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Expect Florida's Big 3 to leave competition in the dust

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001

Now and then, states other than Florida win college football's national championship. Oklahoma did it last season. It's a contemporary joy Nebraska has known. Michigan had a breakthrough. But, on the whole, Sunshine Boys pulverize.

If the "other 49" are honest, they'll admit from Orono to Oahu that Florida's stranglehold is tightening, not loosening. Three for the show. Three for the money. Three in the Top Five (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll).

Other states grunt, grind and grimace to put one school in the running. Notre Dame lusts for highly-ranked rebirth. Ohio State is laboring to come back. Penn State can't keep up. Auburn and Alabama are in a state of highball hunger.

Who can compete with the Sunnies?

Texas thinks it can be No. 1. Nebraska, as usual, has a chance. California is hoping for USC-UCLA resurgence, although Fresno State is outdoing both. Georgia Tech is pretty good. Georgia is headed upward. It's as refreshing as forest air to see Oregon's Ducks thinking they're a threat.

Oklahoma could repeat.

But for depth of power, Florida laps the field with Seminoles, Gators and Hurricanes. For a mini-generation the Sunnies have gone three-deep with stunning potency. There's big-hat envy in Texas. Pennsylvania is scraping to find one team to compete with any of Florida's three.

This morning, Gators and 'Canes play beach volleyball with the No. 1 ranking while the 'Noles -- best program in Florida during the '90s -- are idling at No. 5 after losing a wealth of talent, including Heisman Trophy quarterback Chris Weinke from their 2000 squad.

Stratospheric stature, even in its 19th season, should never be taken for granted. It can't last forever; but I'm beginning to wonder. It's a sweetness that began in 1983 when Miami won its first national championship, leading to seven No. 1 finishes by Florida's mighty troika, plus a half-dozen near misses.

New exams are coming.

Six days away, Florida strongboys in Tallahassee, Coral Gables and Gainesville will experience a Saturday in September with astonishing early-season thump.

UF hosts its constant SEC challenger, Tennessee, which hasn't won at Florida Field since the Nixon administration. FSU meets this season's supposedly toughest ACC competitor, Georgia Tech, at Doak Campbell Stadium. So far, the 'Noles have 9-for-9 championship perfection since joining the league.

UM brings in a worthy opponent from 3,000 miles away, the Washington Huskies, flying six hours for a likely Orange Bowl licking. If the 'Canes, Gators and 'Noles go 3-0 Saturday, it will be, well, expected.

Sunnies are unique.

UPPERCUTS: If there's a sure thing in a new NFL season, it's that replacement zebras will trigger -- today, next weekend or soon -- ugly, game-deciding controversies. ... Good for Pat Summerall, Lake City native and former Florida high school tennis singles champ, who is beginning his 50th season in the NFL, including 10 years as a Lions, Cardinals and Giants defensive end/placekicker and 40 as a renowned broadcaster, lately at John Madden's side for CBS and then Fox. ... Ashley Martin of Jacksonville (Ala.) State received appropriate hurrahs for kicking a PAT, becoming the first woman to score a point in Division I NCAA football. But 30 years ago, I watched a similar, highly-publicized kick in an Orlando semipro game by Pat Palinkas with husband Steve as placement holder. ... Charles Follis is listed as the first African-American to play pro football, in 1902 for Shelby Athletic Club, but the lasting breakthrough wouldn't occur until 1946 when Marion Motley and Bill Willis joined the Cleveland Browns, and the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. They are not nearly as immortalized as Jackie Robinson, who came to baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers a few months later in 1947.

READER'S SHOUT: E-mail from Connie Jenkins of Lakeland asks, "Why do ESPN, CNN and other networks insist on calling our baseball team "Tampa" when the name is "Tampa Bay?" Why do SportsCenter announcers say D-Rays games are being played in Tampa, when the Trop is unquestionably in St. Petersburg?"

HUBERT'S TAKE: Credit it to laziness or geographic idiocy. Producers should have the sense to rectify it. It is accurate to say Bucs and Lightning play in Tampa, but none of the area's big-league franchises has "Tampa" stitched across uniforms.

JABS: Confusion in New England's secondary is possible, with well-traveled former FSU standout Terrell Buckley toting a familiar nickname, "T-Buck," while the chap playing alongside him is Tebucky Jones. ... You wonder, do Tiger Woods and David Duval have swooshes on underwear? ... There's a troubling rumor that the Colts may consider a shift since Los Angeles has no NFL team. Okay, does a historically sneaky franchise use Mayflower vans again, departing Indianapolis under sleeze of night, like from Baltimore not so long ago? ... Martina Hingis is suing a former sponsor, Sergio Tacchini, for $40-million, claiming the company supplied ill-fitting shoes that led to the tennis ace's chronic foot problems. If she collects, I'll consider suing Converse for $8.95 because my black, high-topped Chuck Taylor sneakers caused breathtaking 1950s stinkage.

Whatever happened to Charlie Joiner?

- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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