The Baltimore defense helped me out with 23 points. Honestly I picked up Baltimore because they were playing Jacksonville that week, that's how I selected most of my defenses. It would not only pick on the Jags though, as I would also select defenses whop played Houston, Oakland, and Tennessee.

So here I was, this misfit team who was just a loss away from playoff contention earlier this year, now in the championship game! My opponent would be Jack, who was able to hold on in his semifinal game. The initial score projections had me losing by 15. I embraced the underdog role and wished Jack the best of luck when we met for lunch earlier that week.

After coming home for Christmas break, I waited in anticipation for Sunday to dawn and for the title game to commence. Most of my players played early in the day and only quarterback Matt Ryan (16), running back Eddie Lacy (15), and kicker Matt Bryant (15) put up double digit points. By the end of Sunday, I only had 71 points. I knew that this may not be enough and I was praying that just somehow I could hold on for the win.

Fortunately, Jack's team underperformed as well! Andrew Luck had zero points, Mike Evans (who I traded to Jack after we both started 0-3) put up just four points, and that stingy Bills defense was demolished by the Oakland Raiders as it put up just a single point! It was going to come down to running back Jeremy Hill and wide receiver A.J. Green on Monday night. Jack still had a great chance to win.

As Monday night approached, I was ready for whatever. Jeremy Hill broke an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and I began to get nervous. However, his production ended after that. A.J. Green would not catch a single pass in the game. As the clock on the Monday night game winded down I put my hands in the air to celebrate the final: 71-56. My ragtag team, Pinhead Larry, had won it all!

My improbable playoff run was complete! I could not believe it! Even now I feel very humbled to have won because the fantasy gods can be cruel, I know that firsthand. I look forward to going for a repeat next year but if anything I learned this: Never give up. Because it is never over until the fat lady sings.

It was a heck of a 2014 fantasy football season. It's something I won't forget for a long, long time!

Here's what my championship squad looked like:
  • Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger
  • Halfbacks: Eddie Lacy, Justin Forsett, Legarette Blount, Ray Rice
  • Wide Receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant
  • Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen
  • Kickers: Matt Bryant, Caleb Sturgis
  • Defense/Special Teams: Baltimore
  • Coach/GM/Owner: Zachary Edgar Gonzalez
Way to go Pinhead Larry, the miraculous team of 2014!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 5 Cornerbacks in Gator Football History

Finally, after a few weeks hiatus, I am finally back with my next Top 5 list! I hope everybody had a Happy Holidays and I promise that this article will be worth the wait. In this article I will be listing my five best players to ever play cornerback at the University of Florida! Without further adieu, let us begin!

#5 Vernon Hargreaves III (2013-Present)

In all of my football game recaps these past two years, I have raved about Vernon Hargreaves III. In just two years as a Gator, VH3 has established himself as not only one of the best corners in school history, but also one of the best in the nation! I can promise you that after his junior year he will declare for the 2016 NFL Draft and he will go in the Top 10!

Through two years, VH3 has compiled five interceptions, 83 total tackles, 24 broken up passes, and two recovered fumbles.  His accolades include:

  • 2013 & 2014 First-team All-SEC
  • 2014 All-American

VH3's first collegiate bowl game will come in the form of the 2015 Birmingham Bowl on January 3rd against the ECU Pirates. I think he will perform well in this game and record an interception, maybe even two!

#4 Bruce Bennett (1963-1965)

Bruce Bennet played on a winning Gator team in each of his three collegiate seasons. He played in the 1966 Sugar Bowl his senior year and ended his college career on a heartbreaking note as the Gators lost to the #6 Missouri Tigers 20-18.

The only stat I have for Bennett is that he recorded 13 interceptions in his Gator career. This remained a school record until Will White came along and broke it in 1992. He also tied Florida's record for interceptions in a game when he picked off three balls against Georgia in 1963.

