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College Gridiron 365

Sunshine State Standings: Power Rank the State

Jae Fortune

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© sportsclubflorida.com | Kevyn Bryant II

WHERE DO WE STAND

Do power rankings reserve the right to be dramatic, and disrespectful?

Yes, of course.

1. UCF

On Saturday, the best college football program in the state of Florida lost. Before traveling to Greenville, North Caroline, the Knights (5-2) were undefeated in conference play, and coming off an 70 point home victory. Unfortunately, that performance would not be repeated against East Carolina, and Gus Malzahn’s Knights would score a season-low total during their 13-34 defeat. That said, the Knights are still enjoying a successful season, especially in comparison to Florida’s other large D-1 football teams.

As the countdown to UCF’s introduction into the B12 conference continues, the Knights emerge from the last three years with a brand stronger than ever. Indeed, ‘Orlando’s Hometown Team’ is one of Florida’s only programs not in a rebuild year. More importantly, there’s much to be said about overcoming adversity. A win steak does not equal a successful team, but learning from mistakes and avoiding them later in the season, certainly does.

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Last season, the Knights shocked the Mullen-less Gators, while bowling in Tampa Bay — We’ll see how they end this year. UCF’s next game is against bitter conference rival, nationally-ranked Cincinnati (6-1) in Orlando.

2. UF

Speaking of the Gators.

Since Coach Billy Napier’s celebratory arrival last November, things have gone as expected in Gainesville. A rebuilding project that will require more than an enthusiastic approach to recruiting, has Napier’s unranked Gators (4-3) at the bottom of the SEC East. Considering they compete in the toughest conference in college athletics, the Gators are still dangerously talented, and look far more competitive than last year – unfortunately, several of Florida’s traditional adversaries are contenders this season. Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU and Missouri have all taken advantage of a program that still finding itself. Even lowly USF (1-6) has threated an upset.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M and South Carolina still loom as tests that will tell us exactly how much work is still needed. Regardless, Florida has found their coach, and are taking the right steps toward reestablishing a winning culture in the Swamp.

Unfortunately, UF’s next test is a business-trip to Jacksonville, against the reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs (7-0). I don’t see that trip going very well.

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3. FSU

Meanwhile in the state’s capital city, Coach Mike Norvell has an shockingly similar scenario on his plate. Much like their scaly foes to the Southwest, Florida State’s season kicked off with a electrifying, marque win, over a talented LSU team in New Orleans. Ever since that high note, however, it’s been inconsistency and loses to the likes of Louisville, Clemson and NC State.

This season’s version of Florida State football is far from a train wreck, but until the Seminoles can show an ability to close out games, and execute under pressure, my short-term expectations remain low. On a positive note, Coach Norvell has managed to consistently increase the ‘Noles win total from his first season (2-6), more than doubling it the following season.

Although, in fairness, former coach Willie Taggart’s last season in Tallahassee (6-7) continues to better than any season total during the Norvell era thus far. Next, FSU returns to regular season play against Georgia Tech at Doak Cambell Stadium.

4. FAMU

It wasn’t a pretty start for the Rattlers.

A tough pre-season loss for an undermanned FAMU in Chapel Hill, was immediately followed by a far more demoralizing loss to Jackson State in conference play, instantly setting FAMU’s post-season hopes in limbo. Fortunately, Coach Willie Simmons never ceased control of his team, or their season, leading the Rattlers to 5-2, and second place in the conference. Now, with Florida A&M finally naming an athletic director, and the Rattlers on a five game win streak heading into Classic Weekend, we can give this program the credit it’s due for saving this season.

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FAMU celebrates homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 29, and welcome the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-5) to Bragg Memorial.

5. FAU

Truthfully, my biggest issue with FAU (3-5) is the fact that their head coach position is dedicated to a donor family, which just feels weird. That aside, the Owls have quietly stacked several consecutive 5+ win seasons, even in the wake of the Lane Kiffin departure to Ole Miss, and the arrival of Willie Taggart.

Coming off a stunning loss in El Paso, FAU faces a challenging UAB (4-3) team, as they attempt to regain their balance in the final stretch of the regular season.

 

 

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6. FIU

Believe it or not.

Even in a rebuilding year, under a first-year coach, Florida International (3-4) might be the better of the two Miami schools on this list. At least they haven’t lost to Middle Tennessee yet. As the Panthers hunt for a fourth win on the season, FIU welcomes Louisiana Tech (2-5) to Westchester, Miami-Dade next.

7. Central Senior High School (Miami)

Am I facetious, and perhaps even disrespectful, for putting high school teams on this list? Yes.

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But, a better question, is Central Senior High School (8-0) one of the best-run football programs in the country? Absolutely. Currently, the Rockets are undefeated, ranked as the number team in the State of Florida, and are the third best team in the nation, according to MaxPreps. And this is not a random good season. Central has been a perennial power for decades, and is the alma mater of Willis McGahee, Antonio Brown, Devonta Freeman, Dalvin Cook, and so many other NFL greats.

