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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

FSU receiver Travis Rudolph's lunch with autistic boy goes viral

A kind deed by Florida State receiver Travis Rudolph has gone viral online.

Rudolph (along with teammates Dalvin Cook, Derwin James, Deondre Francois and Jalen Wilkerson) spent two hours visiting Montford Middle School in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

The moment that went viral: Rudolph sharing lunch with an autistic boy. The child's mother posted a photo and explained why it was important in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 7,200 times.

Most days, the mother explained, her son eats lunch alone, but Rudolph joined him Tuesday. A friend sent her a photo of Rudolph and the boy together.

"I had tears streaming down my face..." Leah Paske wrote. "I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes."

Rudolph told reporters in Tallahassee that he remembers what it was like when he met NFL players as a child in south Florida. …

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49ers quarterback fallout: Jeff Driskel and Christian Ponder in the mix?

The controversy surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't slowing down, but it is obscuring something else.

A fairly interesting quarterback competition with state ties.

As Peter King points out, Kaepernick is in a battle with two other quarterbacks for one (or two) spots on the roster: Former Florida State standout Christian Ponder, and former Florida Gator Jeff Driskel.

The 49ers signed Ponder two weeks ago, and he has done fairly well: 8-of-11 passing for 97 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He has also rushed three times for 31 yards and a score.

Driskel drew some buzz as a potential starter during the summer. Driskel -- who resurrected his career at Louisiana Tech under Skip Holtz -- started slowly, going 4-of-12 for 20 yards in his first preseason game. Since then, he has completed 10 of his 15 passes for 109 yards. He also has 87 rushing yards on nine attempts over the three games.

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Tickets for Florida Gators' Tampa stop go on sale Sept. 9

Tickets for the Florida Gators' men's basketball team appearance in Tampa will go on sale Sept. 9 at 10 a.m.

Here are the prices (including all fees) for the Nov. 21 game against Belmont at Amalie Arena, according to UF:

Courtside: $122

Floor seats: $95

Reserved: $37

General admission: $22

Tickets will be available at Amalie Arena's ticket office, ticketmaster.com or at 800-745-3000. General admission student tickets will be $15 at the door.

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Antonio Callaway to play Saturday for Florida Gators, but Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells won't

Florida Gators standout receiver Antonio Callaway should participate in Saturday's season opener against UMass.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Florida Gators standout receiver Antonio Callaway should participate in Saturday's season opener against UMass.

GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators standout receiver Antonio Callaway "should be ready to go" and participate in Saturday's season opener against UMass, coach Jim McElwain said Monday during his weekly news conference. 

McElwain said he found out Friday that Callaway would be available. That's two weeks after Callaway was cleared in the university's sexual assault investigation. The complainant in the case had 10 business days to appeal the ruling. 

"We're fired up to have Antonio in the lineup," quarterback Luke Del Rio said. 

McElwain said freshmen receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells will be out after their felony arrests last month regarding a BB gun incident. All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor, tight end C'yontai Lewis and an unnamed senior also will be suspended.

"Yet those guys will join us when the time's ready," McElwain said. 

 

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How would joining the Big 12 boost USF, UCF recruiting?

Former Armwood High star Eric Striker signed with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2012. If USF had been the Big 12, would he have chosen the Bulls?

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Former Armwood High star Eric Striker signed with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2012. If USF had been the Big 12, would he have chosen the Bulls?

Over the weekend, Joey Knight and I looked at how the Big 12 adding USF and UCF might help the league build a recruiting pipeline to Florida.

But what about the other side? How would USF and UCF help their recruiting by joining the Big 12?

"I think that would be huge," said Ryan Bartow, 247Sports' national, Fort Lauderdale-based recruiting insider. "I think it would bring those two programs that are basically known as sleeping giants, it would take them to the next level."

Because Central Florida (the region, not the school) is teeming with prospects, Bartow said the Knights and Bulls would be able to pull almost their entire roster from the region. By joining a larger league, those schools would have more to pitch.

Bartow mentioned a player like former Sickles High star Ray-Ray McCloud, a dynamic option who strongly considered going to USF but instead chose Clemson. If the Bulls had been in the Big 12, perhaps McCloud would have stayed home.

"If they could sell the Big 12, they could get some of the best kids in their backyard," Bartow said. "I have no doubt. They wouldn't want to leave and go to a Clemson or somewhere else."

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Tallahassee Democrat: FSU strength coach Vic Viloria charged with DUI

Florida State strength and conditioning coach Vic Viloria was arrested early Saturday on suspicion of DUI, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. 

Viloria also faces a complaint of property damage, according to the Democrat

FSU released this statement Saturday afternoon:

"We are aware of the reported incident and are in the process of gathering more information. The issue falls under the human resources policies for university employees, which restricts further comment at this time."