His accolades include:

  • First-team All-SEC in 1964 and 1965
  • First-team All-American in 1965
  • UF Hall of Fame inductee
Bennett went on to play in the Canadian Football League and had a successful career full of All-Star team selections!

#3 Keiwan Ratliff (2000-2003)

Like Hargreaves III, Keiwan Ratliff had to deal with some transition as he played for both Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook. The coaching changes hardly affected him though as he balled out on the field.

In his four years as a Gator, Ratliff notched 83 total tackles, 12 interceptions (three for touchdowns), seven broken up passes, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and one kick return touchdown. His nine interceptions during his senior year of 2003 are a school record for interceptions in a season.

He was a member of the Florida Gator squad that won the 2002 Orange Bowl, but his list of achievements does not stop there. His other accolades include:

  • First-team All-SEC in 2002 & 2003
  • Consensus All-American in 2003
  • SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2003
  • UF Hall of Fame Inductee in 2013

After UF, Ratliff entered the 2004 NFL Draft and was selected 49th overall in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals. He played seven years in the NFL and finished his career with five interceptions, 158 tackles, and 11 pass deflections in 76 games.

#2 Joe Haden (2007-2009)

Joe Haden was an absolute lockdown corner when he was in college. In just three years as a Gator his stat line included eight interceptions, 218 total tackles, 42 broken up passes, and three forced fumbles.

He was a member of the 2008 Florida Gator National Championship team and led the team with 10 total tackles while also breaking up two passes in the National Championship. The next year in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, he again led the team with six total tackles while breaking up just a single pass.

In addition to his National Championship and Sugar Bowl championship, some of Haden's other accolades include:

  • SEC Champion in 2008
  • National Defensive Player of the Year in 2009
  • Unanimous All-American in 2009
  • First-Team All-SEC in 2009
After winning the Sugar Bowl, Haden entered the 2010 NFL Draft and was selected seventh overall by the Cleveland Browns. He is still with the team to this day and through Week 11 of 2014 he has 14 interceptions, 291 tackles, 78 broken up passes, and three forced fumbles. He has been to two Pro Bowls.

#1 Fred Weary (1994-1997)

Coming in at the No. 1 spot is Fred Weary. Not only did he help bring Florida its first National Championship in 1996, but he also is the school's all-time leader in career interceptions. The only stats I have for Weary are 35 passes broken up and his school-record 15 career interceptions.

Among his record and being a National Championship, Weary's accolades include:

  • SEC Champion in 1994, 1995, & 1996
  • First-team All-SEC in 1996 & 1997
  • Consensus All-American in 1997

Upon graduation, Weary entered the 1998 NFL Draft and was selected 97th overall in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints. He played just five seasons and had seven interceptions, 191 tackles, four recovered fumbles, and two sacks in his NFL career.

Honorable Mention:
Steve Tannen (1967-1969), Janoris Jenkins (2008-2010)

I hope you enjoyed this Top 5 article! It feels good to be back! My next article in this series will be the Top 5 Florida Gator Safeties! Stay tuned!

All stats accredited to Wikipedia.com, Gatorzone.com, and Sports-Reference.com

Photo credits: Jacksonville.com, Ebay.com, Operationsports.com, USAToday.com, & SECRant.com

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 NCAA Volleyball Sweet 16: #9 Illinois vs #8 UF

I was conflicted about writing this because I have exams I should be studying for but I figured the heck with it. The #8 Florida Gators volleyball squad is going to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in school history! They needed five sets, but the Gators were able to pull off a 16-14 victory in the final set to defeat the #9 Illinois Fighting Illini tonight in the Iowa Regional Semifinal.

Sophomore Alex Holston had a double double with a team-high 18 kills and 10 digs. In addition to her 10 digs, she assisted on six blocks. Up next with 15 kills was true freshman Rhamat Alhassan. She put on a defensive clinic tonight with nine assisted blocks. Rounding out the double digit scorers after Alhassan was sophomore Gabby Mallette. She had 10 kills and assisted on three blocks.

