GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's season opener was suspended on Saturday, but it turns out one long night of rain, lightning and delays was punishment enough for three Gators players who had been suspended.
Coach Will Muschamp announced on Monday that starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick will play this Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
Cummings, a senior, and Bostwick, a redshirt freshman, had been suspended for a violation of team rules, while Robinson was being disciplined for what Muschamp called a university sanction.
"They will be back this week with us," Muschamp said. "Not just as far as the suspension of a game, but they've handled a lot of other things for me, as well as Demarcus Robinson, who had a university sanction that's been resolved."
On Saturday night, Florida's season opener against Idaho was delayed and ultimately suspended by lightning, hours of heavy rain and unplayable field conditions.
It looked like this for much of the night:
Anyone who has spent a summer in Florida can testify to the amount of rain that typically falls, and the Gators are used to playing their share of bad weather games. Here are the top five rain-soaked contests in recent UF history.
1. At Tennessee, Sept. 19, 1992: The first season after the SEC was split into two divisions saw Florida and Tennessee become annual foes and permanent rivals. A 45-minute monsoon struck Knoxville in the second half of a game that went from a 17-7 Volunteers' lead to a 31-7 rout. The downpour turned the artificial turf at Neyland Stadium into a giant slip n' slide, giving the Gators' pass-happy offense no chance at a comeback. Tennessee took full advantage of the conditions with a running game that featured James "Little Man" Stewart and Charlie Garner. On the other side of the ball, UF quarterback Shane Matthews was relentlessly pounded by Vols DE Todd Kelly and LB Ben Talley. Beating the No. 4 Gators, 31-14, was a huge upset for No. 14 UT, and it went a long way in helping interim coach Phil Fulmer get hired as Johnny Majors' replacement.
2. Georgia, Oct. 30, 1993: The city of Jacksonville, Florida, was in contention for an NFL expansion franchise but didn't put its best foot forward when heavy rains left the area surrounding the downtown stadium under about a foot of standing water. The field was not in much better shape, as No. 10 Florida went back and forth with unranked Georgia. Unable to grip the ball in the unrelenting rain, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was replaced by Terry Dean, who led the Gators to a 33-26 lead. In the final two minutes of the game, quarterback Eric Zeier marched Georgia down the field and threw what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown. But officials said UF cornerback Anthone Lott had called timeout and nullified the play. Florida withstood two more pass attempts by Zeier and hung on for the win.
3. Tennessee, Sept. 16, 1995: By the mid-90s, the UF-UT rivalry had become an annual early season glamour game. This one was no exception, matching Wuerffel and the No. 4 Gators against Peyton Manning and his No. 8 Vols. Tennessee had two 16-point leads in the first half, thanks to Manning and receivers Marcus Nash and Joey Kent. The Gators swung momentum in their favor and took the lead in the second half. Then skies opened up, as most of the fourth quarter was played in a non-stop deluge. When it was over, Florida had scored 48 straight points in a 62-37 win, and Wuerffel had thrown an SEC-record six TD passes.
4. Western Kentucky, Sept. 1, 2007: Before Saturday night, the last game in Florida football history that was rained out was the season opener after the Gators won the 2006 BCS national championship game. Taking over as UF's starting quarterback, Tim Tebow made a statement with 300 yards and three touchdowns passing and one rushing TD in Florida's easy 49-3 victory. The Gators' final play before lightning halted the game in the fourth quarter was a 4-yard touchdown run by a backup quarterback named Cam Newton with 8:23 remaining.
5. At Florida State, Nov. 29, 2008: It had rained all day in Tallahassee, Florida, leaving the field a wet, slippery mess with pools of water in both end zones. The indelible image from this game was of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow covered in the Seminoles' garnet paint after diving into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. When Tebow got up and celebrated, his white jersey and face were stained with what looked like blood. The No. 2 Gators won 45-15 on their way to a second national championship in three seasons.
The Auburn Tigers struggled with the power running game. The same Arkansas Razorbacks' offense that ranked last in the SEC a year ago manhandled the Tigers’ front seven, posting 21 points by halftime.
The South Carolina Gamecocks just didn’t show up. Steve Spurrier’s defense laid down for the Texas A&M Aggies. His star running back, Mike Davis, shouldn’t have bothered dressing out.
