Friday, September 4, 2009

CFI Countdown: #1 Florida Gators

2008 Record: 13-1 (SEC: 7-1)
Bowl Game: Won BCS Championship Game vs. Oklahoma 24-12
Location: Gainesville, Florida
Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Overall: 83-17 (9th season)
@ Florida: 44-9 (5th season)
Link to UF Football Page

The last time the Gators and Urban Meyer tried to repeat as BCS Champs, they ended up with a four-loss season. Don’t count on a repeat. Tim Tebow was there in 2007, but he has grown as a leader and they didn’t have all 11 starters back on defense two years ago either. Florida is pretty much the consensus number one team in the country, making them the popular pick to repeat. They fully deserve the accolades.

When the Gators Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Steve Addazio (1st season)
Scheme: Spread Option
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: WR Percy Harvin, WR Luis Murphy, TE Cornelius Ingram, OT Jason Watkins, OT Phil Trautwein

According to inside sources, the Gators have constructive a set of plays in which Tim Tebow throws to…himself. Just kidding (obviously), but Tebow’s importance to the Gators’ offense cannot be overstated. What’s more important? Is it his passing skills, his leadership, or his will to win? Or could it be his ability to lower his shoulder and run over a defense? It’s tough to choose because Tebow can do it all. There are reports that he will see more time under center, which could help his stock as a pro prospect, but it’s unclear if it will benefit the Gators. Something that clearly would help the team is finding a legitimate number one tailback, something Meyer has yet to do as the Gator headman. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are explosive home run hitters, dangerous runners that must be accounted for…but neither brings the size to carry the load. In the passing game, they replace speedsters Percy Harvin and Luis Murphy with Riley Cooper and Davis Nelson, who provide more size but less big play potential than their predecessors. The man expected to take on the duties of Harvin was supposed to be true freshman Andre Debose, but he could miss significant time with a hamstring injury that may require surgery. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is an emerging weapon who has the knack of finding himself open when the Gators need him most. He is especially effective in the red zone. Other than Tebow, the strength of the offense is on the interior of the offensive line where all three starters return led by the Pouncey brothers—Maurkice handles the center duties and Mike is at one guard spot. However, they must replace both tackles from last season’s championship run, which is a major concern.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) QB Tim Tebow (SR), 2) TE Aaron Hernandez (JR), 3) C Maurkice Pouncey (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Charlie Strong (7th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Eleven
Key Losses: None

Where do we start? The best secondary in the nation, the All-American middle linebacker, or the bookend pass rushing demons? Let’s start in the defensive backfield and work our way up. In junior Joe Hayden and sophomore Janoris Jenkins—a pair of future first-round picks—they have not one, but two lockdown corners. Backing them up are stellar safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black, a pair of juniors. Wright has speed and is a ferocious hitter, while Black is among the most instinctive defenders in the game. Senior corners Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson were once starters and provide experienced depth. At safety, sophomore Will Hill is simply too talented not to push for playing time. The leader of the entire defense is Brandon Spikes. What Tebow is for the offense, Spikes is to the defense, which is why his return to Gainesville for one more season was almost as significant as Tebow’s. Spikes’ understanding of the game continues to grow each season and he is a solid tackler with the speed to cover ground sideline-to-sideline. Their outside linebackers are good, not great, but they do have four players who can get the job done. Up front, the defensive ends are special. Junior Carlos Dunlap, who checks in at 6’ 6” and 290 pounds, is a man-child who can just as easily run over offensive linemen as use his quickness to jet around them—he simply cannot be blocked one-on-one. Opposite him is senior Jermaine Cunningham, an impressive athlete and accomplished pass rusher in his own right. They are not as set at tackle, although junior Lawrence Marsh has the ability to be a force. Inconsistency in the middle of the line is their lone vulnerability.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DE Carlos Dunlap (JR), CB Janoris Jenkins (SO), 3) LB Brandon Spikes (SR)

The Schedule

The out of conference schedule is not intimidating, especially early on when they play Charleston Southern and Troy, although it should be noted that Troy does have some players and had the LSU Tigers on the ropes last season before falling short. One match-up that could provide a challenge is their season finale against Florida St. It’s a home game, but this could be a better Seminoles team than the Gators have seen in a couple of years. The game everyone is anticipating is their week three contest with the Tennessee Vols. Florida gets that one at home and it should be a heated affair. That’s the sexy match-up, but the two biggest games come in October with a trip to Baton Rouge and the neutral site tug-of-war with the Georgia Bulldogs.

Pivotal Point

More is less when it comes to Tebow, and we’re not talking about the media backlash Tebow spoke about when he fell short of his second Heisman. Think of it more in an on-the-field, football sense. Let’s take a look at the raw numbers. In 2007, Tebow threw the ball 350 times and ran it 210 times. Those numbers dropped to 298 pass attempts and 176 carries in 2008, which saw his passing yards drop by 540 yards, his rushing yards by 222 yards, and his total touchdowns fall from 55 as a sophomore in his Heisman season to 42 in his National Championship season. Do you get the picture? (Yes, improved defense played a major role). It should come as no surprise that as the offense became more balanced (they threw for 739 more yards than they ran in 2007, in 2008 they ran for 240 more yards) and they spread the ball around more (Tebow accounted for 34 percent of the rushing yards in 2007, 21 percent in 2008), they became a better team.

CFI Final Analysis

Repeating as BCS Champs is no easy task. We saw powerhouse squads just as stocked with talent as Florida is go down when the Miami Hurricanes fell to Ohio St. in overtime and the USC Trojans saw Vince Young skate into the end zone in the waning seconds of their loss to Texas. Florida has the team to repeat, but it is easier said then done as each season brings new challenges. Who knew they would fall to Ole Miss last season? Who knows if they will repeat? One thing we do know is that Meyer will have his team in the middle of the race for the National Championship, and the Gators deserve to start that race on the inside post, atop the rankings.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
#7 USC Trojans
#6 LSU Tigers
#5 Ohio St. Buckeyes
#4 Alabama Crimson Tide
#3 Texas Longhorns
#2 Oklahoma Sooners
Photos Courtesy of SEC Sports Media