On the defensive end, the Gators had four players with double digit digs. Excluding Holston, all of these players were seniors. Together, Holly Pole (19), Maddie Monserez (16), and Mackenzie Monserez (10), all combined for 45 digs. Dagostino also had 51 assists and assisted on four blocks. One final Gator I'll mention is Shainah Joseph, who assisted on six blocks and had seven kills.

Now one step closer to their first ever National Championship, the Florida Gators (28-3) will face their greatest challenge yet in the #1 overall seeded Stanford Cardinal (32-1). What a coincidence, the Florida soccer team met Stanford with a Final Four spot on the line and now the volleyball team will do the same. I am hoping that this time the result will be different.

The game is set for 9 p.m. on ESPNU. My superstition and exam studying will most likely prevent me from watching it, but I can promise you I will be checking the scores every now and then. The Gators know what they have to do to beat a team of such an elite caliber, now it's time to see if they can put that knowledge into action.

*All stats accredited to NCAA.com

Monday, December 8, 2014

Top 5 Linebackers in Gator Football History

As I continue my Top 5 series on Gator football, I now move to the linebacker position. For years, Gator linebackers have helped anchor elite Florida defenses and nobody in my opinion did it better than the five players I have listed below! Without further adieu, here are my Top 5 linebackers to ever play at the University of Florida!

#5 Jon Bostic (2010-2012)

Jon Bostic was a member of that elite defense Florida had during its 11-2 season in 2012. In just three seasons at Florida under coaches Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp, Bostic accumulated 219 total tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 5 interceptions (1 for a touchdown), 11 passes defended, and two forced fumbles.

The Gator teams he played on won two bowl games (the 2011 Outback Bowl and 2012 Gator Bowl) and in the 2013 Sugar Bowl his six tackles were the second most among Gator players in a losing effort. Bostic's defining moment came in the Sugar bowl when he unloaded a devastating hit on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. It was ultimately flagged as a dirty play, but in my opinion it was completely clean.

Bostic's lone collegiate accolade was a second-team All-SEC honor in 2012. After a disappointing 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, Bostic decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 2013 NFL Draft. He would be drafted 50th overall in the second round by the Chicago Bears and was quickly able to earn a starting spot with the team. As of Week 10, he has 109 tackles, two sacks, one interceptions, and four passes defended.

#4 Alonzo Johnson (1981-1985)

A part of two straight 9-1-1 seasons, Alonzo Johnson always found a way to assert his presence on the field. Using all his years of eligibility, Johnson compiled 335 tackles, 55 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, and one interception.

His 27 career sacks are the most by any Gator linebacker and stood until Alex Brown broke the record in 1998. Johnson also had the record for most sacks in a season with 12 until Brown broke that record as well. Despite Johnson's solid stat line and the overall talent of those early-80's Gator teams, it for some reason could not translate into bowl wins. Johnson won just one bowl game in his Florida career, the 1983 Gator Bowl.

Despite the bowl struggles, Johnson still left Florida as a very decorated player. Some of his accolades include:
  • First-team All-SEC in 1984 and 1985
  • First-team All-American in 1984 and 1985
  • Second-team Florida Gators All-Century-Team
  • Florida's All-Time Team
  • UF Hall of Fame inductee in 2002
After his senior year, Johnson entered the 1986 NFL Draft and was picked 48th overall in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles. He played just one year for Philly before retiring. He finished his NFL career with one sack and three interceptions.

#3 David Little (1977-1980)

David Little was a member of that 0-10-1 Florida squad during his junior year. Still, a career stuck on mediocre Gator teams did not stop Little from balling out on the field. He was a tackling machine and is the the all-time leader in tackles at Florida with 475. He was also a bit of a ballhawk as he had seven career interceptions, which is also the most on this list.