By the time Monday rolled around, the dust settled and the big picture of the SEC became clear, it wasn’t what anyone expected. Somehow it was the Georgia Bulldogs and Texas A&M left standing as seemingly the league’s best hope of reaching the playoff.
But with all due respect to Todd Gurley’s inhuman exploits and Kenny Hill’s inspired performance, should we be sold? For that matter, should we be ready to call anyone the class of the SEC?
Right now there are far more questions than answers. Everyone, it seems, has flaws.
The East is a toss-up. Georgia certainly holds promise, but quarterback Hutson Mason still needs to show he can carry an offense, Gurley has to stay healthy and the secondary must continue improving despite missing so many starters from a season ago. South Carolina, meanwhile, has to do a complete 180 or it will lose to Georgia in two weeks and find itself in an insurmountable hole. Then there are the Florida Gators, who are a complete unknown given Mother Nature’s refusal to let them finally turn the page on 2013.
The West is even more convoluted. Texas A&M might be the real deal, but its offense is so young and it is still too early to say whether Mark Snyder has orchestrated the most impressive turnaround in history with that defense. Alabama has serious questions on defense, too, and at quarterback we might be jumping the gun a bit in proclaiming Blake Sims the answer. LSU could very well settle on Anthony Jennings under center, but he has the potential to be a reboot of Jordan Jefferson, which isn’t a good thing. Then there is Auburn, stuck with too many quarterbacks and not enough defenders, not to mention its brutal schedule.
If you’re looking for one of the favorites to run away with it, don’t hold your breath. In fact, if Week 1 showed us anything, it’s that while there are a bunch of good teams in the SEC, there is no one dominant team like in years past.
The Missouri Tigers won handily, the Ole Miss Rebels turned it on in the second half and the Mississippi State Bulldogs cruised to victory. All three should feel good about their dreams of reaching Atlanta.
Arkansas looked improved. So did the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers. Though none of the them should go booking trips for the postseason, they could play the role of spoilers.
The only real slouch is the Vanderbilt Commodores.
When it comes time for playoff jockeying and the "my conference vs. your conference" disputes, parity will be the SEC’s No. 1 point of emphasis. But it will also be the reason it doesn’t yield an undefeated or even a one-loss team.
Alabama will get better. So will LSU and Auburn. Even South Carolina should improve with time. It is, in fact, only Week 1 we’re talking about.
But first impressions do mean something, and the first look we had of the SEC revealed a pack of teams loaded with potential but saddled with problems.
Until we find out who is ready to take a step forward and lead, it will continue to be a wide open race.
"No decisions will be made today and we are working through the scenarios regarding the finances of the game," UF spokesperson Steve McClain said.
Saturday night's kick off was delayed nearly three hours because of lightning and weather conditions. Florida actually returned the opening kick off but the game was suspended for good around late Saturday night.
Idaho was to receive $975,000 to visit the Gators.
Both teams have the same open dates on Oct. 25, but it's unknown if the Gators would want to play on that date since they face rival Georgia on Nov.1 in Jacksonville.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Idaho-Florida game started after a nearly three-hour weather delay -- and then stopped after 10 seconds.
The latest lightning strike within 8 miles of Florida Field sent players back to the locker room just seconds after the opening kickoff.
The teams have to wait at least 30 minutes before resuming play.
Florida's Valdez Showers electrified the rain-soaked crowd with a 64-yard kickoff return, giving the Gators great field position. But then lightning was detected.
The season opener for both teams was scheduled to start at 7:02 p.m., but it was delayed repeatedly.
Players were summoned back to the field at 9:30 p.m., for a brief warmup before kickoff.
Coming of its worst season since 1979, Florida is hoping to end a seven-game losing against the seemingly overmatched Vandals.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp suspended three players, including starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings, prior to the Gators' opener against Idaho, which was later suspended because of unsafe field conditions Saturday.
A school official said after the game was called that a determination on whether the trio's suspension would carry over to the Gators' next game would not be made Saturday night. Muschamp said before the game that he had expected all three players to return next week.
Cummings, a senior, had 15 tackles with one sack and an interception last season. Robinson, who had five catches last season, will miss his fourth game due to suspension since arriving at UF.
Muschamp said Bostwick and Cummings both violated team rules, and Robinson is out because of "a university sanction that is now resolved."
