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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Good conversation, no decision on SEC grad transfer change

DESTIN - Day 2 of the SEC's spring meetings didn't bring much clarity to the graduate transfer rules that could help determine the Florida Gators' starting quarterback against Michigan (and beyond).

"Nope," league commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday night when asked if he had a better sense for what rule changes might happen. "Still good conversation."

SEC coaches seem to want the conference to have the same rules as the rest of the NCAA. That would mean changing a rule that prohibits a program from taking a grad transfer for three years, if the last one did not make adequate academic progress.

If unchanged, the rule would prohibit UF from taking quarterback Malik Zaire, a grad transfer from Notre Dame who is considering the Gators.

Don't expect any decisions until Friday, so stay tuned.

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Jim Harbaugh will 'get underneath your skin if you let him'

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

DESTIN - Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has obviously made a lot of noise in the SEC, and in this state. Some was on the field (playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl). Some of it was more controversial (his spring break trip to Bradenton's IMG Academy).

That rubbed some of the SEC the wrong way, but not Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason.

"Jim's my dude," said Mason, who coached under Harbaugh at Stanford.

Florida should get used to dealing with Harbaugh's antics; his Wolverines play the Gators on Sept. 2.

Mason said he doesn't agree with everything his former boss does - no two coaches agree on everything - but he defended Harbaugh's act.

"I just think between the media and other people out there, they let Jim Harbaugh get underneath their skin," Mason said Wednesday during the SEC's spring meetings at the Sandestin Hilton. "If you know how to play the game with Jim, I think it's a great game to play. He's going to get underneath your skin if you let him."

Mason's advice: "Just wait it out. Just wait it out. Everything Jim does, he does for a reason. Wait it out. Don't worry about it. Let Jim do Jim, and make sure that you do you, and you'll be fine."

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Nick Saban: FSU will "probably be No. 1 in the country"

DESTIN -- Alabama coach Nick Saban is known for hyping up his opponents.

So it's probably no surprise what he said about this year's Week 1 opponent, Florida State, on Tuesday before the SEC's spring meetings began.

"Florida State has a great team and a great program and will probably be No. 1 in the country," Saban said.

If not No. 1, at least in the top five (and probably top three). There's a reason SBNation said in January that their Sept. 2 meeting in Atlanta might be the biggest season-opening game ever.

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Will Muschamp wants SEC's grad transfer rule to change

Will Muschamp, right, speaks with Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain before a game in November at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Will Muschamp, right, speaks with Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain before a game in November at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

DESTIN - Count former Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp among the fans of changing the SEC's graduate transfer rules.

The current rules prevent teams from taking a grad transfer for three years if the last one did not make adequate academic progress. The SEC is the only league with such a rule.

"I think we need to have the same rules as everybody else in college football..." said Muschamp, the head coach at South Carolina. "It is a little unfair for us as a league to have a different set of rules."

Unless the rule changes this week, the Gators can't take former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire, who is considering his grad transfer options.

One other interesting thing from this morning's SEC meetings: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he thinks 75-90 percent of his recruiting class will sign in the new December window.

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Clarity coming this week on Florida Gators, Malik Zaire

SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.

MATT BAKER | Times

SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.

DESTIN -- After months of speculation, we could finally get some clarity this week on the Florida Gators and graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire.

Maybe as soon as today, when the SEC spring meetings begin at the Sandestin Beach Hilton. I'm here, hunkered in a windowless room, to update you along the way. But first, a refresher on what meeting rooms at a spacious hotel in the Panhandle have to do with a former quarterback at Notre Dame.

The SEC's current rulebook (14.1.15.1 (b), if you're scoring at home) prevents programs from taking a grad transfer for three years if the last one failed to make adequate academic progress. The idea was to prevent future instances like Jeremiah Masoli, who left Ole Miss after one semester. The problem is that no other conference added a similar rule, so the SEC is at a competitive disadvantage. 

Specifically, UF is. Offensive lineman Mason Halter and linebacker Anthony Harrell both missed the Citrus Bowl after coach Jim McElwain's first season because of academics. That means the Gators can't take a grad transfer - Zaire or otherwise.

Unless the SEC changes its rule this week when the league's coaches, athletic directors and powerbrokers meet. …

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Kickoff times announced for Florida-Michigan, FSU-Alabama

College football's blockbuster Sept. 2 season openers finally have kickoff times.

The Florida Gators will play Michigan at 3:30 on ABC, ESPN announced Thursday afternoon. That game will be in Arlington, Texas.

That same day, Florida State will play Alabama at 8 p.m. on ABC in Atlanta.

Two weeks later, the Seminoles have another 8 p.m. ABC telecast when they host Miami.

Other kickoff times will be announced as the games get closer.

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Florida Gators to host South Alabama in 2020

MONICA HERNDON | Times

The Florida Gators will host South Alabama in 2020, UF announced Thursday morning.

The Jaguars play in the Sun Belt and finished 6-7 last year (with a 21-20 win at Mississippi State).

The game is scheduled for Sept. 19. UF also has non-conference games that year against Eastern Washington - coach Jim McElwain's alma mater - and rival Florida State.

In other scheduling news, the UF will host Baylor in basketball for this season's Big 12/SEC Challenge. The game is scheduled for Jan. 27.

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FSU, Gators, USF and Miami all in Athlon preseason top 25

MONICA HERNDON | Times

The college football preseason magazines are trickling in, as our Joey Knight wrote earlier.

Athlon formally unveiled its top 25 Monday.

Florida State is No. 3, behind Week 1 opponent Alabama and No. 2 Ohio State. The site writes: Florida State will be tested right away with a matchup against Alabama in Atlanta to open the season. The Seminoles host Miami, NC State and Louisville in key conference games, but a matchup at Clemson and a road date at Florida will determine whether or not Fisher's team can finish in the top four.

The Florida Gators are No. 16, and Athlon states the obvious: "In order to edge Georgia for the division crown, improvement on offense is a must." It does call UF's receiving corps the best in the SEC.

Miami is No. 23 and the top team in the impossible-to-predict ACC Coastal Division. That'd mean Miami and FSU would finally meet in the ACC title game. The magazine likes a Hurricanes defense with a line that "has a chance to be among the best in the nation."

USF is No. 24, the AAC favorite and the top Group of Five team, headed to a New Year's Six bowl near you.

Check out the full top 25 here.

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Jim McElwain 'disappointed' in Antonio Callaway news, won't address status for Michigan opener

CLEARWATER - Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he was disappointed in Thursday's news that receiver Antonio Callaway was cited on a complaint of marijuana possession, but McElwain would not specifically address Callaway's status for the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan.

"We'll get everything handled," McElwain said Thursday evening before an alumni gathering at the Kapok Center. "I'm just really disappointed."

Callaway has previously had an issue with marijuana; he admitted to being "stoned" during a code of conduct hearing into a sexual assault allegation (for which he was found not responsible). 

UF's policy calls for educaation and counseling for the first positive marijuana test and a suspension for the second. But those only apply to failed drug tests, not citations or admissions.

McElwain has previously suspended running backs Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson for similar citations. 

"Just really disappointed," McElwain said. "And yet, at the same time, there's another opportunity to learn. There's another opportunity to educate. We'll get it handled." 

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Florida Gators star Antonio Callaway cited for marijuana possession

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway has been cited on a complaint of marijuana possession, according to Alachua County court records.

The Gainesville Police Department stopped a Merecedes SUV at 12:50 a.m. Saturday for a seatbelt violation. Police smelled marijuana and found about 7 grams in Callaway's pocket. Another 5.4 grams of marijuana were found in the car. Both Callaway and 40-year-old Kendrick Williams claimed ownership of the drugs, according to the court documents. Williams has a long criminal history with more than a dozen arrests in the state for complaints ranging from drugs and guns to battery and vehicle theft. 

UF tight end C'yontai Lewis and two women were at the scene, too, but not accused of any wrongdoing, according to Gainesville police. 

UPDATE: What happened to the teen who burglarized Gerald McCoy's home

A court date is scheduled for June 6.

"Coach (Jim) McElwain is aware of it, and it is being dealt with," a UF spokesman said Thursday.  …

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Jim McElwain on Florida Gators' offensive line, leadership and more

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

A few quick nuggets from Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain's appearance on Monday's post-spring SEC teleconference:

• McElwain is excited about the offensive line - a position of weakness when he arrived in Gainesville. UF loses left tackle David Sharpe to the NFL and center Cam Dillard to North Carolina as a grad transfer, but the other parts return. "This is the best we've been since I've been here at that position..." McElwain said. "It's a group that's going to now be a true strength for the Gators."

• Most of UF's starting defense has gone to the NFL, including linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. Their departures might leave a bigger hole in leadership than performance, given how David Reese and others played last year. McElwain said he expects the defense's leadership to shift from linebackers to the secondary, specifically safeties.

• McElwain said other schools called UF to inquire about five of his assistants as potential head coaches. Temple hired one of them, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. …

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Jim McElwain: On red turf, cheap hotels and more

Courtesy: Eastern Washington University

Even with 2,000 words, I didn't have enough space to share everything I wanted on Jim McElwain's time in the Big Sky Conference. The story posted online this morning and will be in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times. A few things that didn't make the final cut:

· I mentioned that McElwain donated some money to 2010 fundraiser for new red turf at Eastern Washington. Here's what I didn't include: "Don't sit here and say that I'm excited about the red turf," McElwain said. He hates the red. He's a football purist. But... "If they took a step to do that, it would be really hard for them to drop football." So that's why he gave money for The Inferno.

· Recruiting trips were much different back then, in the pre-Hudl world. McElwain and four other Eastern Washington coaches would pile in a van and drive the four hours west to Seattle. They'd stop in suburban Kirkland, where a friend of the program would loan them four cars off his lot for the week.

McElwain spent the day crisscrossing the area, collecting film from high school coaches. He and his colleagues would meet up at their hotel (often a La Quinta Inn, assuming it was cheap enough), evaluate recruits' film and drop them off the next day. …

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ACC announces future Notre Dame football games for FSU, Miami

Get your looooong-range calendars out, because the ACC has announced Notre Dame's league games...through 2037. Gotta give my 3-month-old son time to prepare, I suppose. Judging by how active his legs are, he's going to be a great punter. 

Anyway, Florida State hosts the Fighting Irish in 2026 and 2029. The Seminoles travel to South Bend in 2030, 2032 and 2036.

Miami hosts Notre Dame in 2032 and 2034 and travels there in 2028, 2031 and 2037.

More immediately, the Irish will play the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 11, and FSU travels to Notre Dame on Nov. 10, 2018 for the 25th anniversary of the Game of the Century. 

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ESPN announces 2017 college football bowl schedule

ESPN announced its college football bowl schedule for the upcoming season.

The local games:

The St. Petersburg Bowl will kick off at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 21 at Tropicana Field. It is scheduled to feature teams from the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA and will air on ESPN.

The Outback Bowl will start at noon on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium. ESPN2 will show the Big Ten-SEC matchup.

ESPN's full list is here.

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Auburn football Q&A on Byron Cowart, Nate Craig-Myers and John Franklin

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Auburn isn't on the Florida Gators' schedule this year, but the Tigers have a lot of local/state connections. Auburn signed the area's top recruit in 2015 (Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart) and in 2016 (Tampa Catholic receiver Nate Craig-Myers).

With that in mind, Opelika-Auburn News beat writer Josh Vitale was kind enough to do a quick Q&A with me. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Vitale used to cover the Rays and the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs for the Charlotte Sun. Thanks to Josh for helping me out. 

1. When Byron Cowart left Armwood High, he was the nation's top recruit (per Rivals), but he hasn't made a huge impact at Auburn yet. You wrote this spring that he spent some time at defensive tackle, not end. Is that his future with the Tigers? What kind of a role do you think he'll have this fall? …

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