No. 10: Florida
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 23, 2010
When it comes down to it, Steve Spurrier will always have one fact over Urban Meyer: when push came to shove, Spurrier’s Gators withstood all comers, dominating the SEC nearly unopposed from 1993-2000. Meyer’s Gators have rapidly been surpassed by Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, if last season’s SEC title game is to be believed. The team, manhandled, pushed around, embarrassed, its leader in tears along the sidelines. The coach, demoralized, sent to a short-lived retirement by Alabama’s dominance. Embellishment? I think not. Let’s get one thing straight: Spurrier didn’t head for the hills when Alabama knocked off his Gators in 1992; he built a dynasty on its foundation, in fact.
13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 4
- Sept. 11
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 25
- Oct. 2
- Oct. 9
- Oct. 16
- Oct. 30
Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
- Nov. 6
- Nov. 13
- Nov. 20
- Nov. 27
at Florida St.
Last year’s prediction
Without a doubt, U.F. is poised to be even better than it was in 2008, if that’s possible. So why do I have Florida second? Well, the very idea of ranking the entire 120 teams in the F.B.S. in the preseason is a ridiculous notion (this isn’t the first time I’ve considered this notion), as is predicting which team would defeat the other in a hypothetical title game, but I really like Texas – I gave it away! – to win its second national championship of the decade.
In a nutshell A perfect season, until Alabama came around. Yet even at 12-0, these Gators weren’t up the level set by the 2008 championship-winning team. Games were closer. The Gators played down to some of their opposition, such as in a narrow, questionable win over Arkansas and a sloppy win over Mississippi State. I’m splitting hairs here, at least somewhat. The Gators still dominated on both sides of the ball, scoring more than 500 points and allowing less than 200 points for the second consecutive season. The Gators still finished the regular season 12-0, though only one win came against Top 25 competition. There was also some guy — the name escapes me — playing quarterback… he was pretty good. We knew the Tebow era was coming to a close; we didn’t think, had no way of knowing, that the Meyer era might end along with it. The quarterback is gone, the coach returns. Concerns might not abound, but there are a few issues to address.
High point Not quite the dominating regular season as the Gators had in 2008, though Florida did put the clamps down on Georgia and Florida State for the second consecutive season. When Florida put its complete game together – as it did against Georgia and F.S.U. – it was as untouchable as any team in the country. When the Gators played down to their opposition, such as they did against Mississippi State and Arkansas – they were surprisingly inefficient.
Low point The loss to Alabama. An utter disaster. Forget about how the Tide played older brother for 60 minutes, completely manhandling the Gators from snap to whistle. Think about this: with the win, Alabama staked its claim as the SEC program to watch for the foreseeable future – or until Nick Saban gets bored.
Tidbit Florida won six games against F.B.S. competition by 23 points or more in 2009, down from 10 such victories in 2008. In addition, nine of those 10 blowout wins in 2008 came against B.C.S. conference competition, compared to four of the six last fall. All told, Florida scored 109 fewer points in 2009 than it did in 2008.
Tidbit (turnovers edition) Florida has turned the ball over 81 times over the last five years, the lowest total in the country. As a barometer, take note that Miami (Ohio), Florida’s opponent in the season opener, turned the ball over 36 times just last season. On the other side of the ball, Florida’s 94 interceptions since 2005 ranks third nationally, trailing only Boston College, 98, and Boise State, 95. More five-year notes? Over that span, Florida has allowed only 252 punt return yards, the fewest in the nation; allowed 73.2 percent of opposing red zone trips to end in scores, third-best nationally; and allowed 95.1 yards per game on the ground, sixth-best nationally. When did Urban Meyer appear in Gainesville? Five years ago, of course.
Former players in the N.F.L.
