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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Ranking Malik Zaire among 2017's top transfer quarterbacks

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Florida Gators' Malik Zaire is among many transfers who could become starters at their new school. Here's how he stacks up in our rankings of top transfer quarterbacks:

1. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn). He put up great numbers (12 touchdowns, two interceptions) in 10 games at Baylor before leaving less than two months after coach Art Briles' dismissal. He only started three games for the Bears, but he showed enough talent (and has a good enough coach in Gus Malzahn) to be No. 1, barely ahead of...

2. Will Grier (West Virginia). Sorry, UF fans. Grier could still be with the Gators, if he hadn't failed an NCAA drug test or decided to transfer after the 2015 season. Regardless, his time in Gainesville included 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, a last-minute win over Tennessee and a four-touchdown beat-down of No. 3 Ole Miss. Don't be surprised if he lights up the scoreboard for coach Dana Holgorsen.

3. Kyle Allen (Houston). Part of the Texas A&M quarterback exodus that also sent Kyler Murray to Oklahoma, Allen rushed for three touchdowns and passed for 33. He could thrive under new coach Major Applewhite. …

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Officially official: Malik Zaire, Jake Fruhmorgen join Florida Gators

AP

It's finally, officially official: Malik Zaire has joined the Florida Gators.

UF formally announced the addition of the graduate transfer quarterback from Notre Dame on Monday, the first day of classes in the school's Summer B session.

The move has been in the works for weeks and became possible after the SEC changed its graduate transfer policies at this month's spring meetings in Destin.

Zaire showed flashes of success during his time with the Fighting Irish. His 96 rushing yards and two total touchdowns helped Notre Dame beat LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl. He also lit up Texas for 313 passing yards and three touchdowns in the 2015 season opener.

But the 6-foot, 225-pound lefty didn't do much beyond that. He injured his ankle in Week 2 of 2015 and lost a battle for the starting job to DeShone Kizer last fall.

His career numbers at Notre Dame: 816 passing yards, six touchdowns and a 59.2 completion percentage, plus 72 rushes for 324 yards. …

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Tim Tebow heads back to Sunshine State with promotion to St. Lucie

Columbia Fireflies outfielder Tim Tebow looks out from the dugout before the team's game against the Augusta GreenJackets on April 6 in Columbia, S.C. Columbia defeated Augusta 14-7.

Sean Rayford | Associated Press

Columbia Fireflies outfielder Tim Tebow looks out from the dugout before the team's game against the Augusta GreenJackets on April 6 in Columbia, S.C. Columbia defeated Augusta 14-7.

Tim Tebow is coming back to the Sunshine State.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and fan favorite, who helped the Gators to football national championships in 2006 and 2008 and is now trying his hand at minor-league baseball, has been promoted the Florida State League.

Tebow, 29, will play next for the St. Lucie Mets, which means he'll spend a full week in the Tampa Bay area in August, with games at the Tampa Yankees on Aug. 10-13 and at the Clearwater Threshers on Aug. 14-17.

Tebow's second chapter in sports was an attendance phenomenon for the Columbia Fireflies, boosting their home crowds and drawing sellouts all over the South Atlantic League. He batted just .222 in 63 games with three home runs and 23 RBIs. His first home game with St. Lucie could be Tuesday night.

If nothing else, the Tampa area can help wish Tebow a happy 30th birthday -- he's due to play in Clearwater on that day, Aug. 14.

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Illinois is recruiting a 10-year-old. Where will Lovie Smith be by the time the kid can sign?

Today in ridiculous recruiting news, Lovie Smith's Illinois football team offered a scholarship to a 10-year-old.

That's ten years old. As in, he has been on this earth for a decade. He is the same age as Ryder, the boy in the TV show Paw Patrol, which the young man might very well watch when he isn't earning scholarship offers from a Big Ten program. Because he's 10 (ten) years old.

We can talk about how ridiculous it is to offer a college scholarship to a kid in elementary school - and it is very, very ridiculous - but let's look at another part of this.

Smith's program is offering a recruit who might not be old enough to sign with a college until 2025. Given Smith's resume and the nature of college football coaching, what are the odds the former Bucs head coach is still with the Illini in eight years?

So, our poll question: Where will Lovie Smith be in 2025?

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Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

Florida Gators defensive back Duke Dawson came in at No. 72 - ahead of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (among others). Dawson should be UF's top player in the secondary, with Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye all in the NFL.

Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi is No. 69. He was an all-ACC pick last year on a strong defense thanks to 49 tackles (10 ½ for a loss) and six sacks.

Clemson receiver and Tampa Bay Tech product Deon Cain is No. 67. He averaged 19 yards per catch and had nine touchdown receptions last year to help the Tigers win the national title in his hometown. With Mike Williams gone to the NFL, Cain should be Clemson's top receiving target this fall.

SI's ongoing countdown is here.

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NBA draft: Jonathan Isaac could make FSU history tonight

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac will probably hear his name called early in tonight's NBA draft.

Maybe historically early, at least by Seminoles standards.

SI projects him to go third overall to the Celtics. ESPN calls him the draft's No. 5 prospect and headed to Orlando with the No. 6 pick. CBS suggests No. 7 to Minnesota.

Regardless, he'll be among the highest players ever drafted out of FSU. No ‘Nole has been picked higher than fourth (Dave Cowens to Boston in 1970). The only other top-10 pick, according to Basketball Reference's nifty draft finder tool, was George McCloud, who went seventh to the Pacers in 1989.

Isaac averaged 12 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for FSU as a freshman.

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Should tackle football be banned until high school?

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Warren Sapp announced Tuesday that he will donate his brain to concussion researchers after his death.

Beyond the headline, Sapp said something else interesting: He wants to eliminate tackle football until high school.

That idea is one that came up in conversations during our recent reporting for this story on the flag/tackle debate in youth football. The group Practice like Pros proposes keeping tackle football in high school but not until then. Middle schoolers would begin learning how to play tackle through weight training, neck strengthening and limited contact so they're prepared once they reach ninth grade.

"You don't need contact football at that level to play at the highest level..." said Terry O'Neil, Practice Like Pros' founder and a former New Orleans Saints executive. "You don't want to start the head trauma at the age of 5, as often happens in this country. You want to delay it as long as you can."

I floated the idea to some people during my reporting. Their thoughts: …

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Who should join Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer as college football ambassadors?

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

First Steve Spurrier became an ambassador for the Florida Gators.

Then on Tuesday, Phillip Fulmer became an ambassador for Tennessee.

Seems like a pretty cushy job. UF still hasn't released Spurrier's contract, but Fulmer will make $100,000 a year for doing...whatever it is that a college football ambassador does.

So who else should leave retirement to begin ambassadoring? Some humble suggestions:

Auburn: Pat Dye. The former Tigers coach can still lobby for the program. His comments about Auburn joining the SEC East led to an actual discussion about the topic during the conference's spring meetings in Destin. Granted, that discussion took place with the AD and media, but hey, even the most complex political negotiations have to start somewhere.

Florida State: Derrick Brooks. Bobby Bowden would be the easy answer, but he's been known to make some comments that are, uh, not popular. That's why I'm going with Brooks. He's retired. He's classy. He loves the university, and he brings credibility to any room he enters. …

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Malik Zaire officially announces he's joining Florida Gators

Getty Images

It's still not officially official, but it's slightly officialer than it was yesterday.

Malik Zaire is joining the Florida Gators, as he announced Tuesday afternoon.

Malik Zaire says he's playing for the #Gators. Again. Now with 50 percent more officialness!! pic.twitter.com/akGq2rNEy2


Zaire, a 6-foot, 225-pound lefty, will bring experience and depth to the position as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame. I wrote all about that earlier this month, after he told reporters he planned to come to UF, and after the SEC changed its grad transfer rules to allow the move to happen. 

The Gators haven't yet confirmed the move, but I expect an announcement next week. I'll have more to say on the subject then. In the meantime, here are five things you should know about Zaire.

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With Will Grier eligible at West Virginia, what might have been at Florida?

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Former Florida Gators quarterback Will Grier will be eligible to start the season for West Virginia, the Mountaineers announced today.

pic.twitter.com/WLlUHwDPPn

Grier transferred to West Virginia after earning a one-year suspension for failing an NCAA drug test at UF. He missed the final six regular-season games at UF in 2015, and the NCAA allows him to serve the rest of his suspension while sitting out, anyway, because of its transfer rules.

Grier is expected to start for West Virginia, and he has drawn plenty of buzz in Morgantown as a potential star.

But enough about the ‘Eers. What about the Gators?

Grier was the best quarterback UF has had since the Tim Tebow era. He helped UF start 6-0 with 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, 1,204 passing yards and a 65.8 completion percentage.
If Grier hadn't transferred, he would have been eligible at UF last year starting with the Georgia game. The Gators finished 4-3 in games where Grier might have been able to play. Would he have made a difference? Maybe, but I doubt it. …

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Deondre Francois, Eddy Pineiro among SI's top 100 players

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Sports Illustrated is counting down its list of the top 100 players in college football, and the first installment features three from the state.

