When it comes to projecting the 2009 National Champion, the easy bet is Florida.
All that talent coming back on defense, all the promise coming back on offense. Oh yeah, and then there's Tim Tebow, Florida's steam engine. He powers the ship. He makes it go. He's got one more year to solidify his legacy as the best player in Florida history.
If it's a truly historic year (Heisman and NC), he has to be in the discussion for best college player of all time.
But before that can happen, the Gators have to navigate the mine field that is the SEC. Even though the schedule shapes up favorably for Florida, there are always some potential setbacks along the way.
Here are some of the obstacles the Gators will have to overcome if they want to repeat and go down as the best team of the decade.
In most cases, UF and LSU team up for some pretty epic contests.
Last year was an exception, as the Bo Pellini-less defense struggled and UF hung 50 points on a once-vaunted unit. That game helped propel Florida to the NC, while it sent the Tigers to the bowl formerly known as Peach (Chik-Fil-A now, which is still country as a chicken coop, but anyway).
But LSU is one of those teams that is never devoid of talent, so you'd think the defense would be better.
On offense, the Jefferson kid worries me b/c he can take off and run. Florida's defense is very good, but tends to be undisciplined at times. A running QB has given Charlie Strong defenses fits in the past.
And then, of course, there's the challenge of winning what will probably be a night game at Tiger Stadium. The last time these two teams met at LSU at night, the Tigers went 5-for-5 on fourth down attempts, including one by Jacob Hester late in the fourth quarter.
It has all the makings for another epic battle.
(For some reason no pictures of Bobby Petrino Arkansas came up. Maybe the photographers know he won't be there long enough to take his picture! Ba-Zing! Oh well, this will do...)
At first glance, Arkansas would seem to be an afterthought. But my colleague John brought up Florida's dreaded SEC West curse. As long as I can remember, we've always had an SEC West loss that should have been a win.
2000: Mississippi State (They tore down the goalposts and Spurrier said some epic quote to the effect of, "They shouldn't have done that. We're not that good. Classic.)
2001: @ Auburn (Think Rexy threw 4 INTs this game)
2002: @ Ole Miss (Ditto for Rex)
2003: vs. Ole Miss (Bad game for Leak)
2004: @ Miss. State (Zooker's last stand)
2005: @ Alabama (Tyrone Prothro's last game. It's a pity, but that's the risk you take when trying to run up the score)
2006:@ Auburn (Something about them
2007: vs. Auburn (Was at that game. One of my most agonizing experiences in the Swamp. Was glad to see that the punk kicker who Gator chomped us SUCKED last year. Don't mess with the karma man.)
2008: vs. Ole Miss (Tebow's legacy in quotation form)
Petrino will have Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett to work with, which is certainly an upgrade from any of the Razorback QBs with the last name "Dick" (you can make your own jokes).
If Arkansas pulls off the upset, it will be b/c of the QB.
Go ahead, FSU fans. You can thank me for using an old picture.
In my Florida OOC slideshow, I detailed Florida's recent success against FSU:
Florida has won the last five meetings between the two teams by a combined score of 165-61. In 2007, UF won 45-12 and won 45-15 in 2008. (I didn't have to type that again, but it sure was fun! I'm sure Gator fans enjoyed reading it.)
By the time the Seminoles and the Gators get together in Gainesville, the fate of the SEC will be determined.
While Urban Meyer is a master motivator, there might be a tendency to slack off a little bit and relax before heading up to Atlanta to get ring No. 1.
It happened in 2006 (a 21-14 road win for UF). If Weatherford was worth anything, the Seminoles would have won this game.
I don't think it's very likely, but Florida has to come in prepared to battle, no matter how unlikely that possibility is.
I think the SEC team that scares me the most in a possible conference championship tilt is Alabama.
Whatever you might think of Nick Saban and his bailout on Miami, he is an impeccable college coach. When the Tide hired him, I thought, "Thank God we don't have to play 'Bama for a while."
As it turns out, we might play the twice in a two-year span. The two most storied programs in the SEC duking it out for conference supremacy and a shot at the NC.
Can you feel it? Football's only two months away. Thank you Lord!
Anyway, we cost Bama a shot at the title last year, and then the Tide embarrassed the rest of the SEC by losing to Utah in our own backyard. You can bet Saban will have the boys pumped up if this is the matchup in December.
(Ole Miss is also a scary possibility, but Houston Nutt is no where near the coach that Saban is, so I gave Alabama the nod here.)