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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Ten Florida Gators are suspended for the opener. So now what?

Jesuit High product Malik Davis is one of the Florida Gators who will see increased action with 10 teammates suspended.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Jesuit High product Malik Davis is one of the Florida Gators who will see increased action with 10 teammates suspended.

We still don't know the entire fallout from an off-the-field scandal that has left nine Gators suspended for their biggest season opener in at least three decades.

The University of Florida Police Department hasn't shared much about its credit card fraud investigation, other than to say it involves UF football players and that it began recently. The Gainesville Police Department began investigating defensive lineman Jordan Smith two weeks ago.

Coach Jim McElwain told reporters Wednesday evening that he doesn't expect any more players to be suspended for misusing university-related financial cards. But then again, he didn't expect the latest two - running back Jordan Scarlett and receiver Rick Wells, which came to light Wednesday afternoon.

It's still unclear when the players will return. So let's focus on what happens in the meantime, starting with Saturday's opener against No. 17 Michigan?

No. 11 UF has four main issues to solve: …

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Why FSU-Alabama does, in fact, matter a lot

MONICA HERNDON | Times

You don't have to spend much time online to find stories like this one, from Saturday Down South: Unfortunately, Alabama-Florida State a magnificent matchup with a meaningless outcome

Because it's a non-conference game, the theory goes, the loser could still win its league, finish 12-1 (or maybe 11-2) and still make the College Football Playoff. The SEC, ACC and Big Ten are the only three leagues to put their champions into the final four each time in the Playoff's illustrious three-year history.

It's a fine theory. It's also wrong.

The winning coaches will bring this up on the recruiting trail, probably more subtly than FSU trolled Michigan after the Orange Bowl. 

A poor showing (or late collapse) could hurt a team's psyche. Two weeks after Ole Miss caved in the second half against FSU, it caved in the second half against Alabama, then the Rebels caved in the second half of the season (2-5 down the stretch). It's not necessarily cause and effect, but I do think there was some sort of hangover after the Labor Day game in Orlando. …

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Florida Gators name Feleipe Franks starting quarterback against Michigan

The Florida Gators named Feleipe Franks their starting quarterback for Saturday's season opener against Michigan.

Coach Jim McElwain made the announcement in his news conference Wednesday evening - a reversal from Monday, when he said he did not intend to name a starter before the game.

"He deserves it," McElwain told reporters in Gainesville.

Franks, a redshirt freshman, beat out Luke Del Rio and Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire to earn the job.

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Jordan Scarlett, Rick Wells make 10 Florida Gators suspended

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

The Florida Gators' list of players suspended for their biggest season opener in at least three decades is up to 10, including UF's top running back and receiver.

No. 17 UF announced Wednesday afternoon that starting running back Jordan Scarlett and receiver Rick Wells have both been suspended from all team activities.

Scarlett was expected to start at running back Saturday against No. 11 Michigan in Arlington, Texas. The 5-foot-10, 213-pound south Florida native led UF with 179 carries, 889 rushing yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore last season.

Wells, a three-star recruit from Jacksonville, redshirted last season.

UF did not disclose the nature of their violations, but they stem from the same misuse of university-related financial cards that will keep seven other Gators out of the game. Those seven: Standout receiver Antonio Callaway, linebacker Ventrell Miller, offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, linebacker James Houston, defensive lineman Keivonnis Davis, defensive lineman Jordan Smith and defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones. …

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Status of FSU's leading tackler still uncertain as Bama nears

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Three days before the biggest season opener ever, No. 3 Florida State is still unsure whether it will have its leading tackler.

Linebacker Matthew Thomas has not practiced this week, coach Jimbo Fisher said Wednesday morning on the ACC's weekly teleconference.

Fisher expected to have Thomas back by now; Monday, he said that he expected Thomas to return from an illness and other, unspecified issues in time for that afternoon's practice. 

Thomas has been conditioning on his own, and the former five-star recruit knows the system, so Fisher feels comfortable throwing him into Saturday's game against No. 1 Alabama - as long as he's cleared to go.

But that doesn't seem like a given.

"Until he gets there, you're always concerned," Fisher said.

