Mullen, Gators adapting to life with new QB, playmakers

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HOOVER, Ala. – Florida coach Dan Mullen puts a positive spin on losing his three best offensive playmakers.

The Gators are replacing Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask at quarterback and two first-round NFL draft picks, wide receiver Kadarius Toney and tight end Kyle Pitts. It could mean a big difference in style for an offense that led the nation in passing en route to the SEC East title.

“We’ll be a little bit different offensively, but that’s part of the fun of coaching is being able to adapt and change and build around the players that we have,” Mullen said Monday at Southeastern Conference media days.

It won’t be the first time he’s adapted his offense to a different style of quarterback and personnel. Emory Jones, the likely starter, is more of a dual threat than Trask.

“I don’t know what my bread and butter is because we’ve been all over the place with every different style of quarterback,” Mullen said. “If you go back, even being a coordinator, you go back to the Alex Smiths and the Chris Leaks, through (Tim Tebow), to Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott. There’s been so many different variations.

“I think the key to it is, and one of the reasons we’ve been successful is, never try to take a square peg and put it into a round hole.”

FACE TO FACE

Ed Orgeron made sure he didn’t hire his new coaches without interviewing them in person this time. The LSU coach didn’t do that in hiring defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who lasted one season after the Tigers’ struggled defensively and finished 5-5.

Orgeron said he still would have made that particular hire, but got plenty of face-to-face time with a new group of assistants that includes offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and defensive coordinator Daronte Jones.

“I believed in him, and it just didn’t work,” Orgeron said of Pelini. “I said I would never do that again. Every one of these guys, I interviewed them in person. I had a long interview with them, specific questions that I asked, things that I maybe should have asked or shouldn’t have.”

Orgeron said he did a thorough job of vetting before making the latest hires, including calling their former players.

NEW FACES

There are only four new SEC head coaches but seven are making their media days debuts, at least with their current teams. The event was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

South Carolina’s Shane Beamer took the media days podium for the first time.

The league’s other new coaches include Auburn’s Bryan Harsin, Vanderbilt’s Clark Lea and Tennessee’s Josh Heupel. Lane Kiffin, a former Volunteers coach, is representing Mississippi in Hoover for the first time. Ditto for Mississippi State’s Mike Leach and Arkansas’ Sam Pittman.

BEAMER INTEREST

Shane Beamer’s father, Frank, never ventured into the SEC as a coach but the overtures did come – even from Alabama.

The Crimson Tide had the head job come open fairly frequently before landing coach Nick Saban in 2007, cycling through coaches like Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula. Longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer did get contacted, his son said.

“I can remember a couple times that the Alabama job came open, Alabama reaching out to him at Virginia Tech for sure,” Beamer said.

FLORIDA BOUND

Alabama will make its first visit to Gainesville, Florida, in a decade on Sept. 18. Mullen would like more such games, which are relatively rare because of the teams each having annual dates with an opponent in the other division.

The Tide plays Tennessee from the East annually and Florida faces LSU.

“I’d love us to maybe do away with the permanent crossover team so you get these type of games more often,” Mullen said. “I think for the players, for the fan bases, I really think it’s exciting to see some more of maybe mixing up the teams from the west and playing two different teams each year instead of a permanent crossover. I think that would be really exciting so you get this matchup.”

The teams have met a whopping 10 times in the SEC championship game, including last season. Alabama won that one 52-46.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”