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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. Was this Nick Saban's finest moment?


    ATLANTA —Technically, Alabama coach Nick Saban only tied the legendary Bear Bryant when he earned his sixth career national championship early Tuesday morning.

    But that's not quite right. When backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit receiver DeVonta Smith for the game-winner in overtime, Saban passed Bryant as the greatest coach the sport has ever seen — no matter what he says. ...

  2. Roll with it: Alabama wins in overtime


    ATLANTA — For one of the first times in the Nick Saban era, Alabama was reeling.

    Georgia had shut out Saban's Crimson Tide in the first half of Monday's College Football Playoff national championship. The Bulldogs' offense was starting to click, while Alabama's special teams continued to lag.

    Dynastic 'Bama looked timid on a stage it knew well, while Georgia looked hungry for its first national title in 37 years. ...

  3. Alabama-Georgia CFP title game journal: Nick Saban looking Bear-like


    ATLANTA — Tonight's national championship game will be peak Nick Saban.

    Not just because an Alabama victory will give the coach a sixth national title, tying him with the legendary Bear Bryant for the most in college football history.

    Not just because his Crimson Tide will be competing against Georgia — a program built like 'Bama and run by his former assistant, Kirby Smart....

  4. Alabama's Jeremy Pruitt juggles CFP title game vs. Georgia and new job with Vols


    ATLANTA — No matter what Jeremy Pruitt has been doing for the past month, he has felt a little guilty.

    Maybe he was studying College Football Playoff film as Alabama's defensive coordinator. Then he wasn't focused on his other job — rebuilding and repairing Tennessee as the Volunteers' new coach.

    Or maybe he was talking to candidates for his staff in Knoxville. Then he wasn't helping 'Bama and Nick Saban, the man who brought him into the college football coaching world a decade ago....

  5. College Football Playoff: Why Georgia, not Florida? Here's six reasons


    ATLANTA — When Georgia hired Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs were taking a calculated risk.

    Smart had never been a head coach before, at any level. But he knew the school. He knew the league. And after watching Nick Saban run his famed Process as Alabama's defensive coordinator, Georgia thought he could do the same in Athens.

    Twenty-five months and two days later, Smart will be coaching against his old boss in Monday's College Football Playoff national championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium....

  6. Like it or not, strength of schedule an issue for Group of Five teams


    After staying relatively quiet about a system stacked against it, UCF started to speak out about the College Football Playoff after capping off its perfect season with a Peach Bowl victory.

    "Only thing we can do is keep winning games, and I don't think we have any more games left to win," standout linebacker and Lakewood High alumnus Shaquem Griffin told reporters after a New Year's Day win over Auburn. "I guess to the (selection) committee, it's just what more can we do?"...

  7. Orange Bowl: Wisconsin rallies past Miami


    MIAMI GARDENS — No. 11 Miami's first Orange Bowl appearance since 2003 summed up the Hurricanes' season.

    There was the promising start, fueled by speedy athletes and the turnover chain.

    And then there was the fall — an ugly descent that made Wisconsin's up-and-down quarterback look like a star and left mild-mannered coach Mark Richt fuming on the sideline.

    The Hurricanes' third consecutive double-digit loss, Saturday's 34-24 defeat, ended up as an affirmation of what their first two showed. Yes, Miami is better, but the 'Canes aren't yet back among the sport's elite....

  8. Orange Bowl: Matt Baker's takeaways from Miami-Wisconsin


    Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor is the real deal. With 85 first-half rushing yards Saturday, he passed Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson (1,925) for most by a freshman in Division I-A history. He'll be on the short list of Heisman contenders next year.

    Not sure anyone has seen Miami coach Mark Richt as angry as he got in the second quarter over an apparent holding no-call. Richt grabbed an official and was flagged for unsportsmanlike but not ejected.

    What happened to Miami's great defense? Wisconsin's maligned QB, Alex Hornibrook, threw three first-half touchdowns in a 21-point second quarter and totaled four....