43 DE Alex Brown (New Orleans), WR Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati), OG Cooper Carlisle (Oakland), DT Joe Cohen (Detroit), WR Riley Cooper (Philadelphia), LB Channing Crowder (Miami), DE Jermaine Cunningham (New England), LB Andra Davis (Buffalo), DE Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati), WR Jabar Gaffney (Denver), RB Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay), QB Rex Grossman (Washington), CB Joe Haden (Cleveland), DE Derrick Harvey (Jacksonville), WR Percy Harvin (Minnesota), TE Aaron Hernandez (New England), TE Cornelius Ingram (Philadelphia), WR Chad Jackson (Buffalo), RB Brandon James (Indianapolis), FB Billy Latsko (San Diego), S Marquand Manuel (Detroit), DE Bobby McCray (New Orleans), DT Ray McDonald (San Francisco), C Drew Miller (St. Louis), DE Jeremy Mincey (Jacksonville), RB Kestahn Moore (Kansas City), LB Jarvis Moss (Denver), WR Louis Murphy (Oakland), S Reggie Nelson (Jacksonville), WR David Nelson (Buffalo), LB Mike Peterson (Atlanta), C Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh), CB Lito Sheppard (Minnesota), LB Brandon Siler (San Diego), LB Brandon Spikes (New England), OT Max Starks (Pittsburgh), RB Fred Taylor (New England), QB Tim Tebow (Denver), DT Marcus Thomas (Denver), OT Phil Trautwein (St. Louis), DT Gerard Warren (New England), OT Jason Watkins (Buffalo), S Major Wright (Chicago).
Arbitrary top five list
Actors born in Florida, with notable work
1. Sidney Poitier, “In the Heat of the Night.”
2. Johnny Depp, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
3. Faye Dunaway, “Chinatown.”
4. Catherine Keener, “Being John Malkovich.”
5. Wesley Snipes, “Major League.”
Urban Meyer (Cincinnati ’86), 57-10 after five seasons with the Gators. It was nearly five and done for Meyer, who momentarily stepped down from this position following Florida’s loss in the SEC title game, citing health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family. His sabbatical lasted only a few days, though Meyer did not lead the Gators onto the field in their Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati. This period was confusing, raising doubts that Meyer can be viewed as a long-term answer as the face of the program. If we look merely at his record, however, all Meyer has done in his five seasons with the program is win a pair of national championships, each with a different starting quarterback, and raise Florida squarely into the nation’s elite after a short lull of mediocrity. While it is his work with the Gators that has earned him his national stature, Meyer was a highly successful coach at two non-B.C.S. conference stops prior to arriving in Gainesville. His first stop was at Bowling Green, from 2001-2, where Meyer and the Falcons went 17-6, 11-5 in conference play. From 2003-4, Meyer led Utah to a 22-2 record, including a perfect 12-0 season in 2004 that culminated in a B.C.S. bowl win over Pittsburgh. It was very clear during his second season, as the Utes were gaining national recognition, that Meyer was eventually going to be coaching for one of the big programs in the country. Though Notre Dame, where Meyer spent five years as an assistant — the wide receivers coach from 1996-2000 — came calling, Meyer opted to go to Florida, which was a solid choice for all parties. In addition to his time with the Fighting Irish, Meyer also served as an assistant at Illinois State (1988-89) and Colorado State (1990-95).
Tidbit (coaching edition) There are four new additions to the U.F. coaching staff. One guy steps right under the microscope: new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. He comes to Gainesville from the N.F.L., where for the last three years Austin served as cornerbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals. Before that, Austin spent another four years holding the same position for the Seattle Seahawks. These N.F.L. hires are often hit and miss; sometimes they pan out wonderfully — check out Bo Pelini at Nebraska in 2003, or Monte Kiffin last fall — sometimes the new coach struggles in his transition to the college game. Other new hires: wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, most recently of Central Michigan; running backs coach Stan Drayton, most recently of Syracuse; and linebackers coach and special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin, most recently of Stanford. Drayton’s name stands out, of course. He was a part of Meyer’s first championship staff in 2006.
Players to watch
Tim Tebow was really good. John Brantley won’t be that good. Brantley has long been projected as Tebow’s replacement, dating back to his arrival, and he’s suffered from the comparison: no one wants to replace a legend. What does Brantley does bring to the table is pedigree: the son of a former U.F. quarterback and a very highly-touted recruit in his own right, Brantley has all the skills to succeed on the college level. We’ve heard it all before: Brantley’s more of a pocket presence; he doesn’t have great wheels; the U.F. offense will suffer as a consequence. Let’s give the junior time to grow, time to develop, and Florida will be just fine. He has a support staff helping him make the transition to the starting role. He’s the guy to watch, obviously, but Brantley’s not a real concern, in my opinion. Yet there’s no replacing Tim Tebow, as we all know.
