Ryan Young/SEC Country
Florida coach Jim McElwain looks to make a statement right off the bat in 2017 against Michigan.

ESPN: Florida Gators are playing in 2 of highest stakes games this football season

Welcome to another installment of Good Morning, Gators, SEC Country’s daily morning column covering Florida athletics with Florida beat writer Jordan McPherson. Today, we look at where a couple of Florida football’s games rank in terms of national importance, a ceremonial first pitch at the Gators baseball series opener and more.

High stakes Florida football matchups

ESPN.com on Wednesday released an article listing the 10 college football games that have the highest stakes for the 2017 season. The Florida Gators are involved in two of them.

ESPN writers Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg ranked Florida’s annual rivalry game with Florida State at No. 2, while the Gators’ season opener with Michigan in Arlington, Texas, is not far behind at No. 5.

The Gators have lost their last four games against Florida State by a combined score of 199-41 and have not scored an offensive touchdown against the Seminoles in the first two meetings with Jim McElwain as the head coach. Here’s what ESPN had to say:

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has owned the state of Florida since taking over in Tallahassee in 2010. He’s 17-1 against in-state opponents, including a 13-1 mark against Florida and Miami. The Seminoles have beaten the Gators four straight times, and the last two were by a combined 43 points. Even with back-to-back SEC East Division championships, the last thing Florida’s Jim McElwain needs is another beatdown at The Swamp at the hands of the Seminoles. Everybody in the state of Florida is chasing FSU right now, and the Seminoles’ recruiting speaks for itself. The only way to slow down that runaway train is to start beating them on the field.

Meanwhile, Florida’s Sept. 2 matchup with Michigan will likely set the tone for McElwain’s third season at UF, one that could be viewed as a make-or-break year from the fan base’s perspective. The last time these two teams played, Michigan routed Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl to close out McElwain’s first season. Here are ESPN’s thoughts on the game:

Few coaches have come into college football and moved the needle as swiftly as Jim Harbaugh, whether he’s sparring with other coaches on Twitter, hobnobbing with the pope in Rome, or making Michigan relevant again. In his first two seasons, he is 5-5 against teams that finished the year ranked in the AP Top 25, and has won 10 games both seasons. He has yet to beat Ohio State, though, and Michigan dropped three of its last four games to end last season. So, beating up on the SEC and Florida for the second time in three years (the Wolverines routed the Gators 41-7 in the 2016 Citrus Bowl) would be a nice start to Year No. 3 for Harbaugh. And from the Florida perspective, what better way for coach Jim McElwain to kick off his third season than to exact a little revenge on the Wolverines?

Both games are of vital importance for McElwain to prove that he can consistently compete with the upper echelon of the college football ranks. In his first two years as Florida’s head coach, McElwain is 3-7 against top-25 opponents.

Nick Washington’s first pitch

Florida S Nick Washington has the opportunity to showcase his athletic versatility at the Florida baseball team’s game series opener against Kentucky.

Washington, a redshirt senior on the football team, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to start Florida’s regular-season finale, a three-game set that will have a major impact in determining the SEC regular-season champion.

This isn’t Washington’s first experience with baseball, though. The Jacksonville native played as an outfielder for his Trinity Christian Academy team.

Washington is the second Florida student-athlete to throw out a first pitch at a Gators baseball game this season. Basketball player and SEC Sixth Man of the Year Canyon Barry used his signature underhand free-throw style to open Florida’s series against South Carolina.

Speaking of baseball …

D1baseball.com and Baseball America released their latest Field of 64 projections on Wednesday, and Florida is holding firm in the middle of the pack when it comes to the top 8 national seeds.

D1baseball has Florida as the No. 4 overall seed, with Central Florida, North Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman coming to Gainesville. The website has Florida’s regional paired with the Winston-Salem regional hosted by Wake Forest.

Baseball America projects the Gators to be the No. 5 overall seed and pairs Florida with the Clemson regional. As far as the competition in Gainesville for the opening weekend? Baseball America says Louisiana Tech will join in-state UCF and Bethune-Cookman at McKethan Stadium.

What they’re saying on Twitter

Florida QB Luke Del Rio:

Florida P Johnny Townsend:

SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears:

Olympian and former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte:

Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin:


Men’s tennis ready for NCAA Round of 16

After two sweeps on its home court to open the NCAA Tournament, the No. 15 seed Florida men’s tennis team continues its postseason run with a Round-of-16 matchup with second-seeded Virginia at 9 a.m. in Athens, Ga. The Gators, who are looking to reach the quarterfinals for the second straight season, dropped a 5-2 decision to the Cavaliers earlier in the season.


Men’s golf’s season ends at NCAA regional

The Florida men’s golf team saved its worst round of the season for its last.

The Gators, seeded No. 1 in the NCAA West Lafayette Regional, closed out its season by shooting a 24-over 312 on Wednesday. The score dropped Florida to eighth place and ended the team’s season.

The 24-over score was 9 strokes higher than the Gators’ previous worst round of the season at the Southern Highlands Collegiate (15-over 303).

“It was the most disappointing day we’ve all ever had on a golf course,” third-year Florida coach J.C. Deacon said in a release. “Not in a million rounds did I ever think this could happen to this team.”


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