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The SEC Isn’t Just a Football Conference

Ari Russell

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(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

While sitting in Madison Square Garden on Friday night with about six minutes left in the South Carolina/Baylor match up, which was becoming a route, the fans started to chant “SEC! SEC!” The same chants heard for all those years when the SEC dominated the college football landscape during the BCS era. Same exact chants.

The SEC by far is the most prideful league. Obviously the vast majority of excitement comes from the gridiron, You only have to listen to about three minutes of the Paul Finebaum show to figure that out. But one thing SEC fans do is when their teams in any sport begin to shine, the pride comes out in full force. It probably felt real good for the South Carolina fans to chant that in New York City, in Madison Square Garden the Mecca of basketball.

When Chris Chiozza hit that buzzer beating three pointer in overtime to take the Florida Gators to the Elite Eight, the SEC will now be guaranteed at least one team in the Final Four.

The conference, which has been dominated by Kentucky over the past decade now has three teams in the Elite 8, with Kentucky shutting down Lonzo Ball and UCLA on Friday night. It’s not like the SEC can’t hoop. The last team to win back to back titles was the Florida Gators. Kentucky has won one since then too.

The point here is that football will over overshadow basketball when it comes to the SEC. I don’t think you will Gator fans vandalize Rupp arena after a regular season loss, like Harvey Updike poisoned the trees in Toomer’s Corner after Bama lost to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It isn’t that deep.

With all that said, at least for this year the SEC is proving that it has some basketball chops beyond just Kentucky. On Sunday at Madison Square Garden the entire arena will be filled with SEC fans. Regardless who win, I expect to hear those “SEC! SEC!” chants. Will the Gators return to the Final Four? Or Will the Gamecocks shock the world and punch their ticket to Phoenix. It should be a fun one. Regardless of the result, it’s still kind of cool to be talking about SEC relevance in March and it not be about Spring practice. Sure I know that’s sacrilege, but so what! It’s major college sports and the intrigue is just awesome. If you can’t get pumped up for it, it’s time to check into a morgue.

Born in the Nation’s Capital, Washington D.C., Ari Russell watched the rise of the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes and knew that he had to be part of the “U” someday. After graduating from Coral Gables, Ari rose through the ranks of the former XM Satellite Radio and then Sirius/XM as college football executive producer. He later spent 2 seasons as the publisher of the website “Beyond U Sports” focusing on major college football/basketball. Ari brings a great perspective on everything Miami, including the Dolphins to F.F.I.

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Florida Gators

Gators in the College Football Playoff this year?!

Florida Football Insiders

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows that the SEC is the best conference for college football and has been for the better part of 20 years.

Everyone also knows that the Florida Gators were once proud rulers of the SEC East Division, but now that has changed over the course of the last few seasons.

And now, with first-year Coach Dan Mullen, who was previously part of to Gator National Championships under Urban Meyer in 2006 and 08, ready to guide them through this 2018 season, there’s plenty of optimism in Gainesville.

Well, there’s optimism, and then there’s what SEC on CBS football analyst Brian Jones put out there on CBS Sports Network on Wednesday night.

Yes, you saw that correctly, Jones not only has the Gators winning the East, but obviously winning the SEC Championship Game, and being part of the College Football Playoff come January.

First, a little background on Jones: he’s a former all Southwest Conference linebacker at Texas in the early 1990s and has been with CBS since 2005.  And, he replaced Spencer Tillman as the longtime Studio analyst on CBS’ SEC coverage three seasons ago.

So there’s no doubt, he’s qualified to have opinions about SEC football. However, there’s going out on a limb, and then there’s walking out on a tightrope in between skyscrapers like one of the “Flying Wallendas.”

In the brief clip from the “Inside College Football” show on Wednesday night, Jones says of the Gators making the CFP,

“Florida has everyone coming back and now they have the “Quarterback Whisperer” in Dan Mullen.

The Gators do return 19 starters and that includes welcoming back running back Jordan Scarlett, who was suspended last year during the credit card fraud investigation.

Yes they have options at quarterback including last year’s most of the time starter Feleipe Franks and that is Mullen specialty.

Earlier in the episode, Jones had elaborated on Mullen and the impact he would have on Franks’ development in particular:

The Gators do you have a favorable schedule in conference play as they only travel to Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt.

This is because of the scheduling quirk from 2016 with the postponement of the LSU game due to Hurricane Matthew. LSU got to play Florida at home for a second consecutive year that season, and so now, Florida is getting to play LSU at home for a second straight year this year.

Still the neutral-site game with the Georgia Bulldogs and returning All SEC QB Jake Fromm will be a tall task. And add in that Missouri and South Carolina are both improved, even if they are playing in Gainesville, and it will be tough for the Gators to win the East.

