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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Gators pick up commitment from 5-star QB Matt Corral

Florida has picked up a major commitment toward its 2018 recruiting class, getting a pledge Saturday night from quarterback Matt Corral, rated a five-star recruit by Rivals and Scout.

Corral, from Ventura, Calif., was in Gainesville this weekend for the Gators' "Friday Night Lights" recruiting event, and his commitment continues a big week for Florida and Jim McElwain, who have picked up five commitments in the last four days.

Corral, 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds, threw for 22 touchdowns with only three interceptions as a junior, this after throwing 36 touchdowns with six interceptions as a sophomore. He's a four-star prospect by ESPN and 247 Sports, and is ranked by Rivals as the No. 7 recruit overall in the upcoming class. He chose the Gators over other SEC offers including Alabama and Georgia, as well as Michigan and USC nationally.

Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier happened to write "805 GUNSLINGER!!" on Twitter -- a nod to Corral's home area code -- just minutes after news broke of his commitment, and Corral retweeted that in affirmation soon after.

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Gators lose safety Marcell Harris to season-ending injury

University of Florida senior safety Marcell Harris (left) has been lost for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

AP photo

University of Florida senior safety Marcell Harris (left) has been lost for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

You know the time-tested adage that says only bad things occur in the offseason? Gators veteran SS Marcell Harris has emerged as the latest case in point.

A redshirt senior who has appeared in 37 career games and started eight last year, Harris has been lost for the year with a torn right Achilles tendon suffered during workouts Wednesday.

"As a coach this is one of the hardest things you are faced with," Coach Jim McElwain said in a statement released by UF. "Here is a kid who has made great personal growth during his time here and has really matured both on and off the field."

Harris, among only two healthy safeties available this past spring, had 73 tackles, a sack and two interceptions in 2016. He was the only strong safety listed on Florida's post-spring depth chart.

Sophomore Jeawon Taylor, who missed all of spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery, could emerge as Harris' replacement if healthy. Incoming three-star freshman Donovan Stiner also could become an option.

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FSU football picked by media to win ACC title over Miami

FSU football and QB Deondre Francois, shown before last year's game against Florida, have been picked by the media as preseason favorites to win the ACC. FSU was picked over Clemson to win the Atlantic Division, with Miami picked to win the Coastal.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

FSU football and QB Deondre Francois, shown before last year's game against Florida, have been picked by the media as preseason favorites to win the ACC. FSU was picked over Clemson to win the Atlantic Division, with Miami picked to win the Coastal.

With Clemson losing key parts of last year's national championship team, FSU has been picked by media members as preseason ACC football champion, the league announced Monday.

The Seminoles were picked to win the Atlantic Division, getting 121 first-place votes to Clemson's 37, and Miami was picked to win the Coastal Division, getting 103 of 167 first-place votes, well ahead of Virginia Tech (40). In the championship voting, FSU got 118 of 167 votes, with Clemson (35) next.

Those expectations put all eyes on FSU's Nov. 11 game at Clemson -- the winner of that game has won the ACC in each of the last six years, with Clemson taking the last two and FSU the three before that. If Miami were to win its division, it would be the Coastal's fifth different champion in five years, following Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Duke in the last four. Miami has yet to win a division title since the league went to divisions in 2005.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the media's preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year, getting 113 of 167 votes, with FSU quarterback Deondre Francois next with 23.

Full media balloting results:

Coastal Division (first-place in parentheses) …

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Pot case resolved for Florida Gators' Antonio Callaway

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia Monday morning.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia Monday morning.

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia Monday morning. His misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession was dropped, which is typical for cases like this. He will also pay a $301 fine. 

Monday's court proceedings resolve a case dating back to May, when UF's top offensive playmaker admitted to having marijuana in an early-morning traffic stop.

The next question is: What does this mean for Callaway's status for the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan? Coach Jim McElwain hasn't said, and I don't expect him to say anything until the week of the game.

UF's policy calls for a suspension for a second positive marijuana test. Callaway hasn't had one (to our knowledge), but he does have two public incidents. During the school's investigation of a sexual assault allegation, he admitted to being high during the encounter. He was cleared of the sexual assault accusation in that case. 

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The one way Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney want the ACC to copy SEC

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Somewhere in all the chatter and clichés that come with last week's ACC Kickoff, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Clemson's Dabo Swinney proposed an interesting idea.

The ACC should keep their rivalry games on the same weekend every year.

"That's what makes them a rivalry," Fisher said.

Fisher and Swinney both spent time in the SEC, where fans know the big weekends before the schedules come out. Florida plays Georgia around Halloween. The Iron Bowl is on Thanksgiving weekend. Alabama-Tennessee is the third Saturday in October.

"That's one thing that we like about the SEC..." Swinney said. "You know when you're playing some of these bigger games."

Not so in his league. Check out the dates of the last five FSU-Clemson games: Sept. 22, Oct. 19, Sept. 20, Nov. 7 and Oct. 29. No consistency.

Same with UNC-NC State. Same with the fierce FSU-Miami rivalry.

