Getting You Ready For The Swamp: The Gator's Ultimate Preseason Review
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past six months you've probably heard something about the Florida Gators. Tebow's the most covered collegiate athlete of all time, and the team itself is getting more exposure than '05 USC.
While all that coverage is great for Gators fans, it's pretty tedious for offseason reporting, and with only three weeks til the season opener, you might need a refresher course to get all of your bar–talk straight. To help alleviate the hassle, I've compiled a review of most of the major stories that happened since January.
Duh. I'm not sure what you've been doing if you missed this announcement. Anyway, back in January, the top offensive play–maker in college and one of the best middle linebackers announced that they were returning.
In fact, pretty much everyone you witnessed making a play last year will be returning. Don't worry about learning new names, just cross out Percy and Murphy from your 2008 "players you might mention later that night" list and call it 2009's.
What a difference a year makes. The entire defense improved in 2008, but the biggest difference was the secondary. The Gators gave up 80 fewer passing yards per game and 7 fewer TDs over one additional game (which happened to be against the most prolific passing attack in football).
The defensive turn around is the reason the Gators hoisted the AFCA National Championship trophy... wait, that's the name of that thing? Is everything about the BCS lame?
The Schedule (If you like going undefeated)
It's not as bad as everyone has made it out to be. The Gators have the 44th toughest schedule according to win/loss percentage, a far cry from last years' but not bad enough to place UF in danger of getting snubbed.
Charleston Southern, Troy, and FIU will be snore–fests, and no Alabama or Ole Miss means the road to Atlanta might be the easiest it's been in a while, but it's still the SEC. One standout game on the schedule; at LSU will be very tough, and might be a preview to the SEC championship.
On paper, the Gators are more talented than any team they are set to face this year. As long as they don't get big headed, they will continue being favored all the way to Pasadena when the Gators face off against Texas (or USC).
Not the best year for UF if you're going by analysts' rankings. That's no fault of Urban's though. UF is simply too young and deep right now. The Gators only brought in 16 recruits, but ended with the 11th strongest class according to Rivals.com. Apparently, what UF lacked in quantity it has made up in quality as the Gators finished with the highest average recruit ranking.
He hasn't made as much noise as last year's other "starting" receivers but he's the only one who will return. He won't be the only experienced receiver returning though.
Deonte Thompson, Carl Moore, and David Nelson all saw action last year. While they all saw action, none have over 20 receptions. Aaron Hernandez does though, and he'll likely be the No. 1 target going into the season opener.
The Gators gave Urban his due, and may have silenced the Notre Dame whispers for a while. The coach will be making $4 million a year for the next 6 years, not quite Charlie Weis money, but good enough for best in the SEC.
Why would a spread option attack like Florida's need to differentiate a normal option from the Wildcat? Who knows. More importantly that's the wrong question. The right question is who will run it? It can't be Brantley or some other real QB; that's not the Wildcat.
Apparently Urban came up to a solution to a question that nobody was asking. Joe Haden, All–SEC watch list DB, might line up at QB again in Wildcat situations. Haden is very fast, and hopefully hasn't forgotten how to throw a pass giving UF a level of versatility not present in many teams' Wildcat packages.
No More Percy
UF is chock full of fast, versatile play makers on offense. Any one of them could be considered "electrifying", however none of them can replace Percy Harvin. Simply put, Percy could score from anywhere, and often did.
What did Percy mean to the Gators? Well, he was the Gators' No. 1 receiver and their No. 2 running back with a stupefyingly high 11.8 Yards per touch and 17 total TDs, but wait there's more. He only had 8 total yards of negative offense in all of 2008! Think about that. 110 offensive touches and only a handful went backwards.
If Tebow is Superman, Percy was some sort of bizarro Mr. Consistent. Thanks to injuries, Harvin didn't always end up on the field, but when he did, he always produced. He scored a TD in every game he played in 2008 and demanded double coverage on a team that already requires at least one extra player devoted to watching the QB.
That made everyone else look much better. This year, we'll see how talented the Gators' every-men really are, now that college football's most explosive play–maker has left to play in the most explosive backfield in the NFL.
The Schedule (If you like competition)
I'll just come out and say it, FSU is the only decent team to show up yearly that the Gators aren't obligued to schedule. With 12 games, the Gators could afford two non–conference, geographic rivals.
At the very least, the Gators could restart the Miami rivalry, which would have been awesome, but failed to happen. If Miami is too far, USF, a new kid on the block that has become relevant sits two hours south of Gainesville whom the Gators have yet to play (they do in 2010).
The very best? Start a rivalry with USC or Texas, or go beat up Notre Dame every year so they can see how badly they missed out on Meyer.
Hopefully these won't ever come back and affect UF's on field performance. Regardless, they are getting very embarrassing. I stopped counting after #24 so maybe there's been a few more in the past couple of weeks.
So far, they haven't mattered too much. Maybe 2007 would have ended differently with Avery Atkins, but I can't think of any other player who had off–field issues potentially affect the team. As for this year, charges were dropped on Carl Johnson and Jenkins, the two starters who managed to make the police blotter this off–season. However, Dustin Doe, part of UF's deep linebacker squad remains suspended.
Coaches, why couldn't you have shown some Big 12 bias? USC's '04 squad is the last team to hold a preseason No. 1 through the finish. If there's any good news about the ranking it's that nearly all preseason No. 1s end the season in the top 10.
I don't know if this is really a bad thing, considering how difficult it is to quantify the spread option conventionally, but the Gators don't have a #1 running back. If you asked me, I'd say Tebow, but "experts" seem to think that the 245 lbs bruiser can't carry the load as QB and RB.
Instead, the Gators' offense has thrived as a running back by committee headed by a World's Strongest Man contestant a quarterback and two 180 lbs track stars.
Will we finally see Moody? I hope so. This is his third season under Meyer, and he seems impressive when he gets in but it's always in garbage time. Somebody should sneak him in during the first half of an SEC game so he can show us what he's got.
BAR FACTS AND OTHER MISC.
Kudos to him for continuing to walk the walk regardless of what we throw at him. How is he not going to be an NFL star? Nothing seems to phase him.
PS Thanks for the quality reporting, Clay Travis. I think you gave me the only chance I'll ever have to say, "who, that Deadspin guy?" in an actual, non–Internet conversation.
Preseason All–SEC Debacle
Tebow's a unanimous first teamer in everyone's hearts, but not unanimous on paper thanks to a voting mishap. The perp? Spurrier. He apologized for the brain fart, then apologized for apologizing saying it shouldn't matter. He's right, it doesn't. Also, Spurrier doesn't apologize. What's happening to the SEC?
I say he should have owned up to it by saying he meant to select Jevon Snead.
Sort of. He's had a good offseason, but he's not stealing the starting job from one of the greatest offensive forces in college football history. Still, Urban guaranteed we would see him in the first half. Whether that first half is against FIU or LSU wasn't specified.
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