8. Apopka High School (Orlando)

While not boasting an undefeated team this year like Miami Central, or even hometown rival Edgewater, Apopka showcases a program that built to last. Even in a year that should be a rebuild (ahem), APK’s culture continues to carry the Blue Darters to wins.

This comment from a Darter following Apopka’s 21-17 upset of district frontrunner Lake Mary, explains the Blue Darter phenomena better than I ever could.

9. Miami

See my tweet above.

It’s still a slow, grueling rebuild in Coral Gables, just now without a chain. While Mario Cristobal’s arrival as the South Beach Messiah was source for jubilation in the preseason, reality has set finally in. Sitting at a beleaguered (3-4), and after enduring three consecutive losses at “home”, the Canes’ shortcomings have severely dampened the mood. Hurricane fans thought their rebuild could resemble Apopka’s orderly reloading process, but the foundation simply isn’t there yet.

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So, as surprising as Miami’s faceplant versus a basketball school was, sometimes hitting rock-bottom is a necessary part of the rebuilding process. And losing to Middle Tennessee was rock-bottom, so take solace in knowing things can’t get much worse. Cristobal is better equipped for this job than most, but it’s still a job. My word of advise to that older Hurricane fan from the elevator is to be patient, and hopefully ‘the U’ can be where FAMU is in a few years time. In the meantime, focus on Virginia (3-4).

But, on a positive note for Miami fans, at least the Hurricanes beat Bethune-Cookman.

10. Bethune-Cookman

I would love to rank the Wildcats higher, but Bethune-Cookman seems hell-bent on a second consecutive losing season since entering their conference. Florida’s most popular HBCU program (after Florida A&M) has consistency underachieved and regressed since their 2015 MEAC conference championship. And it’s not a talent issue either.

HBCU football is better when BCU is competitive. Unfortunately, only the administration can make the changes necessary to move Bethune-Cookman up this list.

 

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WHAT DID WE MISS?

Cookman and Miami fans,

We still love you guys. Make sure to include any suggestions, honorable mentions, or your angry responses in the comment section, or tweet me.

 

Special thanks to Dia Brown for her contributions to this piece. 

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College Gridiron 365

Kansas State Triumphs 28-19 Over NC State in Pop-Tarts Bowl Clash

Kevyn Bryant II

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© sportsclubflorida.com | Kevyn Bryant II

Kansas State emerges victorious with a 28-19 win over NC State in the highly anticipated Pop-Tarts Bowl, setting Orlando abuzz with excitement.

Despite a valiant effort in the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Thursday night, the Wolfpack fell short in overcoming an early deficit, succumbing to Kansas State with a final score of 28-19.

The Wolfpack concludes their season with a 9-4 record, narrowly missing the chance to etch their name in school history with only the second 10-win campaign. The elusive feat was last achieved in 2002 with Philip Rivers at the helm, guiding the team to an impressive 11-3 record.

Facing the challenge without their All-America linebacker Payton Wilson, who opted to sit out the game in preparation for the draft, the No. 19 NC State struggled to contain the running game early on. The Pack found themselves in a tough spot as Wildcats quarterback Avery Johnson connected with DJ Giddens for a 37-yard score on fourth down, establishing a 7-0 lead.

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With Wilson absent from the lineup, Kansas State exploited the gap, amassing 258 yards on the ground, with Giddens contributing 151 yards. Despite NC State quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s 31-yard touchdown run against Kansas State on Thursday night, the Wolfpack was unable to seize control, never holding an advantage and only narrowing the gap to a two-point margin.

At the close of the second quarter, Kansas State maintained a lead of 21-7, with the halftime score standing at 21-10. NC State injected some intrigue into the game in the third quarter with a bit of trickery. Trent Pennix’s 60-yard touchdown run off a fake punt reduced the deficit to 21-19 with 1:50 left in the period.

The Wolfpack’s attempt to level the score was thwarted as Armstrong was taken down during the two-point conversion attempt. In his inaugural game as a freshman, quarterback Johnson, stepping in after Will Howard’s departure, threw for 178 yards, ran for an additional 71 yards, and orchestrated a decisive 15-play, 72-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

The game-clinching moment came as Jayce Brown secured an 8-yard TD pass from Johnson with a mere 2:48 left on the clock. Any hopes of a Wolfpack comeback were dashed when Parrish intercepted Armstrong on their subsequent offensive play.

Armstrong’s performance in the final game included running for 121 yards, scoring one touchdown, and passing for 164 yards. The Wildcats of Kansas State concluded the season with a commendable 9-4 record.