Look for Brantley to spread the ball around, something Tebow did not do effectively. He’ll have a handful of speedy options to work with, beginning with junior Deonte Thompson. He’s likely the biggest beneficiary of Brantley’s ascension to the starting role, as he was underused a year ago. The receiver corps also welcomes former running back Chris Rainey into the fold, with the hope that Rainey’s top-end speed will translate well to the passing game. Rainey has some experience working in the slot, which will help his full-time transition. More will be expected from Carl Moore, who has been a disappointment thus far in his career — injuries have played a role — and redshirt freshman Andre Debose, who missed last season with a hamstring injury. Debose in particular is a rising star. Keep an eye on few other U.F. receivers, such as Omarius Hines; he made 14 receptions for 172 yards in 2009.
The offensive line should again be superb. One Pouncey departs from the center spot, another steps in. Mike Pouncey replaces his brother Maurkice, with Mike making the move one spot inside from guard. There’s absolutely no reason to expect Florida to suffer any letdown whatsoever at center. Pouncey will be flanked by another pair of seniors in guard Maurice Hurt and Carl Johnson. The latter should join Pouncey on the all-SEC team, though Hurt is being pushed for his starting spot on the right side by junior James Wilson. Right tackle is held securely by a fourth senior, Marcus Gilbert, though U.F. could go with one of two linemen on the blind side: Matt Patchan and Xavier Nixon. Recent reports have Nixon holding the edge, though I’d be surprised if Patchan doesn’t eventually come out on top. The sophomore has to earn a significant role at some point.
The U.F. defensive line has been landing some bad press, with some claiming it to be one of the weaker units in the SEC. Is it really that bad? No chance. Will the line be as good as it was a year ago — at least in every game minus the SEC title game? It’s hard to think so. Nevertheless, Florida shouldn’t struggle putting top talent on the field.
The biggest issue is at end, where the Gators must replace starters Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham. Dunlap, in my mind, is addition by subtraction. Yes, I realize how good he was — when he played. Still, seeing as Dunlap made himself unavailable for the biggest game of the year, the Gators are better off without him. The task will now fall to seniors Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou, a pair that has been part of the line rotation but have yet to crack the starting lineup. The biggest question, of course, is whether this pair can get to the quarterback. Junior William Green and sophomore Earl Okine will also be in the mix for snaps. Keep an eye on Ronald Powell, of course, perceived by some to have been the nation’s top recruit in the 2010 cycle.
I have few worries about the interior of the line, where Florida has enough depth to keep heralded true freshmen Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley on the sidelines. The duo will likely see some time, but that has more to do with their respective abilities than any depth issues. Sophomore Omar Hunter is ready to take the next step, one year after playing very well in a secondary role. The Gators also have a pair of experienced seniors in Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders, as well as a potential starter in junior Jaye Howard. Injuries have been a slight concern during the early stages of fall camp, but if everything falls together, U.F. will have as many as seven linemen in its tackle rotation. Now that’s depth.
The big news at linebacker has been the play of redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins, who has shown himself to be too athletic — simply too good, in fact — to keep off the field. Though Florida has yet to make an official announcement, it looks like it will be Jenkins, not sophomore Jon Bostic, starting at middle linebacker in the season opener. Not to say Bostic won’t play a big role for this defense: he’ll still see plenty of time, particularly on running downs. Senior A.J. Jones also returns, now fully recovered from last season’s knee injury and ready to take on a leadership role with this relatively inexperienced front seven. He’ll start at one outside spot, with fellow senior Brandon Hicks (32 tackles, 4 sacks last fall) joining him in the starting lineup.
The U.F. secondary was dinged by the N.F.L. draft, as both free safety Major Wright and cornerback Joe Haden opted to forgo their final seasons of eligibility. Junior Will Hill will step in for Wright. He’s landed a well-deserved reputation as a hitter, thanks to his special teams exploits, but has played mainly strong safety thus far in his career. It’s not such a difficult transition, but it bears watching. Hill, as with the vast majority of this roster, was a extremely sought after prospect coming out of high school. As for Haden? Well, it’s always difficult to replace such a standout cover cornerback.
The Gators hope that junior Janoris Jenkins is their next star at the position. He’s not at Haden’s class, though that shouldn’t be taken as a slight. He’s still an all-conference caliber cornerback, a very good option that would likely start for every team in the country. His big task will be accepting — and relishing — the opportunity to be Florida’s stopper; it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Jeremy Brown, who many believed would have beat out Jenkins for the starting job in 2008 had he not been sidelined by a back injury. His medical issues continued in 2009, with Brown missing the entire season with that same back issue. His ability is not in question; his ability to remain healthy is, due to circumstances out of his control. Depth at cornerback took a hit following would-be sophomore Adrian Bushell’s decision to transfer, leaving Moses Jenkins as the likely next in line to step into the starting rotation. He has injury news of his own to overcome, as Jenkins missed much of last season following a concussion.