"I support the university sanction," Muschamp said before the game. "We have rules here that we have to follow -- team, athletic department and university rules -- and when you don't follow them there are consequences."
No makeup date was scheduled for the season opener, which was delayed twice by heavy rain. The season opener for both teams started after a nearly three-hour lightning delay -- and then stopped after 10 seconds, before ultimately being called off.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, SEC Network
Mark Stoops enters his second season at Kentucky, and he has a new starting quarterback, Patrick Towles. The third-year sophomore won the position battle in preseason training camp, and the Wildcats are looking for him to get off to a positive start. Establishing confidence early will be key, and against an FCS foe like Tennessee-Martin, that should be feasible. Stoops says Towles is “not on a short leash,” and that he has confidence in his new signal-caller. Just setting a positive tone with a convincing win would be good for the Wildcats as they continue to try to build depth, increase talent level and work their way up from the SEC cellar.
3:30 p.m. ET
The Maty Mauk era begins at quarterback for Missouri. The Tigers are 13-1 in season openers under Gary Pinkel with 13 consecutive wins, and they’re 13-0 all time against FCS teams. The Tigers don’t have Kony Ealy and Michael Sam but still return several standout defenders such as defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray, who aim to continue the Tigers’ defensive line success. Missouri also has the nation’s longest active turnover streak at 44 games.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, ABC/ESPN2
The Crimson Tide open as heavy favorites against the Mountaineers, who were 4-8 a year ago. It sounds like Blake Sims will be Alabama’s starting quarterback today, but expect Jake Coker to play also. It appears this quarterback battle will continue for the time being. Clint Trickett is West Virginia’s starter after eight appearances and five starts last season. The Mountaineers play a pace that Nick Saban isn’t a fan of, so it will be interesting to see if that gives the Crimson Tide any trouble or if they simply impose their well at the line of scrimmage -- on both sides of the ball.
4 p.m. ET
Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn, SEC Network
A meeting of two coaches who are quite fond of each other, Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. All kidding aside, this is a contrast of styles (smashmouth football versus hurry-up no-huddle) and a matchup of two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum last season, with Arkansas last in the SEC West and Auburn winning the SEC. The Tigers are looking to take the division title again while the Razorbacks hope for improvement. This is the start to a tough schedule for Arkansas (the nation’s toughest, according to the NCAA). Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback for Auburn, but Nick Marshall will eventually see the field. When is unknown, as Malzahn has kept that to himself.
5:30 p.m. ET
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, ESPN
This was an entertaining affair last season, one that Clemson won 38-35. It should be another compelling game this time. After South Carolina’s thrashing at the hands of Texas A&M on Thursday, this would be a good opportunity for Georgia to flex its muscle, since many might now look toward the Bulldogs as the SEC East favorite. Both teams have quarterbacks with big shoes to fill (Cole Stoudt for Clemson; Hutson Mason for Georgia), and this could also be a chance to make an early Heisman statement for Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
7 p.m. ET
Idaho at Florida, ESPNU
Florida trots out its new offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper, and quarterback Jeff Driskel makes his return to the lineup for the first time since a season-ending leg injury suffered against Tennessee last season. The Gators are eagerly looking to start this season and put the past behind them; last season’s disastrous 4-8 campaign was unacceptable. Idaho is coming off a 1-11 year in 2013, so this is a game Florida should look to dominate early and build confidence.
7:30 p.m. ET
Southern Miss at Mississippi State, SEC Network
Mississippi State is looking to take a big step forward this season and returns 83 percent of its letter-winners from 2013 (57 total), which is the third-highest percentage in the nation. That includes quarterback Dak Prescott, linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive lineman Chris Jones, all of whom are poised for big seasons. Southern Miss is coming off a 1-11 season, and Mississippi State is looking for its 12th straight home win against a non-SEC team.
9 p.m. ET
No. 14 Wisconsin at No. 13 LSU, ESPN
This is a huge early-season battle between two squads that are strikingly similar. Both have experienced offensive lines and good running games going against inexperienced defensive fronts, and both have been mostly mum on their quarterback situations (though reports have Tanner McEvoy starting for Wisconsin, and Les Miles admitted both Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings will play for LSU). The running backs will probably be the focus, though. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is getting early Heisman publicity, and LSU true freshman Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 player in the 2014 class, is someone everyone is waiting to see.
