The 2009 College Football season is just two weeks away, and boy do we need it.
Granted, I live in SEC country, where we all live and die by our college football teams and your particular school’s fight song ranks second only to the National Anthem, but it’s time to kick this pigskin off.
I have had my fill the past few weeks about NFL players going to jail, getting out of jail, draft picks STILL holding out, and Brett Favre (my all-time favorite NFL player by the way). This football season could not come at a better moment.
As we look at our often wrong crystal balls into the future and try to predict a National Champion (in August), the national attention and hands down favorite this year are the Florida Gators.
They are the defending champs, however, unlike many championship teams, they’re not losing a senior quarterback, or a stud running back, or large pieces of their secondary.
Nope; Florida (stop me if you’ve heard this already…) is returning 18 of 22 starters for their championship team, and defensively they are returning 21 of 22 players from their “two-deep” lineup (they lost Louis Murphy, Phil Trautwein, Jason Watkins, and Percy Harvin to graduation or the NFL draft, and Torrey Davis, a second string defensive lineman to transfer).
The training camp and lead up to this season has been a bit boring by normal standards. The days of Coach Spurrier prodding opponents verbally are long gone, and Coach Zook hemming and hawing his way through interviews is a long forgotten memory (for most).
Coach Meyer, despite being figuratively “challenged to a duel” by Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, has been quiet on the topic. He remains quiet on the topic of Spurrier leaving Tebow off his original All-SEC ballot. You would mistake him for someone who didn’t care about all that stuff…and if you think so, you don’t know Urban Meyer.
Truth be told…with so many players returning, potentially the easiest SEC schedule any team has had to play in the BCS era (which is nice for a change), the biggest off season story in Gainesville this summer was a so-called feud between Urban Meyer and former Gator QB turned local sports radio host, Shane Matthews (caused by Matthews questioning the game plan vs. Ole Miss last year).
Not much to talk about here in Hoggetown. But I’m here to bring up the Top 15 stories of interest for the 2009 Florida Gators before we go crowning them National Champions. We’ll cover No.'s 15-11 today, 10-6 on Wednesday, and 5-1 on Sunday.
Here’s the Top 15 Questions facing the 2009 Florida Gators (in no particular order until the Top 5):
No. 15: No. 15
Will Tim Tebow go down as one of the top five (if not the best) football player(s) of all time?
OK, this is tricky for me. I think anecdotal, and when you just go by “the naked eye”, he’s already considered the best player of the current BCS era and in the conversation of the "modern era" of college football.
However, before we go crowning him the king of college football, let’s do a tale of the tape.
Not long ago, we were looking at a left handed QB going to a school near where he grew up that was entering his senior season with a Heisman trophy to his credit and two National Championships (I say one and a half, but that’s just me…).
That player in question is Matt Leinart from Southern Cal. The similarities are eerie, right down to the only needing one class to graduate in the last season they were playing. Let’s look at the numbers going into their final college seasons:
Matt Leinart, USC: 64.3% completion percentage, 6,878 yds passing, 71TDs, 15INTs, 106 rushing yds, three rushing TDs
Tim Tebow, FLA: 65.7% completion percentage, 6,390 yds passing, 67 TDs, 11INTs, 2,037 rushing yds(!!!), 43 rushing TDs
The funny thing about it all is, Leinart is widely thought of as one of the best QBs of our era, while Tebow is not. However, the rushing stats tell the story of why Tebow is considered one of the best FOOTBALL PLAYERS of that same era.
Tebow also goes into this year with a Heisman trophy to his name, two National Championships (again, one and a half if you ask me), and one class to take this season. The similarities end there as the off-field lives of both men couldn’t be more different. Not that one is better than the other… just very different.
Tebow and the Gators have the benefit of not having to chase 2005 Vince Young around the field in January, where Leinart and the Trojans didn’t have that luxury. If USC could have made a couple tackles in that last minute, we might be comparing these two a lot more closely.
No. 14: Oh Mercy, Percy!
Who will play the role of Percy Harvin for the Gators this year?
Unlike the last question, I have an answer for this one: nobody.