"We play them in the third game," Fisher said. "We've played them at the end. We've played them in the middle. I'd like to see that the same."

But when should that game be annually? Fisher isn't picky.

"I'll tell you when I want it," Fisher said. "Whenever gives us the best chance to win the daggum game."

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Miami Hurricanes still searching for Brad Kaaya's replacement

Jefferson High product Cade Weldon is still in the mix to start for the Miami Hurricanes this fall.

Jefferson High product Cade Weldon is still in the mix to start for the Miami Hurricanes this fall.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Miami is still searching for its replacement for the school's all-time leading passer, and it doesn't sound like the Hurricanes will make a decision on who will replace Brad Kaaya anytime soon.

"I want to find the guy," coach Mark Richt said Friday during the ACC Kickoff. "I'm not ready to do that yet."

Richt pointed to four players in the mix (Jesuit High alum Vincent Testaverde wasn't among them). Veterans Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs have had a year and a half to impress Richt, and he said he's comfortable with both of them.

The two wildcards are freshmen Cade Weldon and N'Kosi Perry. Weldon, a Jefferson High product, enrolled early, but Perry remains a relatively unknown commodity heading into fall camp.

"They can throw well," Richt said of the two freshmen. "They're smart. They're tough - at least they were in high school. We'll find out what they can do when we start practicing."

Richt said he hopes to identify this season's starter shortly after his team's second fall scrimmage.

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Jimbo Fisher: I scheduled Alabama, so I'd better be ready

Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher, shown here after the game the Seminoles beat the USF 55-35 in Tampa, likes the prospects of starting the season against Alabama.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher, shown here after the game the Seminoles beat the USF 55-35 in Tampa, likes the prospects of starting the season against Alabama.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With kickoff still almost two full months away, the buzz is continuing to build for the mammoth Florida State-Alabama game in Atlanta.

"I scheduled it, so I'd better be ready for it," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday during the ACC Kickoff.

Fisher said many of the expected things about the Crimson Tide. He praised their physicality, size and strength. He called his former boss, Nick Saban, "one of the great football coaches in this country and one of the greatest of all time." 

But Fisher isn't backing down from ‘Bama, either. The reason this game might be the biggest season opener ever isn't just because Alabama has become the best program of the modern era. It's because the best program of the modern era is playing another powerhouse, one with three national championships and three Heismans over the last quarter-century.

"You know, we've got pretty good tradition and history, too," Fisher said. "Since 1980, we're the winningest team in college football. You've got great history, great tradition. If you're a competitor, it's what you look forward to."

Only seven weeks and one day. But who's counting?

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Alabama picked to win the SEC, Florida Gators second in East

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough (9) makes a 22 yard run during the second quarter of the SEC championship against the Florida Gators at the Georgia Dome on Saturday Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta.

Monica Herndon | Times

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough (9) makes a 22 yard run during the second quarter of the SEC championship against the Florida Gators at the Georgia Dome on Saturday Dec. 3, 2016, in Atlanta.

Alabama remains the favorite to win the SEC, and the Florida Gators are picked to finish second in the East.

Those are two highlights from the SEC media predictions, which came out Friday morning. Georgia was narrowly picked to win the East, followed by the Gators, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Missouri.

The Crimson Tide is favored in the West, ahead of Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

You can see my predictions here. 

Here are the preseason all-SEC teams, with voting points in parentheses: …

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Why I'm picking FSU over Miami for the ACC championship

I posted my SEC predictions yesterday, so now it's the ACC's turn. Without further ado...

Atlantic Division
1. Florida State. Clemson should be great again, too, but I'm giving the edge to the team with the experienced quarterback (Deondre Francois), as I touched on in today's Tampa Bay Times.

2. Clemson. Teams rarely lose transcendent quarterbacks and stay at the very top. I think the Tigers regress slightly but still finish in the top 10, and maybe the top five.

3. Louisville. I still can't believe all of the Twitter backlash and nitpicking of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. He accounted for 51 touchdowns last year and put up 63 on FSU. He's really, really good. Period.

4. North Carolina State. The Wolfpack is the most experienced team in the ACC with one of the country's top defensive ends, Bradley Chubb. It'll mess up somebody's season.

5. Syracuse. I'm higher than the Orange than most, because I think Dino Babers' offense will click in its second season. That schedule, though, is brutal (at LSU in non-conference, at Louisville in November and Pitt and at Miami in the Coastal). …

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Dabo Swinney: Tampa's Deon Cain is 'one of the best receivers in the country'

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When Clemson took its turn at the ACC Kickoff on Thursday, the topic of conversation focused on the players who helped win the national title in January at Raymond James Stadium - not necessarily the ones who will be around this fall.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney didn't appreciate that.

"Nobody is asking me about Deon Cain yet," Swinney said of the former Tampa Bay Tech quarterback. "This is one of the best receivers in the country. He's had unbelievable moments. Not one word. We're talking about a guy that's gone, and I'm focused on the guys that are here."