The No. 4 Seminoles open the season on Labor Day against No. 11 Ole Miss in Orlando.  

 

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Miami Hurricanes dismiss two football players for violating NCAA rules

The Miami Hurricanes have dismissed senior linebacker Jermaine Grace and redshirt junior defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad for violating NCAA rules, the school announced Saturday.

Here's the statement UM released:

The University of Miami announced today that red-shirt junior Al-Quadin Muhammad and senior Jermaine Grace have been permanently dismissed from the Hurricanes football program for violating NCAA rules. The University will, however, continue their financial aid through graduation. The decision was made in consultation with outside counsel and after discussions with the NCAA enforcement staff. As no staff members or boosters were involved in the violations, the program will not be subject to sanctions and, at this time, the University deems this matter closed.

Grace started 10 games last year and led the Canes with 79 tackles. In three seasons at UM, he has recorded 147 tackles and five sacks.

Muhammad started seven games last fall, and his 54 tackles were third on the team. He led UM with 8.5 tackles for loss. …

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How will ex-Bucs coach Lovie Smith fare at Illinois?

CBS' college football announcers seem to think Lovie Smith will do better as the head coach at Illinois than he did with the Bucs.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette via AP File

CBS' college football announcers seem to think Lovie Smith will do better as the head coach at Illinois than he did with the Bucs.

CBS' college football announcers seem to think Lovie Smith will do better as the head coach at Illinois than he did with the Bucs.

"I think the Illini can take a step forward," CBS Sports analyst Rick Neuheisel said Thursday in a teleconference with reporters.

Neuheisel said Smith's defensive prowess will help, because there's a lot of carryover between the NFL and college games on that side of the ball. 

"He's going to fit masterfully in that," said Neuheisel, a former Bucs backup and head coach at UCLA. "Given all that he's accomplished as a defensive coach and a head coach at that level, he'll bring that expertise to the Illini - and certainly a credibility of winning and doing things the right way. If you're a young guy, how can you not look up and say, ‘Our head coach is Lovie Smith. He's been to a Super Bowl.' That's a pretty good start."

CBS' Gary Danielson said athletic directors have been looking for something new to sell when they hire coaches. Instead of going with finesse, Illinois hiring Smith was a throwback to the fundamentals that have made programs like Iowa and Wisconsin successful in the Big Ten. …

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Florida Gators' Jim McElwain updates status of Antonio Callaway, Jalen Tabor

There is still no update on whether standout receiver Antonio Callaway's status for the season opener.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

There is still no update on whether standout receiver Antonio Callaway's status for the season opener.

Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain addressed reporters Thursday as the first game week of the season approaches. A few quick notes:

* There is still no update on standout receiver Antonio Callaway's status for the season opener. Callaway missed spring practice as UF conducted a code of conduct investigation, but he was cleared of the sexual assault complaint earlier this month. He admitted to being high on marijuana at the time of the incident. "We're working through some things," McElwain told reporters.

McElwain said all-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor and tight end C'yontai Lewis will both return to practice today. There were both suspended from the program for more than a week after fighting during fall camp. Both will miss next week's opener against UMass.

Linebacker Alex Anzalone seems to be doing well after a shoulder injury sidelined him last season. McElwain said the 6-foot-3, 237-pound redshirt junior's strength and stability are better than ever. "I don't see any limitations there at all," McElwain said.

 

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SEC football coaches name Florida Gators' Jarrad Davis, Jalen Tabor to first team

Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerback Jalen Tabor have both been named to the coaches' preseason all-SEC teams.

Davis, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior, was second on the team with 98 tackles last season. Tabor, a 6-foot, 199-pound junior, ranked in the top 15 nationally with 18 passes defended as a sophomore.

UF offensive lineman Martez Ivey, defensive lineman Bryan Cox and punter Johnny Townsend were second-team selections.

Third-team picks included Gators offensive tackle David Sharpe, UF defensive backs Marcus Maye and Quincy Wilson and Mississippi State running back/returner Brandon Holloway (Alonso High).

Check out the full list here.

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Does George O'Leary deserve a statue at UCF?

UCF will soon be adding a statue of former coach George O'Leary, according to this report from the Orlando Sentinel.

Orlando Sentinel

UCF will soon be adding a statue of former coach George O'Leary, according to this report from the Orlando Sentinel.

UCF will soon be adding a statue of former coach George O'Leary, according to this report from the Orlando Sentinel.

Here's my question: Does he deserve it?

Another Sentinel writer, David Whitley, argues yes, thanks in part to the miraculous Fiesta Bowl season: 

O'Leary made it much easier to notice and harder to ignore.

If not for him, the Big 12 wouldn't be interested in UCF. Conference presidents would probably think it's the UFC.

The other side of the argument is clear, too. There was the NCAA investigation, which ended in probation and scholarship reductions that fueled last year's winless season (and hastened his midseason departure).