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Another honor for FSU football's first true Seminole

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

In a blockbuster opening weekend shrouded in secrecy, depth charts have given us at least one interesting nugget of information.

Former Tampa Catholic receiver Justin Motlow is listed on the two-deep for No. 3 Florida State.

Motlow has an interesting backstory, beyond the fact that a redshirt junior with two career appearances on special teams could see the most meaningful action of his career against No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta. Assuming, of course, that this depth chart move isn't another trick. 

The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Motlow is the first member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to play football for the Seminoles of FSU.

I talked to him about that distinction in high school, after he decided to walk on at FSU. Check out that story here.

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McElwain to Michigan: 2 can play at secrecy game

University of Florida coach Jim McElwain still won't say who's starting at quarterback for Saturday's game against Michigan.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

University of Florida coach Jim McElwain still won't say who's starting at quarterback for Saturday's game against Michigan.

The question about his team's most prominent position was asked directly and indirectly. It was nuanced and framed in myriad fashions.

Jim McElwain, quarterback in a previous life, sidestepped all of it at his Monday press conference.

Five days before the Gators face Michigan in arguably their biggest season opener ever, he's simply not saying who will start behind center.

"The quarterback situation, we have a plan that’s in place," McElwain said. "I’m not going to tell you what it is, so there’s no reason to ask, but we’re excited about that. We’ll leave that for them to guess as well."

The answer was in partial response to the Wolverines, who still haven't even released a legitimate roster (Check out this one released Monday). As if to add intrigue, McElwain jokingly suggested (at least we think he was joking) the battle for the right to take the first snap may extend to four guys.

Don't be totally floored if Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire all remained sidelined the first play.

"I'm going to let you in on a hint: We're going to open up in wildcat with (freshman) Kadarius Toney there, all right?" McElwain said. "There you go. There's your starter." …

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I have no idea what to expect from Florida-Michigan

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Now that the first full week of college football is finally upon us, I have a confession.

I have no idea what to expect from the Florida-Michigan game.

Thankfully, I am not alone.

This goes beyond the Wolverines not releasing their roster and the Gators not announcing a starting quarterback.

No. 11 Michigan had 11 players drafted in the first six rounds. Jim Harbaugh returns only five offensive/defensive starters (including East Lake High alum Mason Cole). Defensive lineman Rashan Gary was the nation's top recruit in 2016.

"There's no doubt Michigan has good enough talent to beat anybody in the country..." Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "They're young. That's the issue."

It also makes it really hard to gauge how good they are. Yes, Harbaugh has reeled in back-to-back top-eight recruiting classes. But elite prospects don't always pan out. Stars don't guarantee success.

I cover the Gators, so I know more about No. 16 UF. That doesn't mean I have a good read on what to expect in Arlington, Texas - especially with seven players suspended (including star receiver Antonio Callaway). The uncertainty at quarterback and key defensive departures only compound my confusion. …

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Florida Gators' James Robinson, Ventrell Miller cited on marijuana complaint

The Florida Gators' turbulent offseason continued this week when two players were cited on a complaint of marijuana possession.

Four-star receiver James Robinson and linebacker Ventrell Miller were both involved in the incident on Monday morning. A UF police officer smelled a strong odor of marijuana at the Keys Residential Complex, according to a police report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. The officer searched the room and found a baggy of marijuana.

WTLV first reported the news.

Miller has already been suspended for the Sept. 2 season opener against No. 11 Michigan. The former three-star recruit from Lakeland's Kathleen High is one of seven players who will miss the game, reportedly for misusing university-related funds.

Robinson, however, is the bigger name. The Lakeland High product was the nation's No. 115 overall prospect, according to 247Sports' composite ratings. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound athlete provides a huge target for whoever ends up starting at quarterback. …

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Tampa's Vincent Testaverde leaving Miami Hurricanes

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Former Jesuit High quarterback Vincent Testaverde is leaving the Miami Hurricanes, the program announced Thursday morning.