Cain was one of Sports Illustrated's top players in the country. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior has 14 touchdowns on 72 career catches. His 18.1 yards per catch are the third-most among active ACC players, and he's among the players featured on the back cover of Clemson's media guide. 

With Mike Williams and former East Lake High standout Artavis Scott both off to the NFL, the Tigers need receivers to fill the void as they break in a new starting quarterback (probably junior Kelly Bryant). Cain, Swinney said, is ready.

"It's kind of his time," Swinney said. "So it's just next man up." …

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Derwin James: 'I do think I'm the best player in the country'

Florida State's Derwin James speaks to the media during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, July 13, 2017.

Associated Press

Florida State's Derwin James speaks to the media during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, July 13, 2017.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Florida State safety Derwin James said it was kind of awkward and surprising when he heard the offseason announcement that Sports Illustrated called him the No. 1 player in the country.

"I was kind of shocked, because I didn't even play last year," James said Thursday during the ACC Kickoff.

But ask James if he agrees with the decision, and any shock or humility disappears.

"I do think I'm the best player in the country, because of the way I make people around me better and how I help my teammates," James said.

James is up to 220 pounds, from 212 last year, and said he feels quicker, too.

A few other quick FSU notes:

James isn't shying away from the Seminoles' championship hopes: "We know in the back of our minds, the only thing that can stop us is us."

James on five-star defensive tackle recruit Marvin Wilson: "Oh my gosh, he's a real freak of nature. He's a man."

Coach Jimbo Fisher said he wishes the ACC's rivalry games (Clemson, Miami) stayed put on the same spot on the calendar each year. Good idea. …

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ACC enjoying its stay as college football's best conference

MATT BAKER | Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The best football conference in the country is having its media days this week.

And so is the SEC.

That's the feeling, at least, around The Charlotte Westin, site of the (slightly biased) ACC defenders at its kickoff event. We'll get into the details of the debate another day, but for now...

"I think it's pretty obvious the past year certainly was one of the league's most successful years and possibly the most successful year that our league has ever had," commissioner John Swofford said.

Does that mean the ACC, not the SEC, is the best league in the region and the country?

"I just feel we're on top right now," reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson said. "No.1." 

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, not surprisingly, just referred to the ACC as the "premier conference in college football." 

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What's next for Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson?

MATT BAKER | Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson put up 51 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards of offense during last year's Heisman Trophy campaign.
So now what?

One of the next steps, Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said, is to get him more under center rather than in the shotgun.

"I think it'll help us be a harder team to defend. I really believe that," Petrino said Thursday during the ACC Kickoff at The Westin Charlotte. 

Petrino said Jackson didn't have issues handling the snaps from under center, but it took time for him to get the footwork down.

"He made a lot of strides," Petrino said. "He's going to continue to get better."

And that's scary for the rest of the league. See: the 63 points he hung on Florida State in September.

Jackson doesn't seem concerned about living up to the hype. He shrugged off the first question he received Thursday, about what he'll do for an encore.

"I don't really worry about it..." Jackson said. "I'm going into every game trying to win it. I'm not worried about the Heisman Trophy, anything like that. I wasn't trying to win it last year. It happened."

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Florida Gators announce basketball non-con schedule, including UT exhibition

We interrupt this football blog for some basketball news.

The Florida Gators announced their non-conference schedule for the season. Here it is. All games at home unless noted otherwise:

Nov. 5: University of Tampa (exhibition)
Nov. 13: Gardner-Webb
Nov. 16: North Florida
Nov. 19: New Hampshire
Nov. 23: Stanford, Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
Nov. 24: Ohio State/Gonzaga, Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
Nov. 26: Butler/Duke/Portland State/Texas, Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
Dec. 4: Florida State
Dec. 6: Loyola Chicago
Dec. 9: Cincinnati, Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, N.J.
Dec. 16: Clemson, Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise
Dec. 20: James Madison
Dec. 22: Incarnate Word
Jan. 27: Baylor, Big 12/SEC Challenge

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Why I'm picking Alabama-Georgia for the SEC football championship

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Because I'm not at SEC media days this year (our Tom Jones is), I'm not included in the official media predictions set to be released tomorrow morning.

So, for entertainment purposes only, here are my predicted standings SEC football standings for the fall. As I said last year, I'm terrible at betting (just ask my friends about my poker skills), and if I were any good at predicting things, I'd be a millionaire in Vegas. I'll revisit these after the season to show just how wrong I was, and I'll post my ACC predictions tomorrow morning during its media days (where I am).

SEC West
1. Alabama. Really going out on a limb, I know. But ‘Bama has more talent than anyone in the country (again), returns the SEC offensive player of the year (quarterback Jalen Hurts) and another ridiculous defense. Why would you pick against Nick Saban?

2. Auburn. When Gus Malzahn has a good quarterback, he looks like a genius. And I think Jarrett Stidham is a pretty darn good quarterback. Watch for Tampa Catholic/Pasco High receiver Nate Craig-Myers to have a breakout year, too.

3. LSU. The Tigers should have a good defense, a great back (Derrius Guice) and no quarterback. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? …

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