Florida football: 5 Gators to watch in the Las Vegas Bowl
Florida closes its 2022 season with the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday against No. 14 Oregon State (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The Gators won’t get the full allotment of bowl practices allowed by the NCAA (15) during bowl season due to the early date of the game. But the Las Vegas Bowl — which will be played at Allegiant Stadium, the NFL home of the Raiders — will feature a number of Gators who are looking to impress their coaches ahead of Billy Napier’s 2nd spring in Gainesville.
With Anthony Richardson declaring for the NFL Draft and opting out of the bowl, the game presents an opportunity for Ohio State transfer Jack Miller III to start his 1st college game at quarterback. Miller, who grew up a huge Gators fan, will live out his dream a short plane ride from his Phoenix-area hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz. Miller’s story is just 1 of a number of intriguing storylines for a Florida team that enters the Las Vegas Bowl an 11-point underdog (as of Wednesday morning) — its largest “underdog” bowl status since the it was an 8-point underdog to a 9-2 UCLA team in the 1987 Aloha Bowl (UCLA won, 20-16).
Here are 5 Gators, including Miller, to watch in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Jack Miller III, QB
Miller grew up a huge fan of Tim Tebow. Fan might be putting it mildly. This was more a source of motivation and pride.
“Do You Remember?!” #5
“That’s the paint from the end zone, it’s not blood folks.”
— Florida Zone (@Florida_Zone) July 25, 2019
There was the wall poster of Tebow’s famous “field paint in the rain” face in a rout of FSU in 2008.
There was the usual “wear his number in Pop Warner” homage.
And then there was the time he met Tebow in 5th grade and went full “Tebow Promise,” telling Tebow he’d work harder than any player in Arizona to become the best quarterback he could be. Thanks to his church pastor, Miller kept in touch with Tebow as he kept his word, becoming a 4-star recruit and signing with Ohio State. Saturday, he gets his chance to do more than keep his word. He gets to start for Tebow’s alma mater in a bowl game. That’s Dreamland stuff, though it will be a tough 1st start against one of the nation’s best defenses.
Derek Wingo, LB
Napier has praised the play and leadership of Wingo in bowl preparation. Wingo addressed the team after a practice last week, and Napier gushed about the young man’s potential and his infectious personality.
“He did a phenomenal job,” Napier said. “We’ve got a handful of players like that that maybe played for the 1st time in their career this season that are returning, and I think there’s an opportunity to build some momentum here. We’re in Year 1. There’s tremendous opportunity that comes with playing a really good Oregon State team in an early bowl game in Vegas.”
Wingo will likely start in place of departing senior Ventrell Miller, who has elected to walk in his graduation ceremony rather than play the bowl game. Miller, one of Florida’s greatest leaders in recent memory, told SDS that “(Wingo) is the type of guy I wanted to carry out my legacy: committed, smart, talented, and just a guy who has to win.” We’ll see him plenty moving forward for the Gators, beginning Saturday.
Austin Barber, OT
Barber may not start. But he’s used to that, as he was typically the 1st offensive tackle off the bench in what became a reliable 7-man rotation for the Gators on the offensive line. Barber, an All-SEC Freshman team selection, made the most of his opportunities. He graded out as the 15th-best offensive tackle in the country, per PFF, with an overall grade of 80.7, the best among SEC freshmen linemen. Richard Gouraige, Florida’s starting left tackle this year, also graded out in the top 50 of NCAA offensive tackles. Gouraige’s decision this week to accept a Senior Bowl invite confirms he will not return for his COVID year in Gainesville, which means even if Barber doesn’t start Saturday, his days as a rotating lineman are numbered. He could do a great deal to secure a starting job with a good game in Sin City.
Ja’Quavion Fraziars, WR
Fraziars showed flashes of what he’s capable of with 4 receptions on 4 targets in Florida’s win at Texas A&M in November. Unfortunately, he was injured making this highlight-reel grab for a touchdown.
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) November 5, 2022
Fraziars, a former 4-star recruit, is an elite leaper (41.5 vertical) with good size. If healthy, he will feature prominently in Florida’s offense next season, especially in the red zone. The Gators lost wide receivers Justin Shorter, who opted out after declaring for the NFL Draft, and Daejon Reynolds (transfer portal) ahead of Saturday’s contest, meaning the door is open for remaining talent like Fraziars to show they are ready to make a mark on the program.
Gervon Dexter Sr., DT
I know, I know.
Why Dexter? Why choose a player playing his final game, when the Las Vegas Bowl is about the future?
That’s simple, really. This is a game about what Napier is building at Florida, and Dexter is a walking, hard-working example of that process. The fact he’s playing, despite declaring for the NFL Draft, is a testament to the way Napier’s message of committing to your teammates and embracing the work has registered in Gainesville.
Let’s go finish it out in Vegas coach ? https://t.co/ML7NxMZPLk
— Gervon Dexter (@GervonDexter) December 6, 2022
Dexter — who had a solid season with 50 tackles, 1 interception, 2 sacks and a team-high command of double teams on 54 percent of snaps per Stats Solutions — felt he needed to give his all for the orange and blue 1 final time. Dexter was 1 of just 7 SEC linemen who commanded double teams on more than 50 percent of their snaps — and his presence gives the Gators as formidable a front as Oregon State has seen this season.
The former 5-star recruit has been just as influential in the locker room as he has been on the field, if not more so.
“Dexter and (Ventrell Miller) are the leaders of this defense, and the reason we improved late in the year. When things went poorly, they kept pushing us, kept playing hard every snap. It’s an example we hope to follow,” defensive end Princely Umanmielen said.
Napier raved about the young man’s character and commitment this week.
“The decision by Gervon to play, that reflects his character,” Napier said. “Gervon is a guy that is a great teammate. He’s a loyal guy who really cares about the team. I just have immense respect for the guy. He’s going to finish up with the team, and I think that reflects, to some degree, the progress that we made this year. We talk about commitment to each other, and this guy, he’s a great teammate and one that I think has a lot of love and respect for the staff and the players. Very proud of Gervon.”