In addition to his tackling record, some of Littles' other accomplishments include:
  • Consensus All-American in 1980
  • First-team all-SEC in 1980
  • UF Hall of Fame inductee in 1991
After winning the 1980 Tangerine Bowl his senior year, Little entered the 1981 NFL Draft and was selected 183rd overall in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 11 years as a Steeler, he had nine sacks, 10 interceptions, and 11 fumble recoveries.

Unfortunately, Little is no longer with us. On March 17, 2005, Little was working out at his Miami home when a cardiac issue caused him to drop 250 pounds on his neck, which ultimately suffocated him. He was 46 years old. Rest in peace, David. We will never forget what you did for us here at the University of Florida.

#2 Brandon Spikes (2006-2009)

Brandon Spikes can best be described as a winner as he was a part of two Florida National Championships and a Sugar Bowl victory. Staying for all four years of his college career, Spikes was able to accumulate a monster stat line of 307 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, six interceptions (4 for touchdowns), 20 passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Having four pick sixes out of six interceptions is just absurd to me!

Not having much of a big role in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, Spikes would make a difference in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game and the 2010 Sugar Bowl as he had six tackles in both games.

Besides being a Gator during the second golden era of Florida football, some other accolades Spikes can boast about include:
  • SEC Champion in 2006 and 2008
  • First-team All-SEC in 2007, 2008, and 2009
  • Consensus all-American in 2008 and 2009
After crushing Cincinatti in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, Spikes entered the 2010 NFL Draft. He would be drafted 62nd overall in the second round by the New England Patriots. In his three years as a Patriot, he appeared in one Super Bowl before being traded to the Buffalo Bills in 2014. As of Week 17, 2013, he has 323 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defended, and six forced fumbles.

#1 Wilber Marshall (1980-1983)

Coming in at #1 on my list is Wilber Marshall. Enrolling at Florida just a year after the 0-10-1 season of 1979, Marshall helped steer the football team back in the right direction. In his four-year collegiate career, he had 343 tackles, 58 tackles for loss, and 23 sacks. I could not find any information regarding how many interceptions Marshall had, but I bet he had a good amount.

Marshall's Gator teams won two bowl games. The first came his freshman year in the 1980 Tangerine Bowl as the Gators finally broke a streak of four consecutive bowl losses. His senior year, he helped the Gators reach a 9-2-1 record on route to a victory in the 1983 Gator Bowl and a #6 finish in the AP and Coaches' polls.

As the best player on my list, Marshall of course is going to have some accolades and awards to show for it. They include:
  • First-team All-SEC in 1981, 1982, and 1983
  • Consensus All-American in 1982 and 1983
  • Inducted into Florida Football Ring of Honor in 2007
  • UF Hall of Fame inductee in 2007
  • College Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2009 

After graduating, Marshall would enter the 1984 NFL Draft and was selected 11th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears. He would go on to have a stellar 11-year NFL career for five different NFL franchises that included two Super Bowl titles, three Pro Bowls, an NFC Defensive Player of the Year Award, and various other honors and recognitions. 

Marshall finished his NFL career with 1,043 tackles, 45 sacks, 23 interceptions, and three touchdowns. He truly was one of those rare players who dominated at both the college and professional level and, in my opinion, Marshall should be adding NFL Hall of Famer to his resume real soon.

Honorable Mentions: Ralph Ortega (1972-1974), Sammy Green (1972-1975), Scot Brantley (1976-1979), Jelani Jenkins (2009-2012)

I hope you enjoyed this Top 5 article! Next week I have exams to study for so I can't promise that a new article will be out. However, I can promise that before Christmas I should have my next Top 5 article out ranking the best cornerbacks to attend Florida. Stay tuned!

*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com, College Football @ Sports-Reference.com,  & Wikipedia.com

*All pictures accredited to tbo.com, gatornation.proboards.com, footballsfuture.com, saturdaydownsouth.com