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College Gridiron 365

USF Bulls Secure Bowl Glory: Crush Syracuse 45-0

Kevyn Bryant II

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© sportsclubflorida.com | Kevyn Bryant II

In a spectacular display of prowess, the USF football team, under first-year head coach Alex Golesh, ended its season on a high note with a resounding 45-0 victory over Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl. The win marked USF’s first bowl victory since 2017 and a significant turnaround, securing a winning record for the first time since 2018.

The Bulls’ defense played a pivotal role in the triumph, forcing four turnovers, including two scoop-and-score touchdowns, and orchestrating their first complete game shutout since 2009. Defensive MVP Daquan Evans led the charge with five tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble returned for a touchdown. Special Teams MVP Aamaris Brown-Bunkley contributed by returning a botched field goal attempt for a touchdown and adding three tackles.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown, named Offensive MVP, delivered a stellar performance, completing 19 of 26 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. Brown also showcased his versatility by rushing for a team-best 64 yards on 14 carries and even catching a 21-yard pass from Sean Atkins. Brown became only the second Bull to surpass 4,000 total yards in a season, finishing with 4,101 yards.

Atkins, the Bulls’ first 1,000-yard receiver, secured six passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulls’ offensive prowess propelled them to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. Brown’s connection with Atkins and a 31-yard touchdown pass to Khafre Brown highlighted the offensive dominance. John Cannon’s 40-yard field goal further extended the lead to 24-0.

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The defense continued its relentless performance, with Evans forcing another fumble, and Tramel Logan returning it 61 yards for a touchdown, making it 31-0 at halftime. USF’s defense held Syracuse to just 159 yards, 10 punts, and a mere nine first downs throughout the game, limiting them to 1-of-17 on third downs.

The second half saw Tavin Ward intercepting Syracuse’s first possession, setting up Brown for a 35-yard touchdown pass to Atkins, further widening the gap to 38-0. Nay’Quan Wright’s two-yard touchdown plunge in the early fourth quarter sealed the deal at 45-0.

The victory marked USF’s largest margin of victory in a bowl game and its fourth bowl win against an autonomous “power” conference program. The Bulls outgained Syracuse 407 to 159, with notable individual achievements from Brown, Atkins, and Logan.

Looking ahead, USF has already welcomed 25 new recruits on the first day of the NCAA Early Signing period, securing a top-class ranking in The American and among non-autonomous “power” programs. The Bulls will shift their focus to spring practice in March, building on the momentum gained from their outstanding Boca Raton Bowl triumph.

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College Gridiron 365

USF Bulls Secure Bowl Berth with Dominant Victory Over Charlotte

Kevyn Bryant II

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© sportsclubflorida.com | Kevyn Bryant II

In a triumphant display on Senior Night at Raymond James Stadium, the USF football team (6-6; 4-4 American) punched their ticket to the postseason, securing a resounding 48-14 victory over Charlotte (3-9; 2-6 American). The Bulls celebrated not only the achievements of 16 seniors but also the program’s 11th bowl berth, marking the end of a drought since 2018.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown led the charge with another stellar performance, throwing for 253 yards and four touchdowns. Brown’s remarkable day also included 43 yards rushing and a touchdown, making him the first Bull to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season, with his 2023 total reaching an impressive 3,078.

A standout throughout the season, wide receiver Sean Atkins continued his impressive run, logging his seventh-straight game with seven or more receptions. Atkins made seven grabs for 61 yards and a touchdown. Notably, he also showcased his versatility by throwing a 62-yard touchdown pass, becoming the first Bull since 1998 to both catch and throw a touchdown in a single game.

Running back Michel Dukes contributed significantly to the offensive prowess, running for a career-best 104 yards on 15 carries. The Bulls’ offensive excellence was complemented by a robust defensive effort that saw Logan Berryhill securing his third interception of the season, while Mac Harris and Daquan Evans notched their first interceptions.

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Jhalyn Shuler and D.J. Harris led the defensive charge with nine tackles each, playing a crucial role in holding Charlotte to less than 300 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers.

The turning point in the game came just 20 seconds into the second half when Brown connected with Jaden Alexis on a deep pass. Alexis, in a spectacular display of skill, spun his defender around and zigzagged for a 60-yard touchdown, giving USF a commanding 28-7 lead.

Although Charlotte managed a response with a 47-yard touchdown pass to Jairus Mack, the Bulls remained undeterred. Brown orchestrated a drive resulting in a field goal and followed it up with a daring onside kick, which USF successfully recovered at their own 46. Brown then capped off the drive with a 35-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 38-14.

As the Bulls continued to dominate, John Cannon added his second field goal of the day, and USF entered the fourth quarter with a commanding 41-14 lead. The victory marked a five-win turnaround from the previous year, the largest in program history, and a return to the bowl season for the Bulls.

Reflecting on the game and the historic season turnaround, USF fans began to celebrate a bright future for their football program. The Bulls now eagerly await the official announcement of their bowl destination on December 3, savoring the prospect of postseason action for the first time in five seasons.

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