CITY HERE, Fla. Ga. (WTXL) — The pressure is on Billy Napier going into his second year at Florida, especially considering how his first one ended.
The Gators finished 6-7 losing five of their final seven games, and the skid culminated in a 30-3 loss to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Napier’s Gators face an uphill climb in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division, which includes back-to-back national champion Georgia along with a resurgent Tennessee.
“The margin of error is small in this league,” said Napier, whose Gators went 3-5 in SEC play.
Napier will have a new quarterback after starter Anthony Richardson, who accounted for 26 total touchdowns last season, went fourth overall in the NFL draft to the Indianapolis Colts.
Transfer Graham Mertz, a three-year starter at Wisconsin, and Jack Miller III, whose one career start came in place of Richardson in the Las Vegas Bowl, are competing for the starting job ahead of Florida’s Aug. 31 opener at Utah.
“I’ve been very impressed with Graham,” Napier said. “I think Graham’s an accomplished player, but more importantly, I’ve been impressed with the person, the leader. This guy has an incredible motor and work ethic. … That has helped the competition. I think it’s caused Jack to respond.”
Napier knows that Florida fans are accustomed to winning, so another losing season will not go over well in Gainesville. The Gators have not won a bowl game since 2019.
“Gators legend (and former coach) Steve Spurrier said it best when he said this is 'talking season,’” Napier said. “The games are coming, and in the meantime, this group will continue to work like it’s been working.”
SABAN'S ITALIAN VACATION
Alabama coach Nick Saban and wife Terry took a summer trip to Italy, where he figured he would be able to enjoy some downtime in relative anonymity.
He was wrong.
“I thought nobody would know us anywhere that we went, and we got ‘Roll Tided’ everywhere we went,” Saban said. “Even in the Ferrari plant. We had a tour of the Ferrari plant, and these cats don’t even speak English, and we’re getting ‘Roll Tide.’ I guess we must have a pretty decent brand.”
The Sabans’ Italian vacation was a 50th anniversary present that Nick said he “successfully got out of for two years.”
“Didn’t really want to go, but it was a fabulous time,” Saban said.
SEC'S NEW QUOTE MACHINE
When asked if he would replace the late Mike Leach as “college football’s most colorful and entertaining personality,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he “couldn’t come close.” Pittman certainly tried during his time with reporters.At one point, Pittman misheard a reporter who introduced himself as Clark Brooks.“Garth Brooks?” Pittman said. “I was getting ready to get your autograph.”Leach, who died in December 2022 at the age of 61, has been on the minds of SEC coaches this week during the league’s media days. Although Pittman did not know Leach well, he said he nevertheless attended his funeral “because he’d be at mine.”“That’s just what kind of guy he was,” Pittman said. “Incredible man. The game will miss him.”
REUNITED IN KENTUCKY
The last time Mark Stoops was in Nashville, his Kentucky Wildcats lost 21-0 to Iowa in the Music City Bowl. They played without starting quarterback Will Levis and lead running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who sat out while preparing for the draft.Stoops turned to an old friend to get his offense back on track.
Liam Coen returns as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator after holding that position with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams last season.
Under Coen in 2021, the Wildcats ranked fifth in the SEC, averaging 32.3 points per game. Last year, Kentucky scored just 20.4 points per game, worst in the conference.Stoops said it was a big deal to bring back Coen.
“You go back a couple years ago, you see the immediate impact that he had with our offense and the energy and the juice that he had within our building," Stoops said. "I think we both have a lot of trust and belief in each other and confidence in each other.”