  9. Orange Bowl: Mark Richt, Miami look for leap into elite


    FORT LAUDERDALE — Miami coach Mark Richt ticked off the list of things at stake for his No. 11 Hurricanes in tonight's Orange Bowl against No. 6 Wisconsin.

    Eleven victories for the first time since 2003. A top-10 finish to fuel a loaded 2018 recruiting class. A chance to end the season on a positive note after back-to-back double-digit losses.

    Here's one more: The Hurricanes get another opportunity to try to excel on the big stage — something they must learn to do if they're going to return to glory and resume competing for national championships. ...

  10. College football coaches feel rush of early signing period


    While it might take a few cycles to understand the effects of college football's early signing period, here are a few things learned in the 72-hour inaugural run that ended Friday:

    It looks like it will largely replace the traditional February signing day.

    "Well, it did today," Miami coach Mark Richt told reporters Wednesday.

    More than two-thirds (201) of ESPN's top 300 recruits in the country signed Wednesday, with 11 more signing by Friday. Richt's Hurricanes landed a dozen of them, plus seven others as part of the nation's No. 6 class. The top four teams (Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Penn State) signed a combined 81 recruits, filling most of their classes, too. Minnesota signed 25 — an entire class,...

  11. Temple takes down Florida International 28-3 in Gasparilla Bowl


    ST. PETERSBURG — Temple used a dominant defense and a gritty performance from quarterback Frank Nutile to earn its third bowl win in program history, a 28-3 victory Thursday night over Florida International in the Gasparilla Bowl.

    Nutile ran for a touchdown and threw for another, and the Owls (7-6) hounded FIU (8-5) with seven sacks, the most for a bowl game at Tropicana Field.

    "This is not the first time they have stepped up," said Temple coach Geoff Collins, a former Gators defensive coordinator. "They've done it all year long."...

  12. Matt Baker's takeaways from the Gasparilla Bowl


    Tough break for Florida International QB Alex McGough. The Gaither High alumnus spent his entire four-year career trying to get to a bowl game … then injures his left shoulder on the Panthers' first drive.

    Critics who say there are too many bowl games can point to this sequence: FIU recovered a Temple lateral (which was reviewed). On the next play, Temple picked off an FIU pass that bounced off WR Darrius Scott's helmet. That, too, was reviewed.

    I'm not too bothered by a bowl game in St. Petersburg bearing the Gasparilla name, but I can't get past Bad Boy Mowers as the sponsor of a game played on turf....

  13. Early win for Dan Mullen, Gators: flipping a top QB recruit


    GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Dan Mullen was sitting in Emory Jones' living room when he pointed out the full-circle nature of recruiting.

    Mullen's staff at Mississippi State was the first program to offer Jones a scholarship. Two and a half years later, his Gators were one of the last pursuing the four-star quarterback.

    "God works in funny ways sometimes," Mullen said.

    Whether it was divine intervention or just persistent recruiting, Jones signed with UF on Wednesday, the first day of the inaugural early signing period. He gives UF a dual-threat talent who will try to stabilize a position that began slipping after Mullen left to take over the Bulldogs after the 2008 national title....

  14. Gasparilla Bowl: Curtain call for Florida International brother act


    CLEARWATER —Years before they arrived at Florida International, Alex and Shane McGough played football with each other in the backyard of their Carrollwood home.

    Alex was the quarterback. Shane was his center.

    So it's fitting that in what will almost certainly be the brothers' final game together, that's the way it will end — with senior Alex taking snaps from his redshirt freshman Shane, 40 miles from home at Tropicana Field in Thursday's Gasparilla Bowl....

  15. What to expect from the first early signing period for football


    If you're not sure what to expect when football's inaugural signing period begins Wednesday, you're not alone.

    Coaches don't, either.

    Here are some things to know and look out for on what is becoming one of the most important days of the college football year.

    What is the early signing period?

    It's a 72-hour window where football players can sign binding agreements with colleges. Previously, football recruits had to wait until February to formalize their commitments and sign with schools....