Again, Jones has his reasons for his August outlandish prediction, but it’s much more likely that Florida has some growing pains in 2018. And, is a bigger national contender next year,

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Florida Gators

Latest Browns controversy? Antonio Callaway played too much?

Florida Football Insiders

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Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A rookie who played too much in a preseason game? The Browns always seem to have some kind of negative or controversy going on and now, it involves rookie Antonio Callaway and the amount of playing time he had in the preseason opener.

And it’s not that the former controversial Gators WR didn’t get to play or didn’t get to play enough. Rather, the questions being thrown the way of head coach Hue Jackson have to do with: him playing too much.

Too much?

You read that correctly.

Callaway played into the fourth quarter of the Browns 20-10 preseason victory over the Giants, including a 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown from rookie #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield in the fourth quarter.

But, it’s what Jackson said after the game that is got Browns fans, Cleveland sports radio, and the internet buzzing.

When asked if Jackson had played Callaway an extended amount of time because of his off-the-field troubles, including recently being cited for marijuana possession in a Cleveland suburb, Jackson immediately agreed:

“Absolutely,” Jackson said regarding whether the extensive playing time was discipline related. “That was the plan. It was. I was trying to make him play the whole game if we could. I did not want him to come out. . . . That was part of the consequence of what he has been through, and he knows it. That is what it was. Either you sit him or make him play. I thought it was better to make him play. Make him play as long as he could. There were a couple of times he kept waving to come out, and we said, ‘No, stay in.’”

And while there are former players who are now speaking out against that kind of tactic, it is not uncommon for younger players to play most of preseason games for a variety of reasons. Most of it is related to: they haven’t been in live contact for an extended period of time in an NFL game.

Of course Callaway hadn’t been involved in any kind of an organized game dating back to his brief career at the University of Florida. After all, he was suspended for the entire 2017 season due to a credit card investigation.

That and his diluted sample drug test at the NFL scouting combine caused his stock to drop. And, he has first-round Talent ended up being still available in the fourth round for Cleveland to take him.

We wrote last week about Calloway’s traffic citation with the drugs being the latest controversy now that he’s a member of the Browns.

In the end, last Thursday night Callaway finished with five receptions, 87 yards and a touchdown and played a total of 57 snaps.

It’s also interesting that this came on the heels of new Browns free agent pro bowler Jarvis Landry lighting into his fellow wide receivers about not wanting to practice hard or when nicked up by injury. Calloway was sitting in the receivers room when HBO and NFL Films “Hard Knocks” cameras caught the tirade.

The Browns had also traded wide receiver Corey Coleman to the Buffalo Bills at the beginning of training camp, and from a football standpoint, are trying to determine, if Callaway can help them immediately.

You have to believe that all of this will be part of the latest airing of Hard Knocks Tuesday night on HBO.

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Florida Gators

Appears former Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro is leading for Raiders job

Florida Football Insiders

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We knew that the Raiders were high on former Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro when they drafted him back in April. And that became more apparent when they released their successful 2017 kicker, rookie Giorgio Tavechhio, last week.

Now, after last night’s preseason debut in Oakland, it appears it’s Pineiro’s job to lose.

First, Pineiro was perfect with 3-3 in field goals and 1-1 in extra points in the Raiders 16-10 victory over the Lions. And, that included a lengthy make of 48 yards at the end of the first half.

Second, even though Oakland has brought in 13 year veteran Mike Nugent, it appears from what they are saying and what they just demonstrated in game one, Pineiro has the bigger leg for kickoffs, etc.

As for getting rid of a left footed kicker, Tavecchio, who was reliable at 16-21 on field goals and 33-34 on point after kicks, new Raiders coach Jon Gruden explained it at the time to the media that they were simply being too hard on punter/holder Johnny Townsend. They were asking him to repeatedly switch from a left footed to a right footed “hold mechanics” and then, back, again.

Meanwhile, Nugent who has kicked previously for the Jets, Bucs, Bengals and others is right footed. So, that does make it easier on the holder throughout the work they are doing in camp.

As for Pineiro, he is a state product (Miami native), and he had a good college career at Florida. He made 17-18 FG’s during the Gators miserable season last year. And combined with his 21-25 year in 2016, he totaled an 88% field goal career mark.

We did take a humorous look at his leg strength prior to the 2017 season, when Pineiro’s practice video of him kicking an 81 yard field goal went viral on Youtube.

And, as the photo above shows, the Raiders are the last team still playing in a multi-purpose football/baseball stadium-still sharing it with the Oakland A’s.

And Gruden mentioned postgame that they wanted to get Pineiro a kick or two off the surface in a game, because the Raiders will have that infield dirt in their first couple of September early season games.

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