"Vincent approached me this morning and indicated that he felt like he would have more opportunities for playing time at another program," coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "We wish him all the best in his future plans."
Testaverde is the son of Vinny Testaverde, the Miami legend who won the 1986 Heisman Trophy before becoming the Bucs' No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

The younger Testaverde began his college career at Texas Tech, where he appeared in one game as a true freshman during the 2014 season. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt junior transferred to the Hurricanes after that but didn't appear in a game.

His exit comes two days after Richt named Malik Rosier the starting quarterback, ahead of Jefferson High product Cade Weldon (among others).

At Jesuit, Testaverde helped his team reach the Class 5A region semifinal during a nine-touchdown senior season.

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Why Kirk Herbstreit is still bullish on Florida Gators' Jim McElwain

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Florida Gators fans - or at least the ones I hear from - have not exactly been pleased with coach Jim McElwain.

UF hired him to revive a once-proud offense. Through two seasons, he has had some of the Gators' worst statistics in three decades.

While message boards are unhappy despite back-to-back SEC East titles, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit takes the glass-half-full approach.

"If I were a Florida fan, I would not think, ‘Wow, Jim McElwain's forgotten how to coach offense,'" Herbstreit said in a teleconference with reporters. "I would think, ‘Wow, we've got to keep believing in what he's doing..."

The Gators' defense kept them in a lot of games last year. That could continue this season, even though I think it will regress slightly after losing seven players to the NFL draft and coordinator Geoff Collins to Temple.

Regardless, Herbstreit is still bullish on McElwain, based on what he's seen so far.

"But wait until he gets the (offensive) linemen and the backs and the quarterback that I think eventually he'll get," Herbstreit said. "That combination will become pretty dangerous for teams to deal with in the SEC."

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FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'

MONICA HERNDON | Times

The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

"It almost feels like a national championship game Week 1," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said during a teleconference Wednesday.

It's the highest season-opening matchup ever and one of only four top-five season openers.

One of the most interesting aspects to the game in Atlanta is the coaching matchup - Nick Saban against his former pupil, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher.

"If you put those two guys in a cornhole game together for halftime entertainment, that might be as good as the actual game itself," Herbstreit said. "They want to win and compete. I think that has a lot to do with why they both enjoy so much success." 

I'd totally watch that competition, by the way. It's better than the chest-pass-the-ball-into-a-soda-can-thing games.

A few other excerpts from Herbstreit:

* He said a Jim McElwain offense typically has a cerebral quarterback who "was literally an extension of him into the huddle," even if that player wasn't the most talented. Herbstreit didn't say this, but I will: That sounds like Luke Del Rio to me. …

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How will former USF assistant Tom Allen fare at Indiana?

Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo doesn't sound particularly optimistic about Tom Allen's chances of keeping Indiana competitive in his first year as the Hoosiers' head coach.

"He has some challenges," DiNardo said.

DiNardo should know; he coached the Hoosiers from 2002-04.

DiNardo said some of the same problems he faced in Bloomington remain, like the support staff and structure. But Allen - whose coaching career began at Tampa's now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School - also has another challenge. The former USF defensive coordinator and plans to continue calling signals on that side of the ball. Few coaches have done that successfully, because it's hard to control the tempo of a game that way.

"That's a tough organizational format," DiNardo said. …

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My AP preseason All-America ballot

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Now that the AP's preseason All-America team has been released, I'll share what I submitted.

Some picks were easy (Lamar Jackson, Derwin James, both running backs). Others were much tougher.

Houston's Ed Oliver was a no-brainer at defensive tackle, but the other one came down to which Clemson player I liked more. I chose the older one (junior Christian Wilkins) over the younger one (sophomore Dexter Lawrence) strictly due to experience. Hey, it's more justifiable than a coin flip, right? …

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Two FSU Seminoles, two Florida Gators honored as AP preseason All-Americans

Florida State safety Derwin James and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden were both named AP first-team, preseason All-Americans on Tuesday.

James is considered one of the best players in the country, regardless of position, despite only playing two games last year before tearing his meniscus. McFadden's eight interceptions last season were tied for the most in the country.

Two Gators were second-team choices: kicker Eddy Pineiro and defensive back Duke Dawson.

Check out the full list here.

 

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