I will say this until I’m blue in the face—Percy Harvin was a special, unique and unbelievably gifted athlete, the likes of which we don’t see very often.
In my lifetime, I can only remember a handful—Reggie Bush, VY, Devin Hester, Raghib Ismail, to name a few. Florida will not be able to run the same plays, plug somebody else into Percy’s spot, and do what they did last year.
Urban Meyer’s offense however, is flexible and is run on the premise of getting play makers the ball in space. The word is that Florida will be running three receiver sets with Brandon James at slot WR.
Freshman Andre DeBose is rumored to have Percy Harvin-like skills (a comparison DeBose has denounced repeatedly), and both Jeff Demps and Rainey are going to be back with Rainey the better pass catcher of the two.
Nobody will fit that role exactly as it looked the last three seasons, but let’s not forget, Florida defeated the No. 1 team in the country on a neutral site last year with Percy in street clothes.
No. 13: How mad are the Gators at this whole Lane Kiffin thing, REALLY?
Lane Kiffin made a HUGE mistake by accusing Urban Meyer of cheating. I know ultimately his point was to get attention and get people interviewing him and saying “Tennessee” on TV and radio.
It’s a good thought, knowing that his team is in a “down period." However, Coach Meyer didn’t fall for it and chose to really say nothing.
The Gators have their sights set on much bigger things this year, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the moment they get in the locker room after they dispose of Troy in Week two, Coach Meyer gathers the team and has an assistant start blaring “Rocky Top” throughout the complex.
Players not performing well in practice that week may have to wear Tennessee orange pennys. The Gators already disliked Tennessee, and Meyer is 4-0 against them.
I’m sure Meyer doesn’t want to be Lane Kiffin’s signature win of his coaching career (the same way Ole Miss’ win is for Houston Nutt). They’re not really that mad about it now, but they will be.
No. 12: Through all kinds of weather, we all stick together…
Will playing in the Swamp even be a home-field advantage this season?
This seems like a stupid question, I know how it looks. However, in my six football seasons here, I missed exactly one game (Zook’s first vs. UAB) and I know what the fan culture is even when we're just pretty good, or even just OK.
What will the stadium look like when we’re VERY good and playing Troy at 12:20pm or FIU. Granted, those are two games we SHOULDN’T have to worry about actually losing, but what about Arkansas (homecoming)?
Will Gator fans be able to rise themselves out of bed the day after having a good time with old friends? I know it’s irrational…I just hate when the team and the fans sleepwalk through a half and then when things get interesting, start to work harder (see Auburn 2007, Ole Miss 2003, and 2008 for details).
No. 11: Lucky Year Eleven
Can the Gators go undefeated against the SEC West?
This decade (2000-present and as far back as 1998), despite being favored in almost every game vs. an SEC West counterpart, Florida manages to drop a game to one of them.
This usually results in the scoreboard watching phenomenon during the South Carolina game in mid-November as fans try to keep tabs on what’s happening with the Georgia-Auburn game.
Gator fans are sick of rooting for Auburn in November so they can win the SEC East. Since the year 2000, these are the L’s Florida has taken vs. the West (yes, there’s a nickname for them all to help remember how brutal it felt):
2008 Ole Miss (get used to this…the “speech” game)
2007 Auburn (Will Bynum Gator chomps the crowd), LSU (Five 4th-down game)
2006 Auburn (the “that wasn’t a forward pass?!?!?!?!?” game)
2005 Alabama (the Jerome Prothro game)
2004 LSU (worst home game of my life), Miss. St (Sly Croom’s first casualty)
2003 Ole Miss (Eli Manning does next to nothing, but wins)
2002 Ole Miss (game starts at 11am EST, team waits until 1pm to wake up)
2001 Auburn (field goal at end of regulation in the rain)
2000 Miss St. (Florida had a 3rd-and-53 in this game)
1999 Alabama (Shawn Alexander game)
It never seems to matter how good we are or how bad the other team was…Florida loses to an SEC West squad pretty consistently. This year they’re looking at: LSU, Arkansas, and Miss. St. We’ll see if the Gators can break the 10 year itch.
I’ll be back on Wednesday with questions 10-6 facing the perfection seeking Gators this year.