BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS
2006 RECORD: 13-1; SEC: 7-1
Won Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio St. 41-14
LOCATION: Gainesville, Florida
STADIUM: Ben Hill Griffin (88,548)
HEAD COACH: Urban Meyer
OVERALL: 61-12 (6 seasons)
AT FLORIDA: 22-4 (2 seasons)
Before you call me stupid…just here me out. Last season, Florida survived many games, including one-point wins to both South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as a six-point win to a Jay Cutler-less Vanderbilt team, a game that would have ratcheted up the “Fire Zook” mantra a couple of seasons ago. They also avoided LSU in the Southeastern Conference Championship game. No one can take their BCS Championship away from them, they earned it, but their dominating performance against Ohio St. left an impression in many minds that they rolled through their schedule, which simply was not the case. Did I mention they lost nine starters on defense?
WHEN THE GATORS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Dan Mullen (3rd Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: Chris Leak, Dallas Baker, DeShawn Wynn, Jemalle Cornelius
The offense must carry the load, especially early on, as their young defense becomes acclimated to playing SEC football week in and week out. It all revolves around Tim Tebow and how he acclimates to being the man and not just a change of pace with special packages geared to his skills. He is better suited, with his ability to run, to lead Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense, however he is unproven as a passer, in particular how he handles situations when the opposing team knows he is throwing. If he does step up, there will be no shortage of weapons to throw to, the Gators strength could be their receivers, with Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell and Luis Murphy all burners, and Cornelius Ingram, who is part tight end, someone who uses his size. The offensive line returns four starters with one of the most talented two deeps in the land and should be good enough to open some holes, that is of course if the Gators find someone to run through them, as Meyer’s search for a feature back continues.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Percy Harvin (SO), 2) Andre Caldwell (SR), 3) Cornelius Ingram (JR), 4) Carlton Medder (SR), 5) Drew Miller (SR), 6) Phillip Trautwein (SR), 7) Tim Tebow (SO)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Greg Mattison (3rd Season)/Charlie Strong (5th Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 2
KEY LOSSES: Reggie Nelson, Ray McDonald, Jarvis Moss, Brandon Siler, Earl Everett, Ryan Smith, Reggie Lewis
The Gators front seven is well stocked with four and five-star prospects, however Derrick Harvey is the only one who has much of a proven resume and they are thankful he did not join his mates in making the jump to the pro ranks. Harvey is a nice starting point, inasmuch as the athletic end could be the top pass rusher in the SEC. They are particularly raw at defensive tackle, even if the upperclassmen hold off the freshmen. A pair of sophomores, Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe, provide hope on the second level of the defense after productive seasons in backup roles during their championship run. They are also unproven at corner, as they need safeties Tony Joiner and Kyle Jackson to pick up some slack, especially early on. Did I mention they lost nine starters from last season’s team on defense?
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Derrick Harvey (JR), 2) Brandon Spikes (SO), 3) Dustin Doe (SO), 4) Tony Joiner (SR), 5) Jermaine Cunningham (SO)
Payback…meaning teams will be on the lookout for them. Normally, the defending champ has a target on their chests, but at the Southeastern Conference media days, you got the sense several coaches were still grinding their teeth over heartbreaking losses to the Gators in 2006. Steve Spurrier saw his Gamecocks dropped when Florida blocked two field goals and an extra point in a one-point Florida win, which was the same margin of victory against Tennessee. LSU coughed up the game with five turnovers (and blocked punt), leading to a 23-10 win over the talented Tigers. They play Tennessee at home but have to make trips to South Carolina and LSU, not including their rivalry game in Jacksonville against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Youth must be served if the Gators are to repeat as SEC Champs, let alone follow the lead of the hardwood hoopsters in Gainesville and win back-to-back National Championships. Tebow and Harvin are true sophomores and whoever the starting tailback is, he will be a first year starter. On defense, end Jermaine Cunningham, Spikes and Doe are three more second year players, while freshmen could see significant playing time at defensive tackle, SAM and corner back.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
Did I mention they lost nine starters on defense? Seriously, that is a lot to overcome, not to mention the fact they are turning the reins over to Tebow, a first year starter himself, without the benefit of a proven running game. Could they have top five or ten talent? Probably. Could they be better in 2008 than they were in 2006? Likely, however that has nothing to do with what happens on the field in 2007. Urban Meyer will earn his paycheck implementing 14 new starters and taking on a SEC schedule.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #17 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown