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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087


Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

  1. Florida State sees plenty of upside in Dade City native Jacob Pugh


    TALLAHASSEE — No, Florida State senior Jacob Pugh is not as versatile as teammate Derwin James.

    FSU won't be asking him to zip through the secondary or start returning kicks like the Seminoles' do-it-all safety.

    But Pugh isn't far behind. The Dade City native can line up at linebacker or defensive end, and he can rush the passer or drop back in coverage, making him an X factor on a defense that should be one of the best in the country....

     Florida State Seminoles linebacker Jacob Pugh (16) and Florida State Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) celebrate after sacking the Miami quarterback Saturday October 8, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
  2. Full disclosure: My AP Top 25 ballot


    Now that you've seen the preseason AP Top 25, here's what I submitted in my first year as a voter. The AP doesn't give us many guidelines in the preseason. I didn't try to predict how this will look at the end of the year, although I did factor in scheduling occasionally (‘Sup, Wisconsin?). My main criteria: If these teams met tomorrow at an empty Raymond James Stadium, I think Team 1 would beat Team 2, which would beat Team 3, and so on....

  3. AP Top 25: Alabama first, FSU, UF, Miami and USF all in top 20


    As expected, Alabama will start the season at No. 1 in the AP Top 25.

    The Crimson Tide received 52 first-place votes to top No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Florida State. The Seminoles, who received four first-place votes, will play ‘Bama in the Sept. 2 season opener in Atlanta.

    The Florida Gators are No. 17, six spots below their first opponent, Michigan.

    This marks the fifth time UF will open in a top-25 matchup and the first since a trip to Miami in 1987. The other three: vs. Miami in Tampa in 1985, home against the Hurricanes in 1982 and, of course, at Rice in 1953....

  4. Ex-Florida Gators QB Treon Harris will start at Tennessee State


    Former Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris is a starter again.

    At Tennessee State.

    "Anybody who plays football wants to start," Harris told The Tennessean over the weekend. "It's been a long journey since I was on the field last. I've been missing it. It was tough out here at the beginning of camp - the heat, waking up, the meetings - but I got through it and it feels to come out of it as the starter."...

  5. Jim Harbaugh's Michigan football team is still hiding its roster


    Jim Harbaugh slipped one more offseason antic in just at the buzzer.

    His Michigan football team has not yet published a roster on its website. I haven't checked every team, but I would be shocked if there's another program in the country that hasn't done so. The Wolverines' stance is so ridiculous that filed a public-record request to the university for a roster. That's the kind of journalism you do when you're trying to track spending or see contracts, not find out how many wide receivers a team has....

  6. Florida starter under center still under wraps


    GAINESVILLE — With two weeks before Florida opens its season against Michigan, the Gators' three-way quarterback battle remains wide open.

    So wide open, coach Jim McElwain said, that he didn't have a frontrunner among Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio heading into Friday night's scrimmage.

    "It's tough to say," McElwain said.

    McElwain insists that uncertainty is a good thing; it means all three have shown enough in preseason camp to be viable options....

    Luke Del Rio, right, is in the mix to start against Michigan in the season opener … as is Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks.
  7. Florida Gators' Malik Zaire: 'This is everything to me'


    GAINESVILLE — We're two weeks and one day away from the Florida Gators' Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, and the quarterback position remains unresolved.

    That's assuming coach Jim McElwain doesn't break some major news when he speaks to reporters later today.

    In the meantime, the three quarterback candidates - Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio - addressed the media earlier this morning....

    "This is everything to me..." said Malik Zaire, the grad transfer from Notre Dame. "I have everything to prove, everything to lose."
  8. The Florida Gators' case for QB Luke Del Rio


    GAINESVILLE — It took three years and two transfers for Florida's Luke Del Rio to become a starting quarterback.

    When he finally earned that title a year ago Friday, he wasn't going to let it go easily.

    "It's kind of hard to be like, 'Hey, I'm in pain, I don't want to play,' " Del Rio said.

    But Del Rio was in pain — much more and for much longer than he let on during his six games last year. ...

     Florida Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) calls plays during the fourth quarter of the the season opener against the Massachusetts Minutemen on Saturday September 3, 2016, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville, Florida. Final score Gators 24, UMass 7
  9. AP Top 25: How I ordered Florida Gators, USF and Miami Hurricanes


    The toughest part of my preseason AP Top 25 ballot was figuring out whether Florida State or Ohio State should be No. 2.

    One of the next toughest parts? Figuring out how to order the other three top state schools - Florida, USF and Miami.

    Outside opinions on this are all over the place. USA Today's coaches poll has UF at 16, Miami at 18 and USF at 21. Sports Illustrated ranked the Bulls 17th, above UF (18) and Miami (20). Statistical guru Bill Connelly's advanced S&P+ metrics have USF at 56, the Gators 15th and Miami at 18th....

  10. Lefty quarterback's task? Make sure nothing's lost in translation


    GAINESVILLE — When Florida receiver Brandon Powell met new quarterback Malik Zaire this summer, he was struck by the Notre Dame grad transfer's enthusiasm and outgoing personality.

    But when they began working out together, Powell quickly noticed something else. Zaire's first pass looked … different.

    "It came weird," Powell said.

    It came weird because Zaire throws with his left arm, not his right. ...

    Quarterback Malik Zaire, a transfer from Notre Dame, is in a three-way battle for the UF starting job.
  11. Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?


    The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.

    Not the very top. Spoiler alert: Alabama was a pretty easy choice at No. 1 on my preseason ballot.

    But deciding who to put second was tricky. Like most polls I've seen, Florida State and Ohio State were my next two teams. The question: What order?

    The full top 25 will be announced Monday, and I'll share my ballot in the next few days. In the meantime, let's break down the Seminoles and the Buckeyes....

  12. Ex-East Lake High QB Pete DiNovo leaves UCF program


    Former East Lake High quarterback Pete DiNovo is no longer with UCF after missing recent practices, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday.

    "He's not with us, and he hasn't been at practice and all that, so we just focus on the guys that are here," Knights offensive coordinator Troy Walters told the Sentinel, adding he hasn't communicated with DiNovo and he wasn't sure why the redshirt senior was no longer attending practices....

    Former East Lake High standout Pete DiNovo joined UCF as a quarterback in 2013 but switched to receiver two years ago before going back to QB.
  13. Former East Lake star Pete DiNovo no longer with UCF Knights


    Former East Lake High star Pete DiNovo is no longer with UCF, the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday morning.

    DiNovo is no longer listed on the Knights' roster, either.

  14. Disappointment deja vu with Jim McElwain, Antonio Callaway


    GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Jim McElwain stood in front of reporters Monday afternoon to discuss a topic that is growing tiresome to the Gators.

    Not the ongoing quarterback battle. Or the years of offensive struggles.

    McElwain had to address yet another off-the-field issue involving standout receiver Antonio Callaway.

    This one stems from Sunday's suspension of seven players (including Callaway) for the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan, reportedly for misusing school-related funds. McElwain said they have been suspended from team activities, and none were seen at Monday's practice. ...

    Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs with a 66-yard touchdown reception against Georgia at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS) 1208713
  15. Jim McElwain on Florida Gators suspensions: 'It hurts'


    GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he is disappointed in the seven players who were suspended for the season opener against Michigan but said he acted quickly in punishing them.

    McElwain's comments Monday afternoon were his first since news broke over the weekend about the punishment to standout receiver Antonio Callaway and the others.

    "It's not just Antonio," McElwain said. "It hurts."...