Gators look to UTEP for new defensive assistant


Exactly a week after Bryant Young abruptly and unexpectedly left the Florida coaching staff, head coach Will Muschamp has reportedly found a replacement.

Following up on speculation over the past 24 hours or so, the Gators announced via a press release Wednesday morning that Jeff Choate has left UTEP for a job with the Gators.  Choate was just hired as the Miners’ defensive coordinator this past January.

At UF, Choate will coach outside linebackers and serve as special teams coordinator.

“We are excited to have Jeff Choate join our staff,” said Muschamp. “He is a high-energy coach, an outstanding recruiter and evaluator, and has a reputation as one of the top special-teams coaches in the nation. He has coached on both sides of the ball and was most recently a defensive coordinator. He sees the big picture and will be a great addition to our staff.

“I got to know Jeff several years ago when I as at Texas and he was at Boise State. He visited Austin and we spent a lot of time talking defensive and special teams schemes. He also visited us in Gainesville last spring and we are very much on the same page philosophically.

Young, who left the program for personal reasons, had served as a defensive line coach since Muschamp took over at UF in 2011.

Prior to one season as linebackers coach at Washington State in 2012, Choate had spent six seasons at Boise State.  Also on that Broncos staff was Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to join the Gator staff and have the chance to compete at the highest level,” said Choate. “I’ve gotten to know Coach Muschamp over the past couple of years and have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach and a person. I’m looking forward to continuing the great special-teams tradition that has been established here and can’t wait to get to work.

“I would also like to thank everyone at UTEP, and most importantly Coach Kugler, for the support and opportunity they gave me. I wish him and the program nothing but the best of luck.”

Choate, who was a candidate for the Idaho head-coaching vacancy last year, becomes the second assistant (kind of) first-year UTEP head coach Sean Kugler has lost to an SEC team in less than three months.  In late January, special teams coordinator Jeff Banks left for the same job at Texas A&M  — after a very brief pit stop at Virginia.

American, ACC announce officiating alliance

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The ACC and the American have struck a deal for a football officiating alliance, the American announced Monday. The new program will see the two conferences cooperate on all things officiating, from training to scheduling to evaluation.

With the move, the ACC’s Dennis Hennigan will oversee the alliance, while the American’s Terry McAulay will step down as the league’s coordinator of football officiating and the American will hire a new supervisor of football officials.

“We are excited to partner with the ACC regarding the administration of our football officiating program,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “This alliance will provide both conferences with a deep roster of the best college football officials and will provide for greater efficiency and consistency in the training and evaluation of officials as well as enhanced opportunities for the recruitment of officials. We look forward to working with Dennis Hennigan, who was regarded as one of the top on-field officials in college football and has since become a leader on the administrative side. I also want to thank Commissioner John Swofford for his cooperation in reaching this mutually beneficial arrangement.”

The new alliance means ACC officials could oversee a Tulane-Tulsa game, while AAC officials would work a Clemson-Georgia Tech game. The ACC-AAC Alliance will go into effect for the 2018 season.

ACC and American team up to improve officiating oversight

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The ACC and American Athletic Conference are coming together with the intent on improving officiating oversight between the two conferences. According to an announcement from the AAC, ACC supervisor of officials Dennis Hennigan will serve as the lead administrator and take on the responsibility of hiring and training officials used in both conferences.

“We are excited to partner with the ACC regarding the administration of our football officiating program,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a released statement. “This alliance will provide both conferences with a deep roster of the best college football officials and will provide for greater efficiency and consistency in the training and evaluation of officials as well as enhanced opportunities for the recruitment of officials.”

The AAC reportedly removed Terry McAulay from his long-time role as the conference’s coordinator of football officiating, a role he held in the old Big East and carried over to the AAC amid conference realignment changes. The AAC confirmed McAulay will no longer be associated with the conference in that role. The statement from the AAC says the conference will hire a new Supervisor of Football Officials that will help manage the officiating in the AAC and act as a go-to contact for coaches around the league.

There is no word on whether or not this alliance will lead to a combined instant replay process with a central command hub for instant replay reviews. Instead, the alliance seems to focus on working with officials to ensure calls are being called consistently throughout each league. Having officials on the same page with calling penalties and managing a game has been a problem with few answers. This likely won’t guarantee a perfectly called game every week in each conference, but it may prove to be a step in the right direction.

Brother of five-star recruit walking on at Florida

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Surely this is all a coincidence and not at all a way to gain a recruiting advantage, but junior college linebacker Umstead Sanders will join the Florida Gators as a walk-on player this year. The Gators do have a need to boost the depth at linebacker, so the addition of a junior college player is a quick and easy fix to address that concern, but there is a little more to the story here. Sanders is also the older brother of Trey Sanders, a five-star running back in the Class of 2019 from Bradenton, Florida.

Umstead Sanders announced he will be joining the Florida program with a message on Twitter over the weekend. He will do so as a preferred walk-on, which will likely lead to him landing a scholarship later this year. Sanders is expected to enroll at Florida this summer, so he is not around for spring football practices already underway in Gainesville. While the addition of a 6′-2″ 240-lb linebacker is nice, the whole thing smells like a package deal pitch to lure Sanders’ younger brother into the program down the line.

Package deal commitments and recruiting strategies have long been a part of the game, so this would hardly be anything new if there is a wink and nod to the recruiting efforts going on at Florida. There are no recruiting rules that could prevent Florida from offering a scholarship to a junior college player with the hope of landing his brother in the next recruiting cycle. Other schools have gone so far as to hire the fathers of certain recruits to hopefully gain an advantage, and making sales pitches to high school teammates and family members with scholarships involved has been a trendy technique some schools have put to good use.

Dan Mullen certainly knows what it takes to revamp the Florida program, and taking advantage of all the recruiting angles he can is fair game.

Louisville and UCF line up future home-and-home series

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Former conference foes will be getting together for a reunion of sorts in 2021 and 2022. Louisville and UCF have agreed to a home-and-home series in those years.

Louisville will host UCF on Sept. 18, 2021. The Knights will host the Cardinals in the second game of the home-and-home scheduling agreement the following season on Sept. 17, 2022.

Louisville and UCF have met just once before, and it came as conference foes back in 2013. Blake Bortles and the Knights pulled an upset on the road against Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater, 38-35, which gave the Knights the path to an American Athletic Conference championship in the first season of the conference’s existence. UCF went on to beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and Louisville ended the year with a Russell Athletic Bowl smackdown of the Miami Hurricanes. After one year as conference foes, Louisville left the AAC to join the ACC and the two schools have not crossed paths since.

The addition of the UCF series will nearly complete Louisville’s nonconference schedule in both seasons with just one vacancy to fill each of those years. Louisville will open the 2021 season in Atlanta against Ole Miss. The Cardinals also continue their regular season rivalry with Kentucky of the SEC in each season. Louisville will also play South Florida in the 2022 season.

Despite the argument from the AAC that it is a power conference, the scheduling of UCF does not satisfy the ACC’s power conference scheduling requirement for its members unless an exception is made. Of course, Louisville playing Kentucky annually meets that requirement.

The addition of Louisville in 2021 and 2022 will ensure UCF will face at least one power conference opponent on an annual basis through 2025 as the future schedules currently show. UCF will play North Carolina and Pittsburgh this upcoming season, Stanford and Pittsburgh in 2019, North Carolina and Georgia Tech in 2020, Texas in 2023, and North Carolina in 2024 and 2025.