Position battles to watch
Running backs Another reason to like the addition of Stan Drayton: when he previously coached the Gators — in 2006, for example — the team ran a far more balanced rushing attack. No 15 carries a game for the quarterback, for example. He’ll have his hands full in 2010 reimplementing a true rotation, as U.F. needs not only to replace Tebow’s production but also his ability to convert on short-yardage downs. I think both factors have been overblown, at least somewhat: to be honest, I’m more worried about Florida recovering the 910 lost yards rushing than converting on third-and-short. In the latter case, Florida might turn to senior Emmanuel Moody, the former U.S.C. transfer. He’s been unable to live up to his billing in Gainesville, but he’s the biggest back on the roster by a sizable margin. Not to say Moody has been terrible: he’s been good, and deserves appreciation for accepting the role he’s been given without complaint. Then there’s speedy Jeff Demps, the team’s leading returning rusher (745 yards and 7 scores last fall). Demps is chomping at the bit to get going as Florida’s lead back, even claiming he’s ready to take on the short-yardage role left vacant. Demps, of course, is a threat to score each time he touches the ball. I am a little concerned about Florida’s depth at the position behind Moody and Demps, unfortunately. Not to say the Gators don’t have talent; the Gators always have talent, even if some of it is inexperienced. Sophomore Mike Gillislee is due for an increased role after rushing for 267 yards on 8.6 yards per carry a season ago. Florida is also high on incoming freshman Mack Brown, enough so that he’ll figure into the mix in some capacity as a rookie.
Game(s) to watch
Oct. 2, at Alabama. It might be the regular season game of the year, if only because of the recent history between the two schools. Rivalry games against Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State — all away from home in 2010 — are always meaningful. As is a date with L.S.U., with the winner of that game having a leg up in the race for a B.C.S. berth.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell What’s the difference between Georgia and Florida? Both Urban Meyer and Mark Richt have been forced to withstand fires of criticism since January. Both teams are replacing their defensive coordinators; Georgia by choice, Florida due to Charlie Strong’s departure. In fact, one could very easily make the case that while Georgia made a significant upgrade at coordinator, Florida downgraded. Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks. So what’s the difference — in 2010 — between U.F. and Georgia? One team is coming off 12 wins; another is coming off its worst finish in years. One team has the philosophy in place to keep this train rolling; another is making wholesale philosophical alterations on one side of the ball. Make little mistake: imagining a world where Florida is not the second-best team in the SEC would be, well, a mistake. So that’s good news. Brantley will be fine. The running game should continue to excel. The defense has speed, speed to burn, though a few holes must be filled. Altogether, the Gators will be pretty good: at least 9-3, though I’m tending towards a 10-win finish. Now, the bad news. This is Alabama’s league now. Florida’s reign — Urban Meyer’s reign — lasted three seasons, maybe. As noted before, Spurrier used his 1992 SEC title game game loss to the Crimson Tide as the foundation upon which he built his U.F. legacy. Now, I’m willing to admit the circumstances surrounding each loss was different; Meyer’s loss was devastating, Spurier’s expected. Nevertheless, Spurrier always showed resiliency: one year after being embarrassed by Nebraska, for example, the Gators took the 1996 national title. Meyer was humbled and nearly retired. Will his team have similar resolve in 2010?
Dream season No Tebow, no problem. Well, not quite. Yet the Gators rally around their new quarterback, helping Florida notch a second consecutive 12-0 regular season.
Nightmare season The bottom drops out: 7-5, 4-4 in the SEC.
In case you were wondering
Where do Florida fans congregate? If you’re interested in U.F. football chatter with a dash of recruiting coverage, look no further than Gator Country, Gator Bait and Fightin’ Gators. For added coverage, check out the Web sites of The Gainesville Sun and The Orlando Sentinel. The latter paper’s coverage will suffer without Jeremy Fowler, who recently took his wares to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where he’ll cover the Vikings. That was one battle Meyer won, it seems. Every Day Should Be Saturday was born a Florida blog, I believe, though it’s now more SEC-centric than Florida-based.
Who is No. 9? I see that my first hint made no sense. It really didn’t make any sense. So here’s a new one: our next program’s only undefeated seasons after 1916 came during the term of the first U.S. President to be elected directly from the U.S. Senate.
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Tags: Florida, Urban Meyer
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