Florida Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro is No. 100. Yes, he's a kicker, but he's also a darn good one.

The player in front of Pineiro is even more intriguing - Florida State running back Cam Akers. The next snap he plays will be his first, but his performance in the spring game showed he's worthy of being compared to Dalvin Cook, the player he is trying to replace.

The other on the list (so far) is FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, at No. 91. I'm torn on Francois, but SI makes a solid case for him: He led all freshmen in passing last year (3,350 yards) and can run, too.

Check out SI's full list (well, 100-91, at least) here.

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How far might Clemson slide without Deshaun Watson?

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The AP's Ralph D. Russo summed up one of the reasons why I'm picking Florida State to win the ACC this year:

Clemson is loaded, but teams rarely lose all-time great QBs and not take a step back next season. Even if just a small one. https://t.co/Ef3fbl4d53

He also got me thinking: Just how big of a step back might the Tigers take after winning the national championship in Tampa but losing superstar Deshaun Watson?

I decided to examine Watson-like quarterbacks: Players who finished in the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting at least once and were also first-round NFL draft picks (which weeded out very good but not great players like TCU's Trevone Boykin or Alabama's AJ McCarron). The criteria is admittedly subjective, but hey, it's my blog.

So let's look at the last 11 Clemson-like teams - their record with their Deshaun Watson as a starter and their record the next year without him:

Oregon: 36-5 with Marcus Mariota, 9-4 the next year

Florida State: 26-1 with Jameis Winston, 10-3 the next year

Texas A&M: 19-6 with Johnny Manziel, 8-5 the next year

Baylor: 23-17 with Robert Griffin III, 8-5 the next year

Stanford: 31-7 with Andrew Luck, 12-2 the next year …

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Florida Gators' Jim McElwain, Mike White earn raises, contract extensions

Florida Gators football coach Jim McElwain and men's basketball coach Mike White both received raises and one-year contract extensions to 2023, the school announced Friday.

McElwain receives a $196,300 raise for this season. The six years left on his contract will pay him an average of $4.486 million. That figure is up from $4.1645 and would have ranked 12th in the country last season (just ahead of Clemson's Dabo Swinney), according to USA Today's database.

McElwain's bonuses also increased. He would make $100,000 for a trip to the SEC title game (up from $37,500) and $200,000 for winning the league (up from $75,000). A top-10 finish would mean $100,000, while a national championship would net him $400,000.

The new buyout for termination with cause would jump to $2.5 million per year left on the deal (up from $2.25 million).

McElwain has led UF to SEC East championships in his first two seasons. The Gators are 19-8 in his tenure heading into the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan in Arlington, Texas. …

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UCF kicker: I must choose between NCAA football and YouTube videos

A UCF kicker says NCAA rules are forcing him to choose between playing football and making YouTube videos.

The kickoff specialist, Donald De La Haye, explained his predicament in a video he posted over the weekend on his channel, which has more than 53,000 subscribers.

"Some people upstairs aren't happy with my videos, and they feel like I'm violating NCAA rules..." he said in his video (which you can see at the bottom of this post). "I guess I can't make any videos that make it obvious that I'm a student-athlete, because that makes it seem like I'm using my likeness and my image to make money and all this, which I'm really not."

De La Haye paused to take a bite from what appears to be a breakfast burger before continuing. The Port St. Lucie native says he is a marketing major, so his YouTube videos are an extension of his career path. He later says that his family back home needs the money he receives online.

His video has been viewed 81,000 times and has more than 1,700 comments.

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Ole Miss booster strikes back with defamation lawsuit

The ongoing Ole Miss NCAA case just got more interesting, thanks to a lawsuit recently filed by an Oxford clothing store, Rebel Rags.

Sports Illustrated has a good summary of the suit: The NCAA case includes allegations that two players at rival Mississippi State and a family member of former Rebel Laremy Tunsil received $2,800 in merchandise from the store. The store says that's false, so it's suing for defamation.

The potential for harm is there, if the accusations are indeed false. I don't think many Ole Miss fans will buy their shirts and hats from a store that could help bring sanctions to their beloved football program.

Regardless, a Rebels booster is striking back in his own way at the never-ending saga in Oxford.

Check out SI's full analysis here.

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