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET
Utah State at Tennessee, SEC Network
This is one of the most intriguing games of the week, even though it doesn't involved a ranked team. Tennessee begins Butch Jones' second season, and there will be plenty of fresh faces on the field. Jones said Wednesday that between 28-30 freshmen could play on Sunday night. This Utah State team is a good one led by a dynamite quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 18 touchdowns before a knee injury robbed him of his final eight games. Tennessee's starter, Justin Worley, earned the job this month and has 10 career starts. The Vols are hoping he can take a step forward, and he has some talented weapons around him to use.
Top Week 1 stories:
College football teams will pay their opponents at least $12.9 million this weekend.
Big Ten teams will pony up the most money in the so-called "guarantee" games, which compensate smaller budget opponents for playing at the bigger opponent's stadium without returning to play at their stadium.
Florida, which paid Georgia Southern $550,000 last season and lost to it, will pay Idaho $975,000 for Saturday's game at "The Swamp."
Big 12 heavyweights Texas and Oklahoma will also be paying their opponents a pretty penny. Texas is writing North Texas a $875,000 check, while the Sooners will give Louisiana Tech $975,000 just for showing up in Norman.
FBS teams that pay for FCS opponents often wind up on top, although some teams have presented more trouble than others. One of those teams is North Dakota State, who has been paid and then subsequently knocked off Colorado State, Minnesota, Kansas and Kansas State in recent years. Iowa State is paying the Bison $350,000 this week to play it in Ames.
How will it all shake out? This is our first shot at it, so take it easy on us. Like most of you, we will know a lot more about every team in the conference by the time the weekend is through.
But if there is one thing I'm confident in, it's that an SEC team will compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sorry if I'm not buying that two will make it. Maybe next season, when all these inexperienced quarterbacks are a year more mature, but not now.
- CFB Playoff (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
- Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
- Orange Bowl, Dec. 31: LSU
- Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3: Vanderbilt
- TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2: Florida
- Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
- Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Auburn
- Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Missouri
- Belk Bowl, Dec. 30: Mississippi State
- AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Texas A&M
- AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 29: Ole Miss
Numbers never lie
Let’s start with the most obvious statistic: the number two. Nick Marshall and Jameis Winston, the two quarterbacks in the BCS National Championship Game, were first-year starters last season. And Marshall, of course, was a defensive back a few years prior at Georgia and had the benefit of only three weeks on campus at Auburn before he won the starting job and took the field against Washington State.
Looking at last season alone, almost 20 similarly inexperienced quarterbacks were ranked in the top 50 nationally in QBR. Along with Winston and Marshall, you could find Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.
Remember your history
There was a time, remember, when AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger weren’t the players we know them to be today. It wasn’t all that long ago that Johnny Football was a scruffy, too-short Johnny Manziel.
The departed class of quarterbacks had to start somewhere.
Mettenberger finally got his shot at LSU and led the Tigers to a 10-3 record.
McCarron took over and helped Alabama to a national championship.
Murray slid under center and slung the football for 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Do we need to recount Manziel’s freshman season? The Heisman Trophy says enough.
QBs aren’t young anymore
There’s a new truth about freshmen quarterbacks: By the time they’ve arrived at college, many of them aren’t the wide-eyed rookies we’ve come to expect.
The rise of spread offenses have asked more of high school quarterbacks. Summer 7-on-7 camps have refined their skills, too. And then there’s the trend toward personal quarterback coaches.
With so many tools at their disposal, quarterbacks have shortened the learning curve.
Ken Mastrole can relate. When he was a freshman at Maryland in the mid-1990s, he said he “had no one teaching me what I was doing wrong.” He had little knowledge of X’s and O’s. He didn’t go to camps and didn’t have a personal coach to mentor him.
Now Mastrole is doing that job himself, having worked with the likes of E.J. Manuel and Teddy Bridgewater. As soon as he gets a new client, whether he’s in college or entering high school, he said he immediately starts working on their footwork and drops, watching film and analyzing their throwing motion.
“Plus, the mental and vision training I incorporate speeds up their decision-making process,” he added. “I have QBs now more than ever that are competing to start as freshmen and sophomores, and it gives them three-plus years of experience which makes them even more ready for college."