Most importantly, there was the death of player Ereck Plancher in 2008. His family's attorney, Tampa's Steve Yerrid, told CBS' Dennis Dodd that the news made him "if not physically nauseous … emotionally nauseous."

"(UCF) can go to hell," Yerrid told Dodd.

So what are your thoughts? Does O'Leary deserve a statue? In the post-Paterno era, does any coach?

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Jesuit alum Vincent Testaverde in backup quarterback mix for Miami Hurricanes

Vincent Testaverde (shown here at Jesuit High in 2013) is in the battle to become the Miami Hurricanes' backup quarterback.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Vincent Testaverde (shown here at Jesuit High in 2013) is in the battle to become the Miami Hurricanes' backup quarterback.

Miami seems to have the best quarterback situation in the state (with starter Brad Kaaya), but the battle for the backup job remains open.

Jesuit High alum Vincent Testaverde is in the mix to fill it.

Testaverde, the son of the Hurricanes' Heisman Trophy winner and Bucs quarterback, is battling with Malik Rosier for the No. 2 job.

"It's not 100-percent solid that one of those two will be the No. 2, but they're in the driver's seat right now," UM coach Mark Richt told reporters over the weekend. "They'll get all the reps with the number twos."

Richt said he hopes to have the top backup identified by the Sept. 3 season opener against FAMU.

Testaverde, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound redshirt sophomore, sat out last season but was 15-of-26 for 116 yards during his 2014 season at Texas Tech.

"(Testaverde) has gotten a lot better, getting his mechanics down pat. He's smooth," Kaaya told reporters. "He delivers the ball and throws a tight spiral. He's just gotten more of the offense down pat and operate more efficiently."

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AP Top 25: FSU football No. 4, Florida Gators at 25

Florida State and star running back Dalvin Cook are No. 4 in the preseason AP poll.

Loren Elliott | Tampa Bay Times

Florida State and star running back Dalvin Cook are No. 4 in the preseason AP poll.

Florida State opens the season as the No. 4 team in the country, according to the AP's Top 25 preseason poll, which was released Sunday. The Florida Gators are No. 25.

Defending champion Alabama is No. 1, followed by Clemson and Oklahoma. LSU is fifth. 

The Seminoles return 17 starters, including all 11 on offense, from last year's 10-3 team. FSU also boasts one of the country's most explosive players (running back Dalvin Cook), top defensive talents (safety Derwin James) and offensive linemen (tackle Roderick Johnson). FSU earned five first-place votes; only Bama and Clemson received more.

FSU is also No. 4 in the coaches' poll. The Noles open the season on Labor Day against No. 11 Ole Miss in Orlando's Camping World Stadium.

The Gators are also 25th in the coaches' poll. Florida is looking to build on last year's 10-win season that included the SEC East championship. UF's season opener is on Sept. 3 against UMass. 

Please direct any and all criticism to my colleague, Joey Knight. He's an AP voter again; here's his preseason poll. 

Miami received 159 votes and was the first team out of the preseason rankings. USF got two votes. 

The full top 25:

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Oklahoma …

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FSU quarterback Malik Henry suspended for violating team rules

Malik Henry was one of the top players in a 2016 recruiting class that some analysts considered the best in the country.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Malik Henry was one of the top players in a 2016 recruiting class that some analysts considered the best in the country.

Florida State has suspended true freshman quarterback Malik Henry for violating team rules, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters Saturday.

Fisher did not say how long Henry will be out.

Henry was one of the top players in a 2016 recruiting class that some analysts considered the best in the country.

The four-star prospect was the nation's No. 4 pro-style quarterback and No. 47 player overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The California native enrolled at FSU in January.

Henry was expected to redshirt this season, but his absence saps depth from the quarterback position. The most experienced quarterback, senior Sean Maguire, will be out until the second or third game of the season because of a foot injury. That leaves only redshirt sophomore J.J. Cosentino and freshman walk-on Jake Rizzo as the two backups for Deondre Francois.

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Jalen Tabor, C'yontai Lewis to return to Florida Gators on Thursday

EVE EDELHEIT I Times

GAINESVILLE -- Florida Gators star cornerback Jalen Tabor and tight end C'yontai Lewis are expected to return to practice Thursday from their suspension.

Both have been suspended since they fought during practice on Tuesday. They will also miss the Sept. 3 season opener against UMass.

"I want everyone to understand first and foremost these are two really good guys and good teammates," coach Jim McElwain said Friday. "They're valuable members of this football team and this family. And you know what, they're good people. And yet as we go on, there's certain things and levels of expectations that we have in everything that we do...

"We'll look forward to getting those guys back hopefully on Thursday of next week and move forward and support them in every way we can, and yet not enable."

It's the second suspension for Tabor, who also missed last year's game against Tennessee.

A few other notes from Friday's media availability: …

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