I was under the impression that any college football fan had already been made aware of the fact that ESPN is televising The University of Florida's Orange & Blue Game this afternoon. That is, until I received a bitter voicemail from TJ complaining about the recruiting advantages this allows the Gators whilst he cursed the name of Jeremy Foley. (Hey, we all get one of those...right Ron?).
Even though I'm a little disappointed that TJ somehow missed out on this news, I'm guessing he was knee deep in William & Mary practice reports, its still worth mentioning how utterly ridiculous today's broadcast is. It's one thing for a spring "game" (its a practice people) to be televised locally, or even statewide, which is commonplace in the south. However, its something entirely different for a game to be reaching all corners of our great country. As people much smarter (and gayer) than me are fond of saying, we're through the looking glass here. Its insane and somewhat inane that ESPN would deem a college program's glorified scrimmage as broadcast worthy, but thats where we as a college football nation have been heading lo these many years. And, I'm not one to stand in the way of progress...so I might as well add to the days festivities with a little guide of who/what to watch (with an emphasis on youth) for during today's celebration of Gator Football. (Note: Yes, this is just a practice. But a practice with a national television audience and 80,000 fans in the stands. If somebody can't handle the spotlight today, the odds on them delivering in front of hostile SEC crowds are slim).
-Deonte Thompson: After redshirting last year, this former prep AA WR has been lighting it up this spring. He's amongst the fastest of all Gators and possesses some Harvin like moves with the ball in his hands. Hailing from the famed "Muck" (Belle Glade to be specific), much has been expected of Thompson since he signed with Florida. He's got a good chance to be UF's #3 WR this fall and big time performance today could go a long way toward making that a reality.
- Carl Moore: The nation's #1 JUCO WR is also expected to make a large impact on the Gator offense in the fall. Moore is unlike any other Gator receiver by virtue of his size (6'4", 220), speed and hands. He was slowed early by learning the Gator playbook but has come on in recent weeks. Think USC's Mike Williams in terms of size and potential impact in the red zone.
- Chris Rainey: Rainey's not going to be the workhorse back that Urban Meyer's craved since he set foot in Gainesville. However, he has the speed and moves to be a gamebreaker from the tailback position and ultimately take the Gator offense to the next level in terms of explosiveness. He's put on 15 lbs since last year when he weighed in at a paltry 155 lbs. Expect to see him break at least one run of over 30 yards. (Note: If you're betting on today's match races, take Rainey. You can buy me a drink with your winnings as a thank you).
-Emmanuel Moody (and/or Mon Williams): Here is where the Gators expect to find their workhorse back. Moody has struggled for much of spring adjusting to the spread and figuring out his individual responsibilities. However, the light has come on recently with Moody putting together a dynamite final week of spring. He's loaded with talent and ability, its a matter of him doing it when the lights come on in Gainesville, so today should be a good preview. Fellow texan Williams is coming off ACL surgery last fall but seems back to full speed. He's big, fast and has some moves to boot. One of these two will be the starter at tailback by mid-fall, well, if the Gators want to win the SEC then one of them better be.
- QBs (Cam Newton & John Brantley): You see, theres a chance Tim Tebow may get injured at some point in his career due to his proclivity for running headfirst into opposing defenders. As a result of this, a viable backup QB is essential for the Gators. Newton is a 6'7", 260 beast who actually dwarfs Tebow. He's got JaMarcus Russell like size and ability and, unfortunately, inaccuracy thus far. Brantley is a Gator legacy and was ranked as the best pure passer in the nation just two years ago. I like Brantley to grab the #2 spot right now.
-Matt Patchan: One of the nation's top OT recruits, this early entry has played extensively at DT this spring with surprising results. New DL coach Dan McCarney loves his motor and size. He looks like he's got a shot to start his career over on defense. I've only read about his play in practice reports so I'm interested to see him in pads today.
- Safeties (Jamar Hornsby/Major Wright/Ahmad Black): Much was made of the Gators' corners inability to lock down receivers last year but, truth be told, the safeties may have been worse. Wright had a great freshman season but still has much to prove about his ability to play in space in the passing game. The other safety spot is wide open, and Jamar Hornsby and Ahmad Black are the leaders (at least until Will Hill and Dee Finley get to campus). Hornsby is an athletic freak who's just now getting healthy after tearing up a knee in high school and, thus beginning to make plays int he secondary. Black is undersized but is seemingly in possession of tremendous instincts and a thirst for hitting. If one of these two can play great today then they go into the summer as the leader.
-Carlos Dunlap: The biggest freak on a team full of them. He's 6'8", 290 and has blazing speed off the edge. The guy returned kickoffs in high school for Christ's sake. Florida needs to replace Derrick Harvey at one end and Dunlap has been the most dominant pass rusher for the Gators thus far in the spring. This is his coming out party, potentially.
- Defensive Tackles (Troy Epps/Torrey Davis): Florida has exactly zero proven DTs on their roster. Epps is a JUCO transfer who's played better as the spring has worn on. If he can make an impact on the line then the complexion of Florida's defense will change dramatically. Davis is the Gator's most talented DT but he's been an inconsistent presence during the spring due to his off the field issues. When he's on the field he can be dominant, he needs to prove that he get on the field and show a consistent effort level when he's there.
- Linebackers (Jeremy Finch/Lorenzo Edwards): One of these two guys will be starting at LB for Florida in the fall. Both are extremely young, athletic LBs who've been making tons of plays this spring. Finch was slowed by a broken leg during last year's game vs. Tennessee. Edwards redshirted in order to put on some much needed weight. At this point, I'd give Finch the edge based on his experience from early last year and his pass coverage skills but Edwards may be Florida's fastest LB.
So there you go. Erin Andrews is back at her alma mater, the stands are packed and I'm half drunk. Let's play football.