He continued: “My former teammate is now a high school offensive coordinator and is running the Air Raid offense. I sit in his meetings and am blown away on how advanced he is. He has his guys mentally ready when they sign a letter of intent.”
Let the vet have his shot
Coaches, at the end of the day, will go with their gut. And more often than not that means going with what they know -- at least to begin with.
At Alabama, don’t be surprised if Blake Sims gets the starting nod against West Virginia. The fifth-year senior has earned his shot, while Jake Coker, who transferred from FSU this summer, is still getting his bearings.
At LSU, Anthony Jennings could be the first quarterback to trot on the field against Wisconsin. The sophomore saw the field nine times last year, starting in a win at the Outback Bowl, while Brandon Harris has yet to attempt a single pass in college.
But talent will always win out. If Sims can’t get the job done, Coker will step in. If Jennings struggles, Harris will take over. The two newbies may not be totally comfortable with their respective offenses yet, but you can teach that. You’d rather have the best guy learning on the fly than the best guy riding the bench.
You would rather be sitting here today with a proven guy, but also you know that there's going to be good players that emerge," said Freeze. "I'm glad we're one that has [a veteran QB], but I fully expect that there will be two or three no one's talking about right now that come out and play and perform really well."
Then a sophomore running back, Jones was expected to excel in the Gators' pro-style offense. Privately, coaches and teammates expressed optimism that Jones might be one of the SEC's best backs.
"It was just like a roller coaster ride," Jones said. "You go up, you go down and you just never come back up. It was like one of those type of rides. Definitely not a good one.
"I got sick. I was in the hospital for eight days. I played three games. Going out in the LSU game and getting hurt in the first couple of plays. I mean, it was all just bad news last year."
Everyone -- coach Will Muschamp, his assistants and the players -- saw the dismay in Jones after the knee injury. A normally ebullient kid was "way down."
"He really struggled early on with it when it first happened," Muschamp said.
After the knee injury, the first three games that Jones was out -- against Missouri, Georgia and Vanderbilt -- were particularly hard.
With roommate Brian Poole, a junior defensive back, on the road with the team, Jones was alone in their off-campus apartment. He couldn't put pressure on his leg for six weeks, which made it difficult to take care of himself and do the simplest things.
Just getting around the apartment was a grueling ordeal, so Jones crutched over to the kitchen to get all the meals, drinks and snacks he needed to watch the entire football game. Then he had to sit through something just as painful -- loss after loss after loss.
"It was definitely hard just seeing my team play, knowing I couldn't be out there contributing to the team," he said. "I couldn't do anything about it. Absolutely nothing.
"It was hard for me just sitting back on my bed, having to watch the game on TV because I can't crutch out there. It was just bad, man."
It was a dark time for the Gators and a dark time for Jones, who most often chose to deal with the pain, the losses and the helplessness on his own.
"You don't want to call someone out of their way to help you," Jones said, "so I just dealt with it myself."
He did a lot of thinking, a lot of praying, a lot of reflecting on life. He got humble. When he got back on the field, Jones' new attitude was one of appreciation.
"I just learned to go every play hard," He said. "I know that one play could knock your whole career off."
Jones now says he's glad he went through it all, and he knows exactly how his problems in 2013 went from bad to worse. He didn't have his strength back after the infection and gave in to his eagerness to play.
"It happened for a reason, and I look back at it now as motivation," he said. "I definitely learned from it. I learned the hard way that you've got to wait until you're 100 percent to get on the field.
"You've got to come back when you're 110 percent sometimes."
After missing the spring, Jones attacked Florida's preseason camp with renewed vigor. He relished every run, every broken tackle, every hit. Especially the hits. Those made him smile and reflect on how far he's come.
"I feel good right now," he said. "I'm up to 235 [pounds]. I feel fast. I feel stronger.
"I feel 110 percent."
Time to for a comeback.
Suspensions Over For Florida Players After Halted Opener
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Temple 37 Vanderbilt 7
Suspended Idaho 0 Florida 0
Final Tennessee-Martin 14 Kentucky 59 Final South Dakota State 18 24 Missouri 38 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final Arkansas 21 6 Auburn 45 Final 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 45 Final Southern Miss 0 Mississippi State 49 Final 14 Wisconsin 24 13 LSU 28