Florida Gators Mailbag: Jeff Driskel injury concerns, UF Mt. Rushmore, baseball's future

Al Messerschmidt

The long-overdue return of the Alligator Army Mailbag brings questions on Jeff Driskel, Florida fans, the UF Mount Rushmore, and the fate of baseball's recruiting class.

We get letters. Send your queries to the Alligator Army Mailbag by using #AAMailbag or tweeting at @AlligatorArmy, or drop us a line on Facebook.

The easy answer is bad. The hard, unpalatable answer: Florida might go from being a national championship contender to struggling to make a bowl.

For the purposes of this question, we're going to assume the worst: Jeff Driskel suffers a season-ending injury in the second quarter of the Toledo game, sort of like Tom Brady did against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. The New England Patriots won that game, but were without Brady for the rest of the year, and had to ride out the year with Matt Cassel at quarterback. Cassel led the Pats to an 11-5 record and a tie for first in the AFC East (the Miami Dolphins won the tiebreaker and got the East's playoff berth) in 2008, playing well enough to force them to hit him with the franchise tag and trade him to the Chiefs before the 2009 season. Cassel was also playing for Bill Belichick, with a team coming off making a Super Bowl, and with Randy Moss and Wes Welker at wide receiver.

With all due respect to Will Muschamp, Florida's 2012 season, and the Gators' depth chart at receiver, Cassel's situation seems slightly better than the one that would await the guy who takes over for Driskel after an injury. Florida's defense might be better than the 2008 Patriots defense, which got picked on by good teams, but there's just too much youth on offense to make a reasonable comparison.

So how much worse does Florida get without Driskel? Well, losing him before the Miami game would be awful, and a recipe for a game plan featuring 60 or more carries by Florida running backs, but I don't know that Miami's defense is good enough to stop a Florida offense without Driskel, so that might not matter. Florida's probably better than Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas with or without Driskel, and three weeks of work would give Brent Pease enough time to tailor the offense to Tyler Murphy or Skyler Mornhinweg or Max Staver.

But that October stretch that sends Florida to LSU, Missouri, and Jacksonville to play Georgia over the course of four weeks would be really, really rough. Florida tried to baby its quarterback at LSU in 2011, and Jacoby Brissett was largely ineffective against a great Tigers defense; Missouri's not on the Bayou Bengals' level, but Columbia's going to be about as raucous as it gets for those Tigers' first home game against Florida. And while Georgia beat Florida with a healthy Driskel last year largely because of Driskel making costly mistakes, the Bulldogs would be licking their chops for a Driskel-less Florida.

Florida might also have trouble with Vanderbilt without Driskel, especially given that his running was the difference between victory and disaster in Nashville last fall, and would be in dire straits similar to the ones faced against LSU when it faced South Carolina and Florida State in November. I would predict no better than a 9-3 record for Florida without Driskel, and even that feels really generous; 8-4 or 7-5 might be more realistic.

So, basically: Let's hope Driskel doesn't get hurt.

The things I know made me want to come to sports in my pre-Alligator Army student days were pretty simple.

  1. Free apparel.
  2. Free food.
  3. Some requirement that I come.

The first two are pretty self-explanatory: Free shirts got students in the door every time, and some of them (we got this shirt at Florida's home basketball game against Tennessee in 2012, which also featured these jerseys) were high-quality pieces of clothing; free food, even if it's as simple as a slice or two of pizza, tends to obviate a meal for a college student, and providing it is the easiest possible thing to do to boost student attendance. The third is sort of counter-intuitive, as there was really never a requirement that I show up for anything ... unless I signed up for basketball games.

Florida's current policy for student men's basketball tickets requires registering for those games in advance; once registered, students must either go to the game or cancel with some lead time to avoid being penalized by not being able to go to the game after it. In practice, this means going to a game against Alabama State and preserving eligibility for a showdown with Wisconsin, or hitting the O'Dome for a game with Auburn before a clash with Kentucky. But because students can register for a Wisconsin or Kentucky game on its own, without worrying about the smaller games, there's nothing to compel a student to go to all of the games beyond the baseline "Florida is really damn good at basketball," individual games' promotions, or the accumulation of points good toward Rowdy Reptile points or "Rowdy Reptile" status, which confers the ability to register early for games.

Now, I personally think that Florida being awesome at basketball, especially at home (last home loss: future national champion Kentucky, in 2012), should be enough for lots of students, and that alone should mean there is never be a men's basketball game, save the rare game over a holiday break, without every student seat filled. But that's clearly not the case: I've been to enough games where I sat up high by myself to know that. And Rowdy Reptile status has never been particularly valuable, not when students can make five minutes to sign up pretty easily, and just hand over their registrations to trusted friends when those five minutes aren't available.

So here's one of my solutions: Make Rowdy Reptile status really valuable, and only let students who have been to every or nearly every game sit down low for the big games. This would incentivize attending all the games, and provide a significant reward based on more than the free time students have to camp out the day of a big game. The people who go to every or nearly every game wouldn't lose anything, and they would have a reason to drag their friends along to as many games as possible.

If I were running men's basketball promotions for the UAA, I'd also consider making a separate Rowdy Reptiles rewards system for men's basketball. It's really admirable that Florida coaxes students into seeing every sport over the course of the year with the existing program, but there's no reason that and a men's basketball system can't simultaneously exist, and getting really cool rewards for hitting thresholds of games attended would be good.

I'll probably have more thoughts on this as the season approaches, including some that are actually about what the Rowdies, and not the UAA, can do.

Nah. The Mount Rushmore is Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow, and Joakim Noah. Lochte's in the second group, but let's not kid ourselves about what matters most to Florida fans — and how many Gators actually saw Lochte swim meets for Florida?

On this, I have to defer to Cody Jones, the king of the Florida baseball beat. His extensive article on the 2013 Florida signing class, complete with tons of insight from Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan, is a must-read, and I'm drawing a fair bit on information from it.

Here's a more compact listing of those players.

Name Position Hometown 2013 MLB Draft Going Pro?
Pete Alonso 1B/3B Tampa, FL Undrafted No
Shaun Anderson RHP Coral Springs, FL No. 1,216, Nationals No
Christian Arroyo INF Spring Hill, FL No. 25, Giants Yes
Dylan Barrow RHP Tampa, FL Undrafted No
Sean Brady LHP Cape Coral, FL No. 141, Indians Yes
Tyler Danish RHP Brandon, FL No. 55, White Sox Yes
Tyler Deel 1B/OF/LHP Jacksonville, FL Undrafted No
Dane Dunning RHP Fleming Island, FL No. 1,015, Blue Jays No
Alex Hagner LHP Mount Dora, FL Undrafted No
Ryan Larson OF Orlando, FL Undrafted No
Brett Morales RHP Tampa, FL No. 735, Reds No
Scott Moss LHP Deltona, FL No. 1,129, Rockies No
Dean Pelman RHP Weston, FL Undrafted No
A.J. Puk 1B/LHP Cedar Rapids, IA No. 1,056, Tigers No
Michael (Buddy) Reed OF Finksburg, MD No. 1,060, Rangers No
Logan Shore INF/RHP Coon Rapids, MN No. 860, Twins No
Kirby Snead LHP Alachua, FL Undrafted No
John Sternagel 3B Rockledge, FL No. 1,164, Royals No

That's far less attrition to the majors than we saw in Florida's 2012 class, which had a half-dozen players pass up Gainesville for the pros, but Arroyo and Danish would both have been major contributors as freshmen, and Brady would have been an excellent arm early in his collegiate career. Florida's still got a few studs likely to contribute early, especially Alonso, Morales, and Puk, and a bunch of players who are the backbone of a very good class, but this is not a class that is guaranteed to restore the Gators to glory, or send them back to Omaha. (Also, the signing deadline for players taken in the MLB Draft is in July; there could still be defections down the line.)

And with Florida also losing Jonathon Crawford, Johnny Magliozzi, and Daniel Gibson to the pros and other contributors to transfer, my guess is that the Gators improve on their immensely frustrating 2013 campaign in 2014, but still lack enough to recapture the SEC. At least they should be more fun to watch, though I could not imagine what a team that was somehow less fun would look like.

Approximately Demps 2.77. I think. (P.S.: Jeff Demps ran a 10.06 in the 100 meters at the 2013 U.S. Outdoor Championships last week, and failed to qualify for the final. He still has that